Don’t Confirm Betsy DeVos

This is the letter I have sent to about 40 United States Senators, including Senator Deb Fischer, the Nebraska Republican.  If you agree, please communicate with your Senators and with Senator Fischer, whose vote may well determine the immediate future of public education.

“Dear Senator Fischer,

In the 41 years I spent covering education for PBS and NPR, I never encountered anyone less qualified for leadership than Betsy DeVos, the Administration’s nominee for United States Secretary of Education.

I reported for the PBS NewsHour and National Public Radio from early 1974 to late 2015. In fact, I cut my reporter’s teeth on IDEA, the 1975 federal law originally known as The Education of All Handicapped Children Act and followed that story with great interest throughout my career.

The Charter School movement was born in 1988, when many of education’s original thinkers met at the headwaters of the Mississippi River to develop the notion. I moderated that historic 3-day meeting, which led to the first state charter legislation (Minnesota, 1991) and the first charter school in Saint Paul in 1992.  From that day forward I reported on charter schools, covering post-Katrina schooling in New Orleans for six years (12 reports for the NewsHour and a 1-hour film for Netflix, “Rebirth: New Orleans”), as well as reports about charter schools in Los Angeles, Arizona, Texas, Washington, DC and elsewhere.

In 1989 I was invited to interview for the position of Education Advisor on George H. W. Bush’s Domestic Policy Council.  Although I was told the job was mine for the asking, I chose to remain a reporter.

During my career I covered progressive ‘open classrooms’ and back to basics “No Excuses” elementary schools where children marched silently to their classes.  I spent time with education’s radicals like John Holt and Jonathan Kozol and ideologues like Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC.  

I covered the seminal 1983 report “A Nation at Risk,” Secretary Ted Bell’s “Wall Charts, and the rise and fall of No Child Left Behind, the law that set off our current obsession with standardized testing.

While the federal government’s track record in public education is mixed, the past 16 years have demonstrated quite clearly that a micro-managing Washington, no matter the political party, cannot run public education.  Perhaps it’s time to return to basics. In education that would mean the collection and dissemination of information and renewed support for two classes of children: those with special needs and those who are economically disadvantaged.  

During my 41 years as a reporter, I interviewed every sitting U.S. Secretary of Education, from Shirley Hufstedler to Arne Duncan.  Although now retired, I watched with keen interest the testimony of the current nominee, Betsy DeVos, before the Senate’s HELP Committee and have read much of the reporting about her involvement in education in Michigan and elsewhere. (Not incidentally, discussions of the nation’s least effective and most corruption-prone charter schools seem to begin with Michigan, where for-profit charter school operators have been making out like bandits, and where all charter schools are subject to minimal scrutiny.)

I have concluded that Ms. DeVos is stunningly unqualified to serve as United States Secretary of Education.  In her testimony and her subsequent letter, she demonstrated her unfamiliarity with IDEA and the federal commitment to special needs children.  Moreover, both her testimony and her track record demonstrate an ideologue’s zeal for a single-minded approach to education. Neither her words nor her deeds show a commitment to the concept of public education for all children or any understanding of the importance of well-educated citizenry to our economic security and our democratic society.

I strongly urge you to vote against her confirmation on the floor of the U.S. Senate.


John Merrow

former Education Correspondent,

PBS NewsHour, and founding  President,

Learning Matters, Inc.”

12 thoughts on “Don’t Confirm Betsy DeVos

  1. Superb letter, John. Thank you for the historical read of the issues and for your commitment to our nation’s children. I appreciate your boldness and candor. I will send this letter onto my Congressional representatives.


  2. Thoughtful and comprehensive, John, except for this. If you were going to suggest an outstanding educator who is student-centered, reform-minded and exceptionally competent in all the ways that might matter most, who would you suggest be considered? Who could upset the status quo, challenge the establishment to make some significant change and still be an effective leader? We have endured failure in the public system for for too long, 7 bililion dollars invested last year in failing schools. What’s a viable solution or even what are some strategies for change and success?


    • Gary,

      I think your “7 billion dollars invested last year in failing schools” comment is a bit of an exaggeration.

      The 98 million spent in my district wasn’t invested in failing schools, and I’d wager that most of that 7 billion figure wasn’t wasted on failing schools either, because the vast majority of our nation’s schools are anything BUT failing.

      And even money spent on those schools that are in trouble (or “failing” by the measure of a poorly used BS test) is hardly “wasted”. Some of that money is buying those kids food. Some of that money is providing a good education to some of the kids at those schools. Just not all.

      There is an old saying about babies and bathwater. Let’s work on improving the schools that need it, and leave the ones that don’t alone.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Agreed! Anything that benefits kids whether health, nutrition or education is a good investment. The frustration comes from year after year after year of not much or not enough improvement with all the investment, in other words, the R.O.I. (return on investment) is disappointing to say the least. Perhaps it’s how and where the funds are invested, in systems rather than in people who are integral to any system that’s going to be more effective. The establishment needs to be shaken up, recalibrated, reformed and renewed and the big question is how can we get that done in the best ways possible? Who are those best equipped to turn around those schools that are failing the kids, not the kids failing but the systems that are not serving their learning needs. I know that there are many differentiated learning styles and perhaps Ken Robinson said it best when he pointed to our outdated industrial model, highlighting the fact that the mass approach just doesn’t work very well.


      • Hi Gary,

        The U.S.A. has an outstanding public education. We are the only country that educates all, no matter there social status or even their residential status. The main issue is income-inequality. Generaly, students who come families of low socio-economic status come to school woefully unprepared. Their parents are working two jobs in order to pay bills. You see, they cannot devote the time and energy it takes to prepare their children and help with homework.


  3. Thanks, John. Here in Michigan, we’re working hard to defeat De Vos, and it’s significant that the 2 Michigan Senators oppose her as well.
    We’ve been writing to others across the country, including Fischer, and we’ll keep it up.
    We appreciate your efforts.

    Margaret Smith Crocco
    Professor & Chairperson
    Department of Teacher Education
    Core Faculty, Center for Gender in Global Context
    Michigan State University
    318 Erickson Hall
    620 Farm Lane
    East Lansing, MI 48824-1034
    Phone: 517 884-1389
    Fax: 517 432-5092

    If you are not the intended recipient of this transmission or a person responsible for delivering it to the intended recipient, any disclosure, copying, distribution, or other use of any of the information in this transmission is strictly prohibited. If you have received this transmission in error, please notify me immediately by reply e-mail. Thank you.

    From: The Merrow Report
    Reply-To: The Merrow Report
    Date: Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 1:00 AM
    To: “Crocco, Margaret”
    Subject: [New post] Don’t Confirm Betsy DeVos

    John Merrow posted: “This is the letter I have sent to about 40 United States Senators, including Senator Deb Fischer, the Nebraska Republican. If you agree, please communicate with your Senators and with Senator Fischer, whose vote may well determine the immediate future of”


  4. Most appreciated letter which should get wide circulation. One addition: I think I am correct that within the Special Needs section the law included the Gifted and Talented category as well as those with learning difficulties. What a relief it would be if the Ed Dept (under an enlightened leader) would strip the department of micromanaging through stupid unreliable test scores and get back to what it was created to do. As a semi retired educator who has seen the whole evolution of federal involvement with education, I have not much hope, however.


  5. I’ve no idea who Trump and company might nominate in the event DeVos isn’t confirmed, but can’t imagine it could be someone even less qualified.

    She’s one of many now shaping education policy who know too little about educating to be embarrassed by their naivete.

    Marion Brady


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