Nominee for Secretary of Education to President Trump: Mrs. Betsy DeVos, a billionaire from Grand Rapids who is a 30 year veteran of philanthropy and advocacy in education. An extremely controversial nominee. Since Mrs. DeVos is a Michigan native and hails from Grand Rapids, the controversy seemed to hit much closer to home than I have ever experienced. Because of that “connection” I know I would have sat up and taken notice; I would have been more aware of and engaged in some of the conversations. Since it will impact the field of education, I would have taken notice anyway and would have broadened my conversations. Add to that the fact that the nominee is not an educator and it was like a trifecta for me: I had to know more!
"What cannot be understood cannot be managed intelligently".
I return to this quote from John Dewey. I enjoy reading educational commentary. I could not really understand how Mrs. DeVos was even on the short list. That did not make sense. It would have been quite easy to file it in the file of “She’s a billionaire who paid for the nomination”; or “The dude has no idea what he’s doing and is throwing all kinds of crazy names on his Cabinet list”; or even “He’s thinking outside the box and being innovative”.
Because we are in a time of such significant change, I am working mindfully to be diligent in managing my words and actions intelligently. I am conscious of my position as an educational leader just as I am aware of being a strong woman, a mother and a role model to many young girls and boys/men in our community. In this vein, I am committed to putting my thoughts and understandings out in print. As I started doing so, I realized that I needed to start with the fundamental question of what the heck does the Secretary of Education really do? Was I even correct in my understanding of what the job actually entails? There was much chatter in my social media feeds generalizing how horrible a candidate she is; there was also much about what an innovative and great idea it was to nominate her. But why? I posted this question/challenge on Facebook:
Without a doubt, a current hot topic is the nominee for Secretary of Education. I am an inquiring mind. In the spirit of inquiry, not debate or rhetoric, I ask you to share what you believe the job duty/duties of the Secretary of Education are. Not what you think they should be or what you believe other people think they should be; not who you think would do well or not well; not critique what someone else thinks the job is; post what you believe the person in that position actually has the responsibility to do based on the current job description.
Additionally, I challenge you to not actually Google or look up the job description before posting!
What We Think the Secretary of Education Does
My Facebook account is intentionally a closed one. I choose carefully who I am connected to in the sense of I only connect with people I know or have known and/or are relations since I also share pictures and random pieces of our family life, etc... Still, I am connected to 699 people so I figured that was a fair number even though I know a little about Facebook algorithms and can pretty much guarantee myself that not all of those connections would have even seen my question. I had seven folks take me up on my question/challenge. So, in my teeny sample of my teeny world, the general understanding of the job of Secretary of State included:
- no idea
- no idea
- set standards for what students should learn before they graduate and ensure schools are achieving those standards
- oversee money distribution including federal monies to the states for elementary and high schools, pell grant distribution including setting standards universities must meet to receive federal money
- one personal pondering of whether or not a secretary of education is necessary - the federal office of education seems to mostly distribute block grants
I was not quite in the boat of “no idea” but I do not think I would have remembered or thought of all of these other points if I were to have typed a one or two sentence answer myself. Even with all of my experience, knowledge and background, I realized I did not understand enough to write intelligently on the topic. I needed to do some research.
A Job Description for the Secretary of Education
I no longer have a government textbook at my house and I didn’t really want to go to the library. For such a pivotal responsibility in our nation’s government, I was confident that I would be able to access adequate information using only internet resources so away to Google I went…
The tradition of the Cabinet dates back to the beginnings of the Presidency itself. Established in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, the Cabinet's role is to advise the President on any subject he may require relating to the duties of each member's respective office.
The Cabinet includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Attorney General. (from WhiteHouse.gov)
Not enough information. Next “stop”, Department of Education. The overview of Functions is:
The Secretary is responsible for the overall direction, supervision, and coordination of all activities of the Department and is the principal adviser to the President on Federal policies, programs and activities related to education in the United States. The Secretary serves as Chief Operating Officer for the Department under the President's Memorandum of July 11, 2001.
The Deputy Secretary focuses on the development and implementation of policies, programs, and activities relating to elementary and secondary education matters. This mission addresses a wide spectrum of interests ranging from safe and drug free schools, special education and rehabilitative services to education of linguistically and culturally diverse students, and promotion of educational interventions, and reforms.
The Under Secretary focuses on higher and adult education policy, postsecondary policy, college aid, and the President's financial aid reforms for the Pell Grant program.
In each of those three positions were sections detailing the Functions and Responsibilities of each which were fairly lengthy but, for the most part, covered well in the overviews.
In Other Words
The Deputy Secretary does the work of developing and implementing all policies, programs and activities for K-12 schooling - under the direction of the Secretary of course. Interesting to me was the fact that the Deputy Secretary is responsible for all K-12 education including non-general education programs and services, oversees intergovernmental relations and oversees The Office of Innovation and Improvement, the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, and the Risk Management Service. All seem to be a function of the Education Department, though some pieces were quite new to me.
Based on the description of duties, the Secretary of Education (SOE) is the chief administrator. She would be the COO, coordinate everyone else in the Department of Education (DOE) and directly advise the President in all things education. Like all chief administrators, the SOE would be directing all things related to education but not necessarily doing the compilation work herself. An understanding of all aspects of education would be vital to being able to direct, supervise and coordinate all those working in the DOE. So, the next research question became, just what is the responsibility of the Department of Education? What does the Secretary of Education actually oversee?
Department of Education
Again, straight to the source (Dept of Ed):