Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ first week on the job was a rocky one. After her Feb. 7 confirmation, one of the most contentious in history with Vice President Mike Pence having to cast the deciding, controversy continues to swirl around the billionaire secretary.
On her first day, DeVos tweeted out, “Day 1 on the job is done, but we’re only getting started. Now where do I find the pencils? :),” which parents and teachers answered with a Twitter storm of messages.
“At the store. Something you should know: we teachers buy pencils and supplies for our classes with our OWN money,” tweeted one teacher, Robin McCauley Lynch of Los Angeles.
Parents protested her Feb. 10 visit to Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, D.C. A group of activists briefly blocked DeVos from entering the building. The secretary was escorted to another entrance where she met with D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson. Wilson told the media one of the topics they talked about was “the importance of choice.” “School choice” is a name given for vouchers and charter schools. Public education advocates say both schemes hurt public schools by funneling badly needed funding to private institutions. DeVos’ sole experience with public education is advocating for vouchers and charters.
The social media site Twitter became another source of humiliation for the secretary when the education department tweeted out two messages with embarrassing mistakes.
In a Feb. 12 tweet, the department misspelled the name of the towering civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois, changing it to “DeBois,” a name that looked similar to the secretary’s. After realizing the mistake, the Department tweeted its “apologizes” instead of “apologies” and issued a new tweet with the author-activist’s name spelled correctly.
“Our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo,” the first, and now deleted, apology read. The original tweet with Du Bois’ name misspelled is still on the department’s twitterstream.
One of the bigger issues that came up during DeVos’ confirmation hearing continues to haunt her: her inability to discuss basic education policy. DeVos was unable to respond to a question from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. regarding a critical issue being debated among the nation’s educators: how educational achievement should be measured. Two contending types of educational measurements are being debated: “growth” versus “proficiency.” Simply put: “proficiency” demands all students reach a certain level of achievement, measured usually by standardized tests. “Growth” takes a more individualized approach, looking at a child’s assessments at the beginning of the year and then seeing how much improvement is made by the end of the school term.
In several tweets, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten took the new education secretary to task for dismissing the accountability policy question as an “insider discussion.”