Education Secretary Betsy DeVos got a less than ringing endorsement from the White House on Monday after a pair of uncomfortable television interviews raised questions about her commitment to help underperforming schools and support for President Donald Trump's proposal to curb school violence.
Less than a day after DeVos was appointed to chair a federal commission on school safety, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders downplayed DeVos' role in the process. Asked whether DeVos would be the face of the commission, Sanders said, "I think that the president is going to be the lead on school safety when it comes to this administration."
Sanders also said that the focus is "not one or two interviews, but on actual policy."
In an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" that aired Sunday night, DeVos said years of federal investment in public education had produced "zero results" and that American schools were stagnating and failing many students. But asked by CBS' Lesley Stahl whether she had visited low-performing schools to understand their needs, DeVos, an ardent proponent of school choice, admitted to having visited none.
"I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming," DeVos said.
"Maybe you should," Stahl said.
"Maybe I should," DeVos said.
DeVos' spokeswoman Liz Hill said that the secretary's focus was on promoting successful innovation, including in traditional public schools.
"The secretary has been very intentional about visiting and highlighting high performing, innovative schools across the country," Hill told The Associated Press in a statement. "Many of these high performing schools are traditional public schools that have challenged the status quo and dared to do something different on behalf of their students — many where teachers are empowered in the classroom to find what works best for students.
DeVos took to Twitter on Monday to defend her comments.
"I'm fighting every day for every student, in every school — public and private — to have a world-class education. We owe that to our children," she wrote. She also suggested that some of her remarks were unfairly left out of the show.
This wasn't the first time DeVos faced criticism following an uneven performance at a public forum. She was ridiculed last year after suggesting at her confirmation hearing in the Senate that some schools needed guns to protect students from grizzly bears.
Elizabeth Mann, an education expert with the Brookings Institution, said that DeVos' failure to tour struggling schools undermines her credibility as an advocate for the children that they serve.
"It's difficult for her to establish credibility in speaking about those issues when she hasn't visited an underperforming school as secretary," Mann said.
But Mike Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said the criticism was unfair and that the questions and the tone of the interview were tough. He added that he is not sure that DeVos' predecessors in the Obama administration would have done a better job in a similar interview.
"She is facing the glare of the spotlight much more than they did and the press is much less friendly to her," Petrilli said.