Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Betsy DeVos is a worthy recipient of Calvin’s Distinguished Alumni Award

On Nov. 13, Liana Hirner, responding to Betsy DeVos’s being named a recipient of Calvin University’s 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award, published “Betsy DeVos has done more harm than good to America’s public education system.” While Hirner’s article argues that DeVos has hurt American education, I believe the opposite is true. I will make use of DeVos’s book “Hostages No More” throughout to respond to Hirner’s criticisms.

Hirner expresses disappointment with DeVos’s expanding federal vouchers for private schools while cutting public school funding. Although I understand Hirner’s concern regarding insufficient public-school funding, DeVos argues she made this change in order to provide more school choice for children and their parents. Hirner mentions in her article that she herself was able to attend a private high school; however, many other children do not enjoy this privilege.  For decades, DeVos has worked to expand educational opportunities for financially challenged children.

By funding voucher programs, DeVos created the opportunity for underprivileged children to be able to attend private schools. Furthermore, there is evidence that the quality of public education improves when more school choice exists because public schools have more motivation to increase their education quality. A 2020 study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows that the significant increase of school choice in Florida improved the outcomes of public-school students, especially lower-income students.

Hirner also criticizes DeVos for failing to adequately provide for special needs students under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). However, DeVos states that school choice programs allow special needs children to receive funding through IDEA to attend schools that provide for their needs.

Hirner expresses concern that DeVos’s reforming of Title IX procedures resulted in increased sexual harassment and assault. However, DeVos states she was simply creating a more effective system to address cases of harassment and assault. According to DeVos, the Obama administration’s Title IX policies mandated requirements that colleges and universities could not realistically meet. DeVos desired to create a fairer system that allowed for due process. 

Hirner also states that while DeVos was secretary of Education, the Department of Education rescinded the Obama administration’s Title IX guidelines, which allowed students to use the bathroom that aligned with their gender identities. However, DeVos states that she pushed President Trump to take time to explain and reframe the issue rather than take immediate action. DeVos maintains that despite her concern that permitting transgender students to use bathrooms of their gender identity could lead to various problematic situations, she still wanted to reasonably accommodate transgender youth. 

Another issue Hirner mentions is that DeVos rescinded the Obama administration’s 2014 restrictions on school discipline that prohibited disproportionate discipline of minority children. However, DeVos said she removed those restrictions because she recognized that they did not allow for the percentage of minority students being disciplined at their school to be higher than the overall percentage of minority students attending that school. DeVos quotes the Obama administration’s Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ joint “Dear Colleague” letter, which states that according to the aforementioned restrictions, a school’s discipline policy would violate the federal restrictions even if the school’s policy “itself does not mention race . . . but has a disparate impact.” DeVos argued that under such restrictions schools were discouraged from disciplining problematic students. Schools that failed to comply risked losing federal funding. 

Finally, Hirner challenges DeVos’s claim that school choice will “fundamentally improve education.” Hirner states, “Michigan charter schools . . . scored lower on the national test than the state’s public schools.” However, Hirner does not address the fact that many charter schools serve lower-income students who lack access to high-quality education. The more important comparison is how charter school students perform in relation to public school students in the same district. Significantly, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy reports that two Stanford University studies evaluating Michigan charter schools demonstrate that students “attending charter schools outperformed their district peers across the board.”

As I hope I have demonstrated, Hirner’s article evaluates DeVos’s achievements unfairly. I believe Betsy DeVos is a worthy recipient of Calvin’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

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