Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has taken aim at Trump administration Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and promised to replace her with a teacher, but why replace her with anybody?
In a recent statement, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate called DeVos “the worst Secretary of Education we’ve seen” and promised in an email to supporters that, if she’s elected president, “the Secretary of Education will be a former public school teacher who is committed to public education.”
But Betsy DeVos is just a symptom of a badly broken system. We’re up against powerful forces, and to win, we need big structural change. So here’s my plan: Under a Warren administration, the Secretary of Education will be a public school teacher. pic.twitter.com/4M33NGTNJt
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 13, 2019
As campaign promises go, this one makes sense on a marketing level. Warren, like most of her opponents in the Democratic field, is trying to get out of Joe Biden’s looming electoral shadow, and targeting one of the biggest lightning rods in President Donald Trump’s cabinet is sure to get some attention.
DeVos — a longtime supporter of school choice — has been the subject of leftist ire and critical media reports (and, yes, Harry Potter memes) since her name came up for the job, so it only makes sense that Warren’s suggestion would seize on some of that hatred and funnel it into broader campaign support.
But let’s think about this proposal on its merits.
Experience teaching in the classroom will prepare a person for a lot of things in a second career. However, the ability to confront and overcome the host of challenges associated with teaching kids isn’t necessarily applicable to running a cabinet-level department tasked with the public education policy in a country as large, complicated, and diverse as the United States.
On the other side of the coin, the executive and political experience helpful to running a federal agency doesn’t necessarily prepare one for understanding the unique, on-the-ground, workaday needs of classroom teachers and school administrators in a country that stretches from Hawaii to Maine and from Alaska to Florida.
The reality that public education, like all things, is best administered by people who are close to it and affected by it locally.
As Logan Albright explained about the Food and Drug Administration:
Economist F.A. Hayek wrote extensively about “the knowledge problem”. This is the idea that no one person, or one agency, can have enough knowledge about complex systems to organize them more effectively than the combined knowledge of millions of participants. Hayek was mainly talking about markets, but the same principle applies here. No one of us has as much knowledge as all of us put together.
A wise newspaper editor often reminded me that every story is a business story; this is no different. Dress it up any way that you like, but public education is a service rendered to parents — who are the primary educators of their children — by the government.
Rather than have a constant game of political football over who runs the Department of Education and how they choose to run it, why not just get rid of the department altogether?
This country managed to educate children before the department’s creation in 1980, the Constitution gives no authority to the feds on this issue, and the DOE is also expensive, ineffective and really, really creepy). We’d be just fine without it going forward.