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.
|Position||Individual||Public high school and/or university attended|
|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|
|Interior||Ryan Zinke||Whitefish High School; University of Oregon|
|Attorney general||Jeff Sessions||Wilcox Central High School|
|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.)