Democracy & Government

Betsy DeVos – Extreme Image Makeover as Champion of Special-Needs Children

It was almost like she expected us all to forget who she actually is and her own sordid history with these kinds of children.

Betsy DeVos' Makeover as Champion of Special-Needs Children

Betsy DeVos vowed to cut off federal funding for public schools that do not reopen. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

This post originally first appeared at Common Dreams.

Meet Betsy DeVos, champion of students with special needs.

At least that’s who she’s pretending to be this week.

The wealthy Republican megadonor who bought her position as secretary of education published an article in the current issue of Education Week called “Commentary: Tolerating Low Expectations for Students With Disabilities Must End.”

It was almost like she expected us all to forget who she actually is and her own sordid history with these kinds of children.

Up until now, the billionaire heiress and public school saboteur always put the needs of profitizers and privateers ahead of special-needs children.

During her confirmation hearing, she refused to say whether she would hold private, parochial and charter schools receiving tax dollars to the same standard as public schools in regard to how they treat special-education students. Once on the job, she rescinded 72 federal guidelines that had protected special-education students.

But now she’s coming off like a special-education advocate!

What a turnaround!

It’s almost like David Duke coming out in favor of civil rights! Or Roy Moore coming out in favor of protecting young girls from pedophiles! Or Donald Trump coming out in favor of protecting women from crotch grabbing!

It raises the question: Who exactly is she trying to fool?

Does Education Week really expect us to buy this crap? Or has the so-called corporate media enterprise simply caved to the Trump administration’s demand to publish a puff piece for rubes without any journalistic integrity?

Real journalists might have published this BS, but only after giving readers the proper context.

Not Education Week. The only nod toward objectivity was inserting the word “commentary” in the title of DeVos’ article.

It’s almost like saying DeVos ALLEGEDLY champions students with special needs.

Give me a break.

She’s championing a feel-good decision from the US Supreme Court from March. Way to get on that, Betsy!

Who exactly is Betsy DeVos trying to fool?

Moreover, the decision isn’t exactly substantive.

It basically says that public schools need to ensure their special-education students make more than minimal academic progress.

Great! Who doesn’t want that?

Has Congress jumped on this decision to increase federal aid to help public schools meet this requirement?


And neither is DeVos calling for any additional federal help. In fact, her administration is proposing CUTTING federal special-education funding.

Yet when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted in 1975 by the Gerald Ford administration, the federal government was supposed to fund 40 percent of the cost of all special-education students. It has never met that promise.

Today, the federal government only shoulders 15.7 percent of the cost with the states and individual districts picking up the rest.

This is extremely unfair.

It costs roughly twice as much to educate a special-education student as a non-special-education student. Yet the numbers of special needs students are on the rise.

According to the US Census Bureau’s 2015 statistics (the most recent available), students with special needs account for 8.8 percent of the population. That’s up an additional 100,000 students from the previous year.

And the areas with the largest increase of special-needs students are the most impoverished.

So we’re expecting the poorest communities to take up the largest percentage of the tab.

There are several bills in Congress demanding the federal government increase funding to the 40-percent threshold, but DeVos didn’t see fit to mention them.

To her, money is a thing only worth being lavished on private, parochial or charter schools.

Instead, she mentioned “personalized” education as a remedy for special-needs students in public schools.

She wrote:

No two children are the same. Each has his or her own unique abilities and needs. Personalized, student-centered education can help all children thrive, especially children with disabilities.” (Emphasis mine)

Though few people really disagree with this statement, the use of the word “personalized” sets off alarm bells.

The term has come to mean “personalized learning” or “competency-based education, which is code for making students sit at a computer or a device for hours at a time completing stealth assessments. These are programs made to look like video games that really just assess the same standardized material on the typical fill-in-the-bubble high-stakes test.

And the results of these assessments are likewise used against schools and students as an excuse to privatize and strip them of local control, legal protections and mandated transparency.

There are authentic ways to use technology to help kids learn, but the rush by corporations to cash in on this emerging market has been largely unregulated, unstudied and unchallenged.

DeVos has already noted her commitment to edtech solutions to academic problems.

At a conference for edtech investors earlier this year, she said:

We’ve just scratched the surface in the role technology can play. I only have to look at my young grandchildren to see how powerful tech is. It is a thousand flowers, and we haven’t planted the whole garden.

Another place she can look is her investment portfolio.

Both she and her husband have a $5 million and $25 million investment in a shady “brain performance” company called Neurocore. DeVos even sat on the company’s board until she got her job as secretary of education and had to step down.

The company claims to be able to train young brains to think better by hooking kids up to hats with wires hanging out of them.

I’m not kidding. The whole things goes against just about every peer-reviewed study in the field of neuroscience, but DeVos claims her company can help cure attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, anxiety, stress, depression, poor sleep, memory loss and migraines.

In other words, hooking kids up to machines of dubious scientific value is the cure for special education.

This is where we are, people.

Our government is run by frauds and hucksters.

And the media calmly give them an unchallenged platform to spout whatever nonsense they like with little to no skepticism.

So Betsy DeVos is a champion for students with disabilities, huh?

File that under B for Bullshit.

Steven Singer

Steven Singer is a husband, father, teacher, blogger and education advocate. He often writes at his own blog called GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG. Follow him on Twitter: @StevenSinger3.