Education Week - February 15, 2017 - 12
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
DeVos Takes Reins at Ed. Department, While Anxieties Persist
New secretary offers
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy
DeVos finally took the helm of her
agency last week after a bitter and
tumultuous confirmation process
unlike any other in the U.S. Department of Education's more than
Now, it's an open question
whether DeVos can make the transition from highly divisive nominee
to effective leader.
Also unclear: whether the thousands of educators, advocates, and
members of the general public who
called their senators urging them to
vote against DeVos will try to find
common ground with her-or continue to make their case against her.
DeVos struck a conciliatory tone
in her first speech to agency employees last week.
"The obstacles between our nation's students and their pursuit
of excellence can all be overcome,"
she said at Education Department
headquarters the day after she was
confirmed. "All too often, adult issues can complicate and get in the
way of a focus upon those we serve.
The good news is: We can all work
together to find solutions and make
And she tried to reassure those
who worry that the department
might back away from its civil rights
mission during her tenure.
"The department also has a
unique role in protecting students,"
she said. "We believe students deserve learning environments that
foster innovation and curiosity and
are also free from harm."
So far, DeVos and the White
House have yet to fill key staff positions at the department, including
the deputy secretary, the No. 2 posi-
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
By Alyson Klein
tion. DeVos also has yet to lay out
details of her policy priorities going
forward, beyond a general focus on
school choice and local control.
Right up until the moment the
Senate confirmed her Feb. 7, DeVos-a billionaire school choice
advocate whose family has donated
tens of millions of dollars to Republican candidates and causes-
was at the center of a firestorm of
Demonstrators hit the streets in
multiple cities to protest DeVos'
qualifications. She was spoofed on
"Saturday Night Live." Opponents
slammed her on social media and
jammed the phone lines on Capitol
Hill. And Democrats held the Sen-
By Andrew Ujifusa
A push by Republicans in Congress to overturn
accountability regulations for the Every Student
Succeeds Act could have far-reaching consequences
for how the law works in states, and the potential
end of the much-contested rules is dividing the education community.
Groups supporting the move argue that it would
free schools from unnecessary burdens, while opponents contend that overturning the rules could
hurt vulnerable students and create turmoil in
states and districts trying to finalize their transition to ESSA, the 2015 law that replaced the No
Child Left Behind Act.
Last week, the House of Representatives approved a joint resolution that would overturn ESSA
accountability rules issued by President Barack
ate floor for 24 hours of speeches
calling DeVos unfit for the job.
The chamber deadlocked 50-50 on
her nomination. For the first time
in history, the vice president, Mike
Pence, had to break the tie to approve a cabinet nomination.
The intense opposition had begun
to build after an underwhelming
confirmation hearing last month in
which DeVos seemed confused about
core issues in K-12 policy, including
federal special education laws and
measuring student performance.
Her performance at the hearing
hypercharged already existing concerns about DeVos' depth of knowledge when it comes to public education. She is the first secretary who
hasn't been either a public school
student or parent. And, unlike most
of her predecessors, she has never
Obama's administration. Those rules, which became final in November, are intended to detail for
states the timeline for addressing underperforming schools, how schools must be rated, the ways
English-language learners must be considered in
state accountability plans, and other policy issues.
Another resolution, also approved last week by
the GOP-controlled House, would overturn final
rules issued in October on teacher-preparation
The Senate is expected to consider a similar move
on the accountability rules as soon as this week.
Groups including the National Governors Association and AASA, the School Superintendents
Association, hailed the move.
It might be misguided to think that a big statute like ESSA is better off without any regulations
at all, said Andy Smarick, a resident fellow at the
American Enterprise Institute, which advocates
for relatively limited federal control over education. However, he also said Congress is within its
rights to push back on the U.S. Department of
Education if it believes an administration is using
regulations to dictate certain policy outcomes, not
just help states understand the law.
12 | EDUCATION WEEK | February 15, 2017 | www.edweek.org
worked professionally on education
at the state, district, or university
level. Democrats also warned, again
and again, of potential financial conflicts of interest stemming from her
Even though the campaign was
ultimately unsuccessful at preventing DeVos from taking the reins at
the department, it had some effect:
Two Republican senators-Alaska's
Lisa Murkowski and Maine's Susan
Collins-voted against DeVos on
the floor after supporting her in
The close vote may not bode well for
some of the school choice initiatives
that DeVos-who has spent much of
her career supporting candidates who
embrace vouchers and charters-
could propose. Such an initiative may
An image from Senate
Television shows Vice
President Mike Pence
presiding over the
confirmation of Education
Secretary Betsy DeVos.
The vice president cast
the tie-breaking vote
after all Democrats lined
up against DeVos in the
PAGE 14 >
"What we would lose in clarity, we would gain
in flexibility for what states and districts have
been implementing," Smarick said.
But the move could wreck months of cooperation between states, advocates, and others to try
to craft state ESSA plans that focus on protecting students' civil rights and addressing racial
achievement gaps, said Luis Torres, the director
of policy and legislation for the League of United
Latin American Citizens, or LULAC.
"I think it just goes to show that there are people
intent on completely doing away with any potential
guardrails that help students of color," Torres said.
Repeal of the regulations would not alter ESSA
itself, which requires states to administer annual
tests in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once
in high school, identify certain schools as needing
improvement, and use results from tests in several
ways in state accountability systems.
Congress can overturn regulations from the executive branch through the Congressional Review
PAGE 15 >
Here we have a
it, but making
REP. TODD ROKITA, R-IND.
House Education Committee