The Question Betsy DeVos May Never Live Down

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Why you should care

Because the new U.S. secretary of education has major battle scars from her confirmation hearing.

To say Betsy DeVos had a rough confirmation hearing to become secretary of education would be an understatement. Democrats came gunning for the billionaire charter schools advocate who had never attended or taught at a public school, and who mused that it might be appropriate to have guns in some schools to protect against grizzly bears. President Donald Trump and Devos’ other Republican backers said she was a reformer who would be a powerful advocate for school choice, leading to better opportunities for disadvantaged students.

DeVos didn’t seem to know what Franken was talking about — confusion that was caught on tape, mimicked on SNL and will likely prove impossible to live down.

DeVos was confirmed Tuesday by the U.S. Senate when Vice President Mike Pence cast a historic tie-breaking vote after a 50-50 tie, but her internet infamy is likely to live on — thanks in part to Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota. The former Saturday Night Live performer sat down with OZY Editor-in-Chief Carlos Watson this week to talk about the critical moment when Franken asked DeVos about the debate between “growth” and “proficiency” in public education. DeVos didn’t seem to know what Franken was talking about — confusion that was caught on tape, mimicked on SNL and will likely prove impossible to live down.

The question was whether educators and schools should be evaluated based on students meeting minimum benchmarks (proficiency) or by how much kids improve year over year (growth). While obscure to many Americans, it’s an important issue in the education debate — and Franken employs a football analogy to explain: “Let’s say you were in charge of hiring the coach of your college football team, and you have the coach in and you say: ‘How many yards do you need to get to have a first down?’ And the guy says: ‘Well, thank you for the question. I pledge to you that I will work as hard as I can to make sure we get as many first downs as possible so we can get touchdowns.’

“And you go: ‘Well, that’s not the question. The question is how many yards in a first down.’ ‘Thank you again for repeating the question. And not only that, I will work hard to stop the other team from getting first downs.’ You’re not going to hire that coach.… It was that fundamental — that fundamental. That’s why it went viral. You have to understand this.”

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