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TAKING ATTENDANCE

Almost everyone in Trump’s cabinet has experience with public education—except the education secretary

Reuters/Yuri Gripas
Lessons in irony.
By Amy X. Wang
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Among the myriad of objections leveled at Betsy DeVos, US president Donald Trump’s pick to lead American public education, the most stark is the fact that she’s never actually attended a public high school or university. Nor have her four children.

The criticism becomes all the sharper when looking at Trump’s overall cabinet, which at this point is almost completely assembled.

President
Donald Trump
Vice president
Mike Pence
Columbus North High School
Chief of staff
Reince Priebus
Trempler High School, University of Wisconsin
Homeland security
John Kelly
University of Massachusetts
Defense
James Mattis
Richland High School; Central Washington University
CIA
Mike Pompeo
US Military Academy
State
Rex Tillerson
University of Texas at Austin
Housing and urban development
Ben Carson
Detroit Public Schools
Transportation
Elaine Chao
Syosset High School
UN ambassador
Nikki Haley
Clemson University
Energy
Rick Perry
Paint Creek Independent School District; Texas A&M University
Commerce
Wilbur Ross
Interior
Ryan Zinke
Whitefish High School; University of Oregon
Education
Betsy DeVos
Attorney general
Jeff Sessions
Wilcox Central High School
Treasury
Steve Mnuchin
Environmental protection agency
Scott Pruitt
University of Kentucky
Small business administration
Linda McMahon
New Bern High School; East Carolina University
Budget director
Mick Mulvaney
Health and human services
Tom Price
Dearborn High School; University of Michigan
Labor
Andy Puzder
Kent State University
Director of national intelligence
Dan Coats
Jackson High School
US trade representative
Robert Lighthizer
 —
Agriculture
Sonny Perdue
Warner Robins High School; University of Georgia
Veterans affairs
David Shulkin*
— 
*Shulkin attended a private university. The details of his high school are not available.

With the exception of DeVos, Trump himself, and just a handful of others, most of Trump’s administration have had some form of experience with American public education, whether that’s graduating from public high schools or attending public universities. And that’s even given their absurd wealth (Trump’s cabinet picks have more money than a third of American households combined), and the fact that affluent people usually gravitate toward private schooling.

DeVos, a Michigan billionaire who favors the idea that federal money should go to independent schools as well as public ones, was called out as an ill-fitting choice to lead the US Education Department from the start—and now the awkwardness is all the more apparent. She attended a private Christian high school in Michigan, then a private liberal arts college.

She also failed at her own confirmation hearing to understand basic education terms or take a stance on issues such as student-performance accountability and campus sexual assault. If her appointment is confirmed at the end of this month, DeVos will be the first education secretary in the department’s 35-year history to not have any personal experience of public high schools.

The last person in the role, John King Jr., attended a series of public schools, taught at one, and put his daughters in the public system as well. (That said, he did also receive degrees from Harvard, Columbia, and Yale.)

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