The title of my column was the plea from former Democrat Senator Joseph Lieberman at the confirmation hearings of Betsy DeVos, nominee to lead the Department of Education. Before making this plea, Senator Lieberman listed the failures of our public education system that those of us who care about education have only become too familiar with:
· The 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) report shows that only "37 percent of high school seniors are prepared for college-level math and reading, down 2 percentage points in math and 1 percentage point in reading since 2013, the last time the tests were administered."
· The same report also shows that "while 32 percent of white students and 47 percent of Asian students scored at proficient or above in math, only 7 percent of black students and 12 percent of Hispanic students did."
We as a nation spend on average $12,000 per pupil per year in K-12, one of the highest amounts in the world. And yet, our return on investment is so poor. Does anyone seriously believe that a young person who can barely read or write, and who can't multiply 9 by 4, will be able to lead a comfortable and dignified life on his own merit?
None of the Democrat Senators bothered to ask this important question at the hearings, despite the fact that they all professed how much they "cared" about education deeply. They spent more than 10 minutes complaining to the committee Chairman about the lack of sufficient time to ask Betsy DeVos questions, even though the entire hearing lasted more than 3 hours and was much longer than previous hearings for Ed secretaries John King and Arne Duncan.
While the Democrat Senators didn't "waste" their time on questioning Betsy DeVos on how to actually improve the outcome of our education system, they spent plenty of time scrutinizing her on three main aspects: her wealth; perceived conflict of interests and her past comments and actions in "social justice."
It's comical that the Democrat Senators loathe Betsy DeVos' personal wealth. Senator Bernie Sanders asked DeVos whether she thought she would still be the nominee for education secretary if she wasn't a billionaire or she and her family hadn’t contributed to Republican politicians. Maybe Bernie was busy tweeting so he missed the part when Senator Tim Scott explained that Betsy wasn't born with a silver spoon. Her mom Elsa Prince was a public school teacher. Her parents had to mortgage their house in order to start a small business. Betsy and her family's current wealth is the result of hard work and by providing products that better other people's lives. By the way, the success of their businesses have created many American jobs which enables many Americans to make a comfortable living along the way.
In contrast, the self-proclaimed socialist from Vermont is a millionaire himself. Although he wasn't born rich either, he accumulated his wealth through more than two decades of being a "public servant," mostly from a six-figure salary as a senator. His personal wealth puts him as one of the top 4% wealthiest Americans, even though he can't lay claim to a single job he created as a result of his "public service."
When it came to the conflict of interest discussion, Senator Elizabeth Warren wasted no time to lead the charge, questioning Betsy DeVos' contribution to Republican lawmakers. Maybe we should also point out, according to a CNN report, Senator Warren is definitely part of the richest 1% because her fortune" is worth between $3.7 million and $10 million." She accumulated her wealth through writing books and teaching at the most elite college in America, Harvard. While questioning Betsy DeVos' conflict of interest, Senator Warren seems to forget that just a few months ago at a Labor Day breakfast hosted by the Greater Boston Labor Council, she stood on the podium, "saying she owes a “huge thank you” to several union officials she said have “my back when I’m down in Washington...” “I want you to know,” she said, “I do my best to have your back, too.” It's obvious with whom Senator Warren aligns her interests.
Of course, no Democrat Senators could talk about the challenges of higher education without repeatedly citing the statistic that "1 in 5 women on campus has been raped." If this is true, why would Democrats push for free colleges for all? Are they so bent on putting more young women in such a dangerous situation? But more importantly, this statistic is not true. The number came from a Campus Sexual Assault Study conducted by Christopher Krebs and Christine Lindquist of Center for Justice, Safety, and Resilience. They wrote in an article that appeared in Time magazine to set the record straight by stating, "there are caveats that make it inappropriate to use the 1-in-5 number in the way it’s being used today, as a baseline or the only statistic when discussing our country’s problem with rape and sexual assault on campus...the 1-in-5 statistic is not a nationally representative estimate of the prevalence of sexual assault."
But truth seems to matter less in this day and age.
Betsy DeVos could have retreated to a sheltered life as a result of her wealth. Instead, she devoted 30 years to help better education outcomes especially for students from low income families. The organization she chaired, the American Federation for Children (AFC), has helped over 400,000 such students through school choice programs. As the Wall Street Journal rightly pointed out, "You know progressives have lost their moral bearings when they save their most ferocious assault for a woman who wants to provide poor children with the education they need to succeed in America."
The outcome of our existing education system has reached a crisis level. We all need to have a sense of urgency and treat decades of meager education outcomes as an imminent threat to our national security because it's our nation's future that is at stake here.
I once wrote that when it comes to education, what's normal is criminal. If confirmed, Betsy DeVos will be the first secretary of education who can break the norm and can give American parents and children educational choices. So, yes, it's in our national interest to give Betsy DeVos a chance.