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Betsy DeVos flubs question on Michigan schools on '60 Minutes'

By Todd Spangler/Detroit Free Press (TNS) • Mar 12, 2018 at 2:54 PM

WASHINGTON — U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos flubbed a question on Michigan schools on CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday, saying she had no idea whether the state's schools are better or worse off because of her school choice efforts.

According to a transcript of the episode on CBS' website, correspondent Lesley Stahl visited DeVos in Michigan and asked her whether her previous efforts as a school choice advocate have improved public education institutions overall.

After DeVos said that "billions and billions and billions" of dollars have been invested in public schools with "zero results," Stahl noted that U.S. test scores have risen over the last 25 years. DeVos questioned that, saying test scores have "stagnated" compared to the rest of the world.

That, in turn, led to this exchange, which began when Stahl said taking funds away when a child moved to a private or charter school, leaves his or her former public school with less funds to perform its mission.

Stahl: Why take away money from that school that's not working, to bring them up to

a level where they are — that school is working?

DeVos: Well, we should be funding and investing in students, not in school — school

buildings, not in institutions, not in systems.

Stahl: Okay. But what about the kids who are back at the school that's not working?

What about those kids?

DeVos: Well, in places where there have been — where there is — a lot of choice that's

been introduced — Florida, for example, the — studies show that when there's a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually— the results get better, as well.

Stahl: Now, has that happened in Michigan? We're in Michigan. This is your home state.

DeVos: Michi— Yes, well, there's lots of great options and choices for students here.

Stahl: Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?

DeVos: I don't know. Overall, I — I can't say overall that they have all gotten better.

Stahl: The whole state is not doing well.

DeVos: Well, there are certainly lots of pockets where this — the students are doing well and...

Stahl: No, but your argument — that if you take funds away that the schools will get

better — is not working in Michigan where you had a huge impact and influence over the

direction of the school system here.

DeVos: I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of

individual students attending them.

Stahl: The public schools here are doing worse than they did.

DeVos: Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it.

Stahl then asked DeVos whether she had visited "really bad schools" in an attempt to sort out what sort of help they may need. DeVos said she has "not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming" but acknowledged that maybe she should.

For years, the Free Press has written extensively about how Michigan’s performance on a national student assessment exam has declined dramatically while other states have shown improvement. A report released last week raised concerns about large drops in student proficiency among third graders in the state and found that Michigan had the biggest declines compared to 11 other states that use a similar exam.

DeVos' "60 Minutes" appearance was widely panned, with CNN contributor Ana Navarro saying she "had not seen a TV interview so cringe-inducing, since Sarah Palin saw Russia from her back yard" and U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., saying that if President Donald Trump wants to "meet someone who has an actual IQ problem," he should look to DeVos.

Trump recently has referred to U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who is African-American, as "low IQ."

The Education Department apparently felt DeVos' remarks called for some clarification. "CBS This Morning" posted a message on Twitter on Monday morning saying the department was defending DeVos, and that she is "quite aware" that Michigan "needs to do better for all students."

More on this story:

DeVos' only previous experience in the education field before becoming the nation's top education official was as a school choice advocate in Michigan, pushing for changes in the state's laws to encourage charter and private school choice. As education secretary, she has pushed for deep cuts in the federal education budget while urging large expenditures on school choice programs.

The wife of Amway executive Dick DeVos and wealthy in her own right, Betsy DeVos is a former two-time state Republican Party chairwoman in Michigan. She was confirmed by a single tie-breaking vote in the U.S. Senate by Vice President Mike Pence and during her confirmation hearing, she had difficulty answering some questions.

The interview came as the White House announced that DeVos would lead a commission to examine ways of protecting schools and students from gun violence in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. Administration officials have discussed the possibility of arming school personnel who volunteer to carry weapons. That proposals faces stiff opposition from educator groups.

In the "60 Minutes" interview, DeVos said that she believes teachers having guns in the classroom "should be an option for states and communities to consider."

Speaking on NBC's "TODAY" on Monday, DeVos said, however, that she does not believe that assault weapons should be carried by school personnel and that there may be cases in which in it is not appropriate for educators to be armed.

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