Education Opinion

Betsy DeVos: Maybe She Would Qualify as a Substitute Teacher?

By Megan M. Allen — January 23, 2017 19 min read
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When looking at job descriptions and qualifications in public education, which would Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos be qualified for? I compared the job descriptions with her resume. You’ve guessed it. Probably a substitute teacher.

I want to start by saying this: Betsy DeVos, the nominee for US Secretary of Education, seems like a lovely person. I’m sure we’d get along splendidly chatting over a glass of wine. But there are major concerns from both sides of the aisle regarding her ability to lead the country’s federal education system.

I watched her nomination hearing like it was the SuperBowl. I was jumping up and down, yelling at the screen, chatting with friends in rapid-fire texts and tweets, full of dismay between the questions and responses. It was a workout--both emotionally and physically. And in a way, it is like the SuperBowl of education, except with much larger and more important stakes. Our children. All of them.

I began thinking in the past week or so about qualifications for jobs. We just hired a new Director for our Professional and Graduate Education department, so the interview process is fresh on my mind. So I began thinking:

What would happen in a job interview with Betsy DeVos? Her nomination hearing was like a job interview (one that she didn’t seem to prepare for). In fact, I thought more deeply on this question: Looking at her resume and qualifications, would she even have booked the first interview?

I recruit expert education leaders and teachers to support the development of future education leaders in public and private education-of which, Mrs. DeVos would be doing in her job, one could hope. But I don’t think she would qualify to even visit a class in my graduate program. Maybe to offer perspective on the voucher movement?

So I began to dig. And below I have education positions and job descriptions, as best as I could find them, from Secretary of Education, to state commissioner/chief, to superintendent, to building administration, teacher, and teacher’s aide. So what would she qualify for based on her resume and background? Here’s what I’ve found.

First step: Finding her resume. You can find pieces of it on her website, which mentions her time as Chairman of the Windquest Group, a privately held investment/management firm. Snopes.com did some digging on the claims that she was unfit for this position, and they stated that it was a mixed truth/falsehood. Her degree from Calvin College is in business administration and political science, so she doesn’t have any formalized training in education. Most of her work is in political advocacy and philanthropy, which doesn’t seem like education experience to me.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (*swoon*) also pointed out that even though Betsy DeVos does work/chair a financial investment group, she has no experience in banking. Why is this important? As Ed Secretary, she would be in charge of overseeing a trilliion dollar loan portfolio and that gives out over $30 billion in aid each year.

So the resume is looking spotty on any kind of experiences that would lead up to this job..so how does this compare to the job descriptions? The next step. Let’s go through the list.

Secretary of Education: There are no formalized job description, though the appointment process is laid out in law and the fundamental responsibilities are listed on the Ed.gov website (Calling all solutions-oriented advocates: maybe this is an opportunity to create some mandatory/minimum requirements?). The little I could find is here:

The mission of the Department of Education is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation. The Secretary is responsible for the overall direction, supervision, and coordination of all activities of the Department and is the principal adviser to the President on Federal policies, programs and activities related to education in the United States. The Secretary serves as Chief Operating Officer for the Department under the President’s Memorandum of July 11, 2001.

The Deputy Secretary focuses on the development and implementation of policies, programs, and activities relating to elementary and secondary education matters. This mission addresses a wide spectrum of interests ranging from safe and drug free schools, special education and rehabilitative services to education of linguistically and culturally diverse students, and promotion of educational interventions, and reforms.

As a philanthropist, is she qualified for this lofty job? Though I’m sure she has many great qualities, I don’t see anything that would qualify her to meet these responsibilities. I don’t think she would qualified to be on the staff. Next.

State Chief: As a Florida girl, I looked in our state statutes to see what responsibilities this position entailed. It is different from state-to-state, but Florida appoints this state education leader. Under General Powers and Duties in FL State Statute 1001.010:

The Commissioner of Education is the chief educational officer of the state and the sole custodian of the K-20 data warehouse, and is responsible for giving full assistance to the State Board of Education in enforcing compliance with the mission and goals of the K-20 education system except for the State University System.

The commissioner’s office shall operate all statewide functions necessary to support the State Board of Education, including strategic planning and budget development, general administration, assessment, and accountability.

And reading a bit further. Additionally, the commissioner has the following general powers and duties:

  • To organize and name the structural units of the Department of Education and appoint staff necessary to carry out duties and functions of the department in a manner that meets legislative intent and promotes both efficiency and accountability.
  • To advise and counsel with the State Board of Education on all matters pertaining to education; to recommend to the State Board of Education actions and policies as, in the commissioner’s opinion, should be acted upon or adopted; and to execute or provide for the execution of all acts and policies as are approved.
  • To keep such records as are necessary to set forth clearly all acts and proceedings of the State Board of Education.
  • To have a seal for his or her office with which, in connection with his or her own signature, the commissioner shall authenticate true copies of decisions, acts, or documents.
  • To recommend to the State Board of Education policies and steps designed to protect and preserve the principal of the State School Fund; to provide an assured and stable income from the fund; to execute such policies and actions as are approved; and to administer the State School Fund.
  • To take action on the release of mineral rights based upon the recommendations of the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund.
  • To submit to the State Board of Education, on or before October 1 of each year, recommendations for a coordinated K-20 education budget that estimates the expenditures for the Board of Governors, the State Board of Education, including the Department of Education and the Commissioner of Education, and all of the boards, institutions, agencies, and services under the general supervision of the Board of Governors or the State Board of Education for the ensuing fiscal year. Any program recommended to the State Board of Education that will require increases in state funding for more than 1 year must be presented in a multiyear budget plan.
  • To develop and implement policies for cooperating with other public agencies in carrying out those phases of the program in which such cooperation is required by law or is deemed by the commissioner to be desirable and to cooperate with public and nonpublic agencies in planning and bringing about improvements in the educational program.
  • To prepare forms and procedures as are necessary to be used by district school boards and all other educational agencies to assure uniformity, accuracy, and efficiency in the keeping of records, the execution of contracts, the preparation of budgets, or the submission of reports; and to furnish at state expense, when deemed advisable by the commissioner, those forms that can more economically and efficiently be provided.
  • To implement a program of school improvement and education accountability designed to provide all students the opportunity to make adequate learning gains in each year of school as provided by statute and State Board of Education rule based upon the achievement of the state education goals, recognizing the following:
  •  The district school board is responsible for school and student performance.
  •  The individual school is the unit for education accountability.
  • The commissioner, or the commissioner’s designee, may conduct a review or investigation of practices, procedures, or actions at any Florida College System institution which appear to be inconsistent with sound financial, management, or academic practice.

Nope, I don’t see anything that would qualify her to meet any of these job responsbilities. Next.

Superintendent: This is according to the latest Ed Week postings for open superintendent positions (no, boss, I’m not looking). Though I wanted to use the description from White Bear Area Schools in MN (I’m so sorry, but I couldn’t resist!), I found a more thorough description for Thompson Public Schools in CT. The posting:

Our new school Superintendent will work with the board to create and sustain a student environment ideal for learning and welcoming to the community. The successful candidate will be an experienced educator and strong communicator with experience fostering individual student potential and meeting individual student needs. We are looking for someone who will lead Thompson Public Schools in opening up student opportunities and encourage them to explore their world. Our new superintendent will lead the engagement of students as they develop a sense of community deeply rooted in respect and values.

The new Superintendent will lead by example, motivating through team building and employee input. They will set high expectations, for themselves and district employees, providing the tools and encouragement needed to reach them together.

We are looking for someone with a deep appreciation for classroom teachers, an understanding and appreciation of the complexity and nuance of small schools, small communities and the multiple roles principals play in both environments. This position requires an effective communicator comfortable being a public figure. They should be a natural leader whose goal-oriented drive serves as an example to students, educators and parents alike.

The candidate should have a strong understanding of educational initiatives in Connecticut.

The kicker in this description is the last sentence: A strong understanding of educational initiatives in CT. Based on the nomination hearing last week, this would also be a resounding “not qualified.”

So maybe principal? This is a job description for a high school principal for North Adams, MA. I’m already noticing that the very first thing they require is instructional leadership. I stopped reading there. Nope, not Betsy.

Job Goal: To use leadership, supervisory, and administrative skills to promote the educational development of each student.

Supervision: Reports to Superintendent. Supervises all personnel within the High School Building.

Performance Responsibilities:

  • Instructional Leadership

    • Facilitate the development of a shared mission and vision for college and career readiness and civic responsibility.
    • Encourage and use a variety of strategies to assess student performance.
    • Apply current principles, practices, and research to foster effective teaching and student-centered learning.
    • Assist the staff in their identification, collection, and analysis of student data so that a consistently high standard of teaching and learning may be achieved and maintained.
    • Lead the ongoing renewal of curriculum and instructional programs.
    • Promote and model the effective use of appropriate instructional technologies.
    • Ensure that all teachers have high standards and positive expectations for all students to perform at high levels.
    • Ensure that the needs of all learners are addressed equitably.
    • Work with teachers and other staff to supervise and evaluate their performance, using performance standards and student outcomes, and to identify areas for growth.
    • Support ongoing professional development of the faculty and staff.
  • Organizational Leadership

    • Apply research and organizational leadership skills to the safe and orderly management of the high school.
    • Create a positive, informed and collaborative climate for collegial teaching and learning.
    • Demonstrate respect for existing program strengths and have a commitment to support and build upon those strengths.
    • Facilitate constructive change.
    • Plan for, model, and encourage collaboration and shared decision-making.
    • Demonstrate clear, direct, and concise written and oral communications skills with administration, staff and parents.
  • Administration and Management

    • Carry out personnel selection, supervision, evaluation, and management functions for the high school and/or district effectively.
    • Apply current knowledge of policy formation and legal requirements within the scope of his/her responsibility.
    • Apply current knowledge of fiscal management policy and practices within the scope of his/her responsibility.
    • Apply current knowledge of auxiliary programs (such as transportation, food services, pupil personnel services, maintenance, and facilities management) within the scope of his/her responsibility.
    • Use appropriate technologies to administer his/her responsibilities.
  • Promotion of Equity and Appreciation of Diversity

    • Strive to ensure equity among programs and learning opportunities for staff, students, and parents.
    • Demonstrate appreciation for and sensitivity to the diversity among individuals.
    • Contribute constructively to closing the race based and socio-economic achievement gaps.
    • Relationships with the Community
    • Assess the needs of parents and community members and involve them in decision-making.
    • Promote partnerships among staff, parents/guardians, business and the community.
    • Interpret, articulate, and promote the vision, mission, programs, activities, and services of the high school/district.
  • Relationship with Students

    • Create a high school climate that engenders engagement and fosters respect.
    • Promote high school wide practices that encourage student involvement, from all demographic subgroups, in decision-making and in taking responsibility for their own education.
    • Demonstrate appreciation for, interest in, and sensitivity to the needs of all students.
    • Effectively and professionally communicate high school policies, academic requirements and high school environment expectations while also being approachable and trusted in working with students.

Essential Functions of the Job:

  • Must possess the ability to:
  • Apply knowledge of Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, current state standards and expectations, best and differentiated instructional strategies, and common assessment practices.
  • Provide instructional and organizational leadership for the high school.
  • Promote an effective learning climate in the high school.
  • Lead the high school in adapting to the changing educational environment and implementing program improvements.
  • Maintain a safe and respectful environment, proper student conduct and student discipline.
  • Effectively problem-solve and make difficult decisions based upon the best interests of students.
  • Exercise decisive leadership in crisis situations.
  • Communicate and support the developmental needs of adolescent learners.
  • Build effective relationships with students, staff, parents and community members.
  • Performs all tasks as the Superintendent deems necessary to carry out the duties and responsibilities listed above.

Teacher? Shall we say: professional educator?

This posting from NC is in the content from her bachelor’s. Business. But the minimum requirement is that she would have to be eligible for a teaching certificate, so she would have to get working on that.

Also depending on the state and location, some teachers can get temporary positions with only a bachelor’s degree (though this is an emergency-fill-a-gap-method that doesn’t always lead to success for the teacher or the students).

Overall, it looks like this is also not her fit.

Teacher’s aide? This one is from Dartmouth, MA.

Works with students with disabilities under the direction and supervision of certified personnel (primarily classroom teacher) and assists students in reaching their goals as indicated on their Individual Education Plans (IEPs).


  • Assists teacher in implementing IEP goals, planning and implementing developmentally appropriate instructional activities.
  • Carries out small group instruction and/or assists in one-on-one instruction, as needed.
  • Assists teachers and therapists in maintaining appropriate data and records (i.e. attendance, progress monitoring data, alternate assessment data, etc.).
  • Supports the continuous implementation of skills and goals associated with students therapeutic goals.
  • Utilizes and maintains technology and communication devices for students.
  • Assists in the development and implementation of vocational routines (onsite and offsite), community service projects and special events.
  • Implements equipment, behavioral, sensory, mobility and self-care plans (toileting) per students needs.
  • Provides direct assistance in feeding, toileting and dressing skills.


  • Maintains and cares for all classroom/school equipment.
  • Actively seeks and participates in ongoing professional development.
  • Attends and actively participates in staff, school-wide and parent meetings or activities including those scheduled beyond the regular school day.
  • Assists in the evacuation of children and clients during drills and emergencies.
  • Performs other duties as directed or required.


  • Demonstrates patience, tact and professionalism in dealing with students, staff and families.
  • Possesses a basic understanding of special education concepts and practices.
  • Ability to establish and sustain rapport with students with special needs.
  • Ability to work as part of a team; flexibility.
  • Organizational skills and effective communication skills (interpersonal, oral and written).
  • Proficient computer skills including but not limited to MS Word, Excel, other data monitoring systems, and school software such as Welligent, BlackBaud, EducationEdge, SchoolDude, ESPED, etc.


  • Accesses student records only as needed and required.
  • Uses and discloses Protected Healthcare Information (PHI) only as authorized, as necessary to carry out job duties.
  • Completes and maintains privacy and security training.
  • Reports suspected violations including those of a business associate or contractor.
  • Models the agencys values of respect, compassion, excellence, inclusivity, and integrity.


  • High school diploma or GED required.
  • Associates Degree in related field preferred.
  • Parapro certification preferred.
  • A minimum of 1 year experience working in a similar position in a classroom or home care environment with students from preschool to age 22.
  • Current CPR and first aid certification.


  • Work environment and physical requirements consistent with those of a typical school environment requiring significant reliance on use of computer, telephone and other office equipment. Utilize the Computer (50-75%) of the time and other office equipment.
  • Sit, stand, and walk continuously throughout the workday.
  • Bend, stoop, squat, push and pull (1-33% of the time)
  • Lift, push, pull up to 50 pounds independently and up to 100 pounds with the assistance of another staff member or adaptive equipment.
  • Kneel and reach above shoulder level occasionally (1-33% of the time)
  • job responsibilities.
  • Physically able to position physical/occupational therapy equipment, splints, etc. Ability to use various equipment (switches, cooking equipment, etc.).
  • Has the use of upper extremities for light, repetitive fine motor tasks.
  • Ride the bus to and from all community based activities and programs.
  • Ability to run 25 yards to secure students for safety reasons such as elopement.
  • Ability to participate in physical restraint of students as needed and trained.

Small group instruction and working with IEPs? I’m worried that she didn’t know what IDEA was, nevertheless an IEP. Next.

Substitute teacher. Maybe that is it? This is from the Fall River Public Schools website in SC and Indeed.com:

Duties Include (but are not limited to):

  • Manage student learning in accordance with the goals of the Fall River Public School District
  • Implements lesson plans, while ensuring the integrity of academic time and in a manner which motivates students to learn and participate.
  • Organize students for effective instruction.
  • Ensures the adequate supervision to assure health, welfare, and safety of all students.
  • Maintains and respects confidentiality of student and school personnel information.
  • Complies with and supports school and District regulations and policies.
  • Must be able to follow oral and written directions and have the ability to establish effective working relationships with staff and students
  • Ability to maintain effective classroom management strategies.
  • Reports all student injuries, accidents, illnesses, and discipline problems to the appropriate authority immediately or as soon as is reasonably possible.
  • Performs other related duties as assigned by building administrator(s) in accordance with District policies and practices.
  • Minimum Qualifications:
  • 60 College Credits (Bachelor’s Degree preferred)
  • Candidates seeking a career in education are preferred

I’m worried a bit about the last line in the duties section, but I think this may be her best fit. The one were she meets the minimum requirements. And she is going to lead public education? This makes me nervous. I feel like we are on a super barge full of the cutest, most important kids in the world, with the most difficult waters to navigate, some major storms in sight, and our pilot only has experience in playing with a plastic tugboat in the bathtub.

This is part of a much larger and widespread issue in education: opening up positions to those who are not qualified because of low morale, high attrition, issues with recruitment, and a mindset that anyone can teach. And due to a complete misunderstanding of the complexities of education, teaching, and learning. This mindset of “the best quality is having no experience in education, so she can help clean house” is dangerous. My stomach was in knots when I heard these comments in the hearing. Our “products” aren’t cogs or goods that we are talking about, but lives. The futures of our students. The future of our country. And if we are looking at being led by a person who barely meets the minimum requirement for a substitute teacher and we are thinking that this is a strong idea, we need a serious recalibration.

Photo courtesy of Paul Townsend

The opinions expressed in An Edugeek’s Guide to K-12 Practice and Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.