Betsy DeVos fails her 60 Minutes interview
It was probably her last opportunity to patch up her reputation.
U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stammered and deflected her way through the tense 60 Minutes interview conducted by veteran journalist Lesley Stahl on CBS News which covered school safety, equality, and why she’s been labeled as the “most hated Cabinet secretary.” Her media presence on CBS News was high-stakes since she’s been staying out of the spotlight to avoid backlash and criticizing headlines, and the interview was disappointing, to say the least. Her interview was even worse than her performance at her January 2017 confirmation hearing, when she had to convince key members of Congress that she had the knowledge and experience to serve as the Secretary of Education, even though she never went to public school, grew up extraordinarily wealthy, and, as seen in the 60 Minutes interview, is not knowledgeable about the education system and its respective policies.
The results of the interview were not surprising; it is clear that DeVos will never have a change of heart or opinion. However, what was unexpected was her lack of preparation for the interview.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Noelle Ellerson Ng, in an interview with The Atlantic, “but I think the naive portion of my personality wanted to see her do better.” Ng oversees the policy and advocacy arm of the School Superintendents Association.
It was overwhelmingly apparent that DeVos had not educated herself on the nation’s education policies and practices since her Senate confirmation hearing. She had months to prepare and could have analyzed the “research” she so frequently referred to or visited the underperforming schools she kept mentioning she wanted to reform in that time. If anything, this interview was an opportunity for her to show she had become better at advocating for her positions, even if her opinions have not changed.
Her awkward body language and slightly wavering smile made her seem insincere and uncomfortable. For example, if she truly believed in what she said, she should have been able to back up her claims about the best school discipline practices by citing appropriate research. Instead, she constantly deflected every question and defaulted to her classic, “We should be funding and investing in students, not in school — school buildings, not in institutions, not in systems” response, which, at this point means nothing. What’s more, she frequently debunked or contradicted her own responses. At one point, when saying that allowing teachers to have guns in schools "should be an option for states and communities to consider," she followed up with “And I hesitate to think of, like, my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Zorhoff — I couldn't ever imagine her having a gun and being trained in that way.”
In another instance, when DeVos was lamenting about underperforming schools, she was asked if she had actually visited these schools, to which she responded, “I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.” Stahl responded with, “Maybe you should.” DeVos replied, “Maybe I should. Yes,” with a smile that made viewers question her sincerity.
The question now lies in why. Why did DeVos not prepare for this interview? Why did she not fix her mistakes since her hearing in January? Why is she not actively educating herself on education policies and research? And why has she not visited many underperforming schools?
“I found [the interview] to be somewhere between disappointing and disturbing,” said Claire Smrekar, in an interview with The Atlantic. “It just demonstrates — again — an appalling lack of understanding of some public fundamental principles and practices related to public education.” Smrekar is an associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University whose research focuses include school choice.
In reaction to the criticism from her interview, DeVos, an infrequent tweeter, tweeted five times about how the interview unfairly treated her. She accused 60 Minutes of omitting parts of her responses, and claiming that their questions were “misguided.
CBS News, in response, published an article which stated that DeVos “was unable to answer questions about schools in her own state,” alluding to the lack of knowledge DeVos had on the subject. It didn’t matter who interviewed her, because she wouldn’t have been able to answer the questions properly anyway. The questions asked in the interview were expected, and touched on several relevant topics. Anyone could have predicted what would be asked, which is why Devos’ tweets make her seem even more clueless. Had she prepared more for the interviews, Devos could have portrayed herself in the way she wanted, regardless of her opinions.
When Stahl asked about the outcomes of Michigan’s charter-school-expansion project, which DeVos helped create and which has been ongoing for more than two decades, she pointed out that such a program will deprive traditional public schools from funding, hurting the already underperforming schools DeVos kept lamenting about. In response, DeVos claimed that, “achievement at traditional public schools actually increases when a large percentage of children opt to enroll in privately run schools.” Stahl then asked whether Michigan’s schools have really improved due to the charter-school-expansion project, to which DeVos responded: “I don’t know. Overall, I—I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.”
According to Politico, “Despite two decades of charter-school growth, the state’s overall academic progress has failed to keep pace with other states,” thus claiming the contrary of what DeVos asserted.
Experts have been debating whether DeVos’s deflection of questions and vague answers were due to ignorance or intentional sidestepping. Joshua Starr, the CEO of Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional educators’ association, stated that DeVos’s behavior suggested “a matter of total incompetence or willful ignorance.”
Devos’s interview was abysmal, embarrassing, and confusing. She deflected, contradicted herself, and stumbled through the interview like an amateur. Her insincerity was blatantly apparent, and her discomfort even more so. This interview leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of Americans — a sign of what’s to come — especially as the new school-safety commission is implemented.