The U.S. Senate will hold hearings Jan. 11 on the controversial nomination of Betsy DeVos to be the nation’s next secretary of education. The Cabinet position is crucial not only because federal education funding is large but also because by leveraging federal money and the bully pulpit, the secretary has immense impact over what goes on in the classroom.
It’s imperative that the Senate, and American taxpayers, understand DeVos’ thinking about education. Here are 10 questions senators should make sure DeVos answers at her confirmation hearing:
1. Freedom to innovate in schools works if there are high standards, which can only be enforced through some regulation. Without a strong state regulatory presence, how would accountability be achieved? How would you maintain quality charters or private schools without reviewing school approvals and renewals and without closing poor performing ones?
2. Less than 10 percent of students attend charter schools, which are paid for with public funds meant for all students. What would you do for students who are not able to take advantage of school vouchers or charter schools? And how can schools serving the non-charter students left behind in neighborhood schools, which often have the highest needs, make it financially while charters deplete the funding?
3. How does free-market competition work in education? Can competition foster better education opportunity for all, or for just the few who attend successful charters or private schools?
4. You have said public education is at a dead end. Since schools in New York are funded primarily through state and local funds and federal funding accounts for less than 10 percent, how would you implement vouchers if states and local districts oppose the program?
5. For-profit organizations say teachers are overpaid and that they can educate for less. But the market shows that teacher enrollment is down significantly in recent years because of the demoralization and demeaning of teachers as well as pay issues. How do you intend to attract quality teachers for lower pay?
6. It seems to be difficult to get all parents to sign up for charter school lotteries. Not all parents are equally prepared or motivated to include their children in the lotteries. Do you think that all parents are able and willing to sign up for the lotteries? If not, how would you provide equal educational opportunities for children whose parents don’t seek them?
7. Do you think charter or private schools that accept school vouchers should be required to take special-needs children as public schools do, and do they have to abide by the same disciplinary policies that public schools do? Do charter or private schools which are paid with public funds have the right to permanently suspend students with disciplinary issues given that public schools do not have the right?
8. From its very beginning, the public education system has been seen as the fabric of a commonality of our American people. Do you believe that American public education is the great equalizer in our society producing arguably equal educational opportunity for all?
9. Some charter schools, mostly for-profit ones, are moving to educate students solely with virtual teaching to save money and provide greater efficiencies. Do you believe in “virtual” charter schools?
10. Some say the problem with education today is that we do not have properly prepared teachers. How much of a student’s overall learning does the teacher provide as opposed to the home, culture and environment of the student? And what are the minimum requirements for the certification for teachers, including the amount of student teaching?
Without knowing DeVos’ answers, it would be malfeasance on the part of the Senate to make a decision on this important position.
Roger Tilles represents Long Island on the state Board of Regents.