DeVos isn’t about competency, growth, or proficiency. She’s about what the role of the DOE should be.

Secretary of Education is one of the weakest and most ineffectual Cabinet positions which exists, and it shouldn’t even matter much who staffs it. Hell, in Battlestar Galactica, the highest ranking government official to survive was Secretary of Education, as a means of showing viewers just how much the human race was decimated in the initial Cylon attack because of how far down the list of importance such a position was (sorry–my geek is showing). However, there’s a simple way to show that opposition to her is simply partisanship and ideology, even with a couple of Republican Senators joining in. Just look at the critiques…

1. “She’s never even been a teacher!” Well, no, she hasn’t. She’s also not applying for a teaching position, nor does the Department of Education employ teachers… at least not for the purposes of teaching.

2. “She miffed the question about proficiency vs. growth!” The only way for this to matter to the feds, starts with a requirement of standardized testing and a common curriculum with set benchmarks for either minimal standards or a way to quantify improvement… and then presumably for the feds to use that info to tie payments for state education departments to coerce them to change something. If one is opposed to fed-lead standardized testing, universal curriculum, the feds determining benchmarks or using funding to coerce state policy and believes that it’s hubris for the department of education which has been a failure since it’s inception less than 40 years ago to pretend it knows better… then obviously this is completely irrelevant. The fact it’s even used as an attack (for a federal, rather than state position) shows that the left is speaking an entirely different language and setting an entirely different set of qualifications based on what role they believe the DOE should have.

3. “She donated lots of money to advance education reform that she preferred, and that went to Republican politicians, choice advocacy groups, and inner-city youth.” Well, yeah… Democrats may hate money going to any of those three causes from private individuals, but it’s irrelevant to her ability to do the job divorced from showing a direction she wants education to go that isn’t a direction Democrats want.

There aren’t any major critiques I’ve seen of her outside of those three, outside of either some off-handed remark divorced from context in the age of google, primarily from contentious hearings that were all theater (and bears!)… or accusations that she’s not smart that seem to simply be believed by those who might like Vox or the Huffington Post blindly with no examples or proof needed. All of these examples are based on partisanship and ideology, not on her ability to do the job under standards set by those with enough power to either set DOE policy or to stop it from making policy.

What makes the opposition maddening to me, is that the vast majority of Trump’s picks are absolutely horrible, and they’re focused on one of the ones, (even if you don’t think she’s a stellar choice) who isn’t as horrible as most of his picks, and is being considered for a much less important post, one which historically has not even set policy for it’s own department or acted as anything more than a functionary. Picks like Tillerson, Kelly, Pompeo, Mnuchin, Sessions… are picks that are not only much worse, but ones where they probably could have peeled off more Republicans if they really tried and would have meant more if they succeeded in blocking their appointment. The only reason they chose DeVos instead, is that they could paint a picture of her being incompetent rather than wrong, based on criteria they set unilaterally that isn’t agreed upon by the right but sounds good enough on bumper stickers to those who haven’t even taken the time to consider what the DOE does or who actually sets the rules.

I don’t mean to make the case with any of this that she’s a great pick. Were I advising Trump, I would have advised against her (and I’m sure most of us who studied the issue expected a figure more like Michelle Rhee, at least before Trump began picking entirely controversial figures for nearly every cabinet post). But she is a good pick by Trump standards, and the attacks against her are the kinds of naked, relatively baseless partisanship our country would do better without.

–Gary Doan

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