Last year on SNL, the insanely versatile Kate McKinnon played Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in the first of Melissa McCarthy’s sketches as former press secretary Sean Spicer. When asked a question about proficiency in students, she freezes up and says:
“I don’t know anything about school, but I do think there should be a school – probably Jesus school – and I do think it should have walls, and roof, and gun for potential grizzly.”
SNL was once again right on target since this answer could’ve come straight out of Betsy DeVos’s appearance on 60 Minutes last night, a disaster where she stumbled her way through the most basic questions concerning education.
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) March 12, 2018
Here are the highlights:
1. She danced her way around the guns-in-classrooms issue.
DeVos, whose recent visit to Stoneman Douglas High School was criticized as a PR stunt by the Parkland kids, twisted her way through a non-answer on this one, despite Lesley Stahl’s prodding:
DeVos: No one size fits all. Every state and every community is going to address this issue in a different way…I have actually asked to head up a task force that will really look at what states are doing. See there are a lot of states that are addressing these issues in very cohesive and coherent ways.
Stahl: Do you feel a sense of urgency?
Stahl: ‘Cause this sounds like talking. Instead of acting.
DeVos: No, there is a sense of urgency indeed.
2. She can’t acknowledge that schools are performing better than they were.
DeVos has spent years defunding public schools in favor of private, religious schools out of support for “school choice,” but could not explain why she thought public schools were worse than private ones:
DeVos: We have invested billions…from the federal level and we have seen zero results.
Stahl: But that really isn’t true. Test scores have gone up over the last 25 years. So why do you keep saying nothing’s been accomplished?
DeVos: Well actually, test scores vis-à-vis the rest of the world have not gone up. And we have continued to be middle of the pack at best. That’s just not acceptable.
Stahl: No it’s not acceptable. But it’s better than it was. That’s the point. You don’t acknowledge that things have gotten better.
3. She couldn’t explain the downsides of school choice.
School choice – moving kids from public to private schools – can hurt the funding of public schools, so Stahl challenged DeVos to explain why taking away money from said public schools is good for those schools. What’s more, she claims at the end of this segment that she has not gone to visit the most underfunded schools, something she should probably do if she wants to make decisions for them. This section of the interview is probably the most embarrassing, and has blown up Twitter since it aired:
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? [DeVos’s home state.]
DeVos: 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 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…the students are doing well…
Stahl: 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: Have you seen the really bad schools? Maybe try to figure out what they’re doing?
DeVos: I have not…intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.
Stahl: Maybe you should.
DeVos: Maybe I should. Yes.
4. She doesn’t understand institutional racism.
DeVos has been criticized for wanting to repeal an Obama guidance that prevented school principals from invoking harsher punishments on black students than white ones for simple infractions. As with the other topics, she could barely defend her position:
DeVos: We need to ensure that all students have an opportunity to learn in a safe and nurturing environment. And all students means all students.
Stahl: Yeah but let’s say there’s a disruption in the classroom and a bunch of white kids are disruptive and they get punished, you know, go see the principal, but the black kids are, you know, they call in the cops. I mean, that’s the issue: who and how the kids who disrupt are being punished.
DeVos: Arguably, all of these issues or all of this issue comes down to individual kids.
Stahl: Well, no…it’s not.
DeVos: It does come down to individual kids. And…I am committed to making sure that students have the opportunity to learn in an environment that is conducive to their learning.
Stahl: Do you see this disproportion in discipline for the same infraction as institutional racism?
DeVos: We’re studying it carefully, and are committed to making sure students have opportunity to learn in safe and nurturing environments.
5. She equivocates cases of sexual assault and false accusations.
DeVos’s most controversial move as Secretary of Education has been to roll back Title IX reforms concerning sexual assault on campuses. She’s been deservedly criticized for this move, which appears to benefit the accused over the accusers, and seemed to admit as much:
Stahl: Are you…suggesting that the number of false accusations are as high as the number of actual rapes or assaults?
DeVos: Well, one sexual assault is one too many, and one falsely accused individual is one too many.
Stahl: Yeah, but are they the same?
DeVos: I don’t know. I don’t know. But I’m committed to a process that’s fair for everyone involved.
6. She has no idea why people don’t like her.
Many of today’s students have actively criticized and protested her visits to their campuses, which baffles the Secretary:
Stahl: Why have you become, people say, the most hated Cabinet secretary?
DeVos: I’m not so sure exactly how that happened. But I think there are a lot of really powerful forces allied against change.
Stahl: Does it hurt?
DeVos: Sometimes it does. Sometimes it does…I think…I’m more misunderstood than anything.
As the rest of these answers prove, those who criticize Betsy DeVos understand her just fine.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.