After a few weeks of speculation, it looks like President-electTrump has finally picked the education secretary for his incoming administration: Betsy DeVos.
Two weeks ago, bets were on Dr Ben Carson to be picked, a highly qualified neurosurgeon who simultaneously believed the Earth was no older than 10,000 years old. He also once said the Biblical figure Joseph built the Egyptian pyramids to store grain. As you can imagine, the scientific community was pretty stressed about the idea of this guy setting education policy.
However, it looks like he's been trumped. This week it’s been officially announced the lesser-known figure of Betsy DeVos has taken the post.
Whoever is in the hot seat for the Education Secretary plays a very important role for scientific education and science as a whole, as they have a strong say in what schools receive funding and which subjects receive attention. This can also have a subtle effect of setting the climate where science can either thrive or shrink away.
For a bit of background, DeVos is a billionaire philanthropist, known to be a generous donor to the Republican Party. She has served on numerous education philanthropy boards, although she has never professionally worked in the public education system.
She grew up as a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and was educated at Calvin College, the educational institution of the same church.
This is a protestant denomination that believes that “all scientific theories be subject to Scripture and the confessions.” It also claims that “humanity is created in the image of God; all theorizing that minimizes this fact and all theories of evolution that deny the creative activity of God are rejected.”
Most commentators say she is not expected to apply hardline religious beliefs to the curriculum, according to Washington Post.
“It would be a mistake to put her in the Religious Right camp. That’s not who she is,” Doug Koopman, a political scientist at Calvin College, told Washington Post.
Nevertheless, she is well known for her philanthropic efforts in Christian causes. Along with her hardened belief in the free-market, this has led people to believe she will favor privately owned and religious schools over public schools.
The US National Education Association released a statement in response to the appointment, saying:
“Her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students. She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers — which take away funding and local control from our public schools — to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense. These schemes do nothing to help our most vulnerable students while they ignore or exacerbate glaring opportunity gaps. She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education."
Much of Trumps’ stance on education during his campaign was rallying to abolish the Common Core, the educational guidelines of mathematics and reading adopted by most states. DeVos previously riled conservatives because of her ties to groups that supported these guidelines, although she has since claimed she is not a supporter of Common Core.