Skip to navigationSkip to content
Reuters/Yuri Gripas
Lessons in irony.

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

Amy X. Wang
By Amy X. Wang


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.

PositionIndividualPublic high school and/or university attended
PresidentDonald Trump
Vice presidentMike PenceColumbus North High School
Chief of staffReince PriebusTrempler High School, University of Wisconsin
Homeland securityJohn KellyUniversity of Massachusetts
DefenseJames MattisRichland High School; Central Washington University
CIAMike PompeoUS Military Academy
StateRex TillersonUniversity of Texas at Austin
Housing and urban developmentBen CarsonDetroit Public Schools
TransportationElaine ChaoSyosset High School
UN ambassadorNikki HaleyClemson University
EnergyRick PerryPaint Creek Independent School District; Texas A&M University
CommerceWilbur Ross
InteriorRyan ZinkeWhitefish High School; University of Oregon
EducationBetsy DeVos
Attorney generalJeff SessionsWilcox Central High School
TreasurySteve Mnuchin
Environmental protection agencyScott PruittUniversity of Kentucky
Small business administrationLinda McMahonNew Bern High School; East Carolina University
Budget directorMick Mulvaney
Health and human servicesTom PriceDearborn High School; University of Michigan
LaborAndy PuzderKent State University
Director of national intelligenceDan CoatsJackson High School
US trade representativeRobert Lighthizer —
AgricultureSonny PerdueWarner Robins High School; University of Georgia
Veterans affairsDavid 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.)

Subscribe to the Daily Brief, our morning email with news and insights you need to understand our changing world.

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.