Education

‘I’m Misunderstood,’ DeVos Says in Wide-Ranging ’60 Minutes’ Interview

By Mark Walsh — March 11, 2018 3 min read

“60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl set the tone with her introduction of a segment about the nation’s top education policymaker.

“Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a devout Christian grandmother from Michigan who has spent most of her life trying to improve the quality of education for poor kids,” Stahl said on Sunday’s edition of the top-rated CBS News magazine show. “So how in the world did she become one of the most hated members of Trump cabinet?”

It seems, based on the multiple interview settings (a “60 Minutes” hallmark for people profiles) and the time spent with DeVos in schools, that Sunday’s piece was in the works for a while, but that the Feb. 14 shooting tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., gave it a newsier angle.

[The full segment wouldn’t embed, but it is available here.]

Stahl said that President Donald Trump would be naming DeVos on Monday to lead a commision on school safety. DeVos told Stahl she had sought the assignment.

The secretary also said that allowing educators to have guns at school “should be an option for states and communities to consider.”

“I hesitate to think of, like, my 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Zorhoff ... I could never imagine her having a gun and being trained in that way,” DeVos said. “But those who are capable, this is one solution that can and should be considered.”

Stahl quickly pivoted the segment to DeVos’s advocacy for school choice, challenging the secretary’s assertion that massive federal spending on K-12 education had failed to produce results.

“You don’t acknowledge that things have gotten better,” Stahl said, to which DeVos firmly replied, “But I don’t think they have for too many kids. We’ve stagnated.”

The segment covered a lot of ground, clearly informed by a year’s worth of controversies involving DeVos and U.S. Department of Education policies.

“Do choice schools perform better than public schools?” Stahl asked in narration. “Naturally, there are conflicting studies. It’s complicated.”

Too complicated, evidently, to dive into in this segment. Stahl soon pressed DeVos on whether the public schools in Michigan, where DeVos was active in education policy efforts for years, were getting better. Stahl implied they were not, and DeVos did not seem to effectively defend her efforts.

Stahl said DeVos was the only cabinet secretary protected by a squad of U.S. Marshals because of the threats she has received. (To nitpick, that may be technically true, though some top cabinet secretaries, such as the secretary of state, secretary of defense, and the attorney general, have long had more robust security than other department heads.)

“Why have you become, people say, the most hated cabinet secretary?” Stahl asked.

Without even challenging the premise, DeVos replied, “I’m not so sure how exactly that happened, but I think there are a lot of powerful voices aligned against change.”

Interestingly, Stahl did not include any of those critical voices, nor any input from supporters of DeVos. The segment also touched on DeVos’ contentious confirmation hearing (root canal would probably be more pleasant, the secretary said); the withdrawal of policy guidance on transgender student restroom use in schools; and the possible coming withdrawal of Obama-era guidance on racial disparities in school discipline.

On the transgender issue, it might have been nice if Stahl had asked DeVos about reports that she initially fought the withdrawal of the guidance in favor of allowing transgender students to use restrooms conforming with their gender identity, but that she bowed to other Trump administration officials.

Stahl closed with this: “It’s been an unlikely journey and balancing act for grandmother Betsy DeVos. From her sheltered life in Michigan to her life now as a lightning rod in Washington.”

But a few moments before that was a revealing admission from the secretary. Asked by Stahl whether the barrage of criticisms hurt, DeVos said, “Sometimes it does. ... I think I’m more misunderstood than anything.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.

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