Trump’s Education Secretary is major donor to the arts

Trump’s Education Secretary is major donor to the arts


norman lebrecht

November 24, 2016

Betsy DeVos, the incoming Education Secretary, was appointed a board member of the Kennedy Center in 2004. Stepping down in 2010 she and her husband, Dick Devos, gave $22.5 million to the Center, the largest private gift in its history.

The gift was made through the DeVos Institute of Arts Management, which she set up at the University of Maryland to train future arts administrators in response to a proposal by the Kennedy’s then-director, Michael Kaiser.


The couple also founded an art prize in Michigan.

Dick Devos is heir to the Amway fortune.

Betsy’s mother,  Elsa Zwiep Broekhuizen, was a prominent campaigner against same-sex marriage. Her brother, Erik Prince, founded Blackwater USA, a controversial private military group that operated alongside US forces in Iraq.


  • DESR says:

    Good for her! And sage of the Donald to appoint her to an important post, especially as she was not a supporter of his.

    • Mark says:

      Too bad that she wants to kill the public school system to turn it over to private, for-profit corporations. Actually, that’s an exaggeration: she expects the public schools to still educate the special ed, disabled, and otherwise “undesirable” students so that the charters can proclaim how well they are doing with those students they’ve creamed off the top. Also, she’s fought against laws which would require the charters to fully disclose their finances and anything else which might reflect badly upon them. Otherwise, she’s a real peach !

      I guess if you toss a few bucks at arts institutions, that makes up for anything and everything else.

  • Brian says:

    Also worth noting is that she’s lobbied to starve public schools of money in favor of private and religious schools, basically adding to the unequal playing field we have in the U.S. She’s also for “common core” standards (which de-emphasize the arts) and she’s worked to strip teacher unions of their influence.

    • DESR says:

      But otherwise you’re delighted?

    • Cubs Fan says:

      Yes, she supports religious and private schools – but what you conveniently and dishonestly omit is that she is a big supporter of charter schools, which are public schools operated independently. In other words, she’s a huge supported of school choice: let the parents decide what is best for their child. Given the extraordinarily lousy job public schools have done over the past four decades, defending the traditional public school has become increasingly difficult. US students are rated near the bottom in every international ranking. American students are just plain stupid and uneducated. Since A Nation at Risk came out we spent vast sums of money to improve public education. The result? Things got worse. There are many reasons, but why throw more money down a bottomless pit when the results have been so dismal, in no small part due to the teacher unions. If Common Core had stuck to its original mission, it would have been better accepted. But then came the leftists who injected their own biased, radical curriculum. On the right, they demanded changes to suit their myopic world-view. No one likes CC anymore, many states have bailed out, and private schools have wisely stayed away. I think DeVos is a great choice, and I hope she actually does something unlike the past couple of office holders who did little other than collect a big pay check.

      • John says:

        Note: Very biased assessment of the value and effectiveness of charter schools, which have been shown to be no more effective, and often less effective, in delivering quality education. The real story behind so-called education reform has been privatization which has made a great deal of money for entrepreneurs, not only in charter schools, but in the testing and textbook trade. This has all been accomplished by politicians who know little to nothing about education and schools and how they work. Instead they see schools as little learning factories. Education and business are different things, as can be said of government and business. (It’s important to note that in the US we worship business, so much so that we have now elected an orange-haired reality TV star / real estate investor to prove the point, one who says he can run the US Presidency on a part-time basis while continuing to run his varied businesses.)

        The so-called common core movement is also related to this. Education reform in the US and its emphasis on testing in reading and math has starved arts education in many parts of the country. So if Ms. DeVos is a patron of the arts, bully for her. Makes her look good while she’s “reforming” education in this country.

      • Cyril Blair says:

        “Given the extraordinarily lousy job public schools have done over the past four decades, defending the traditional public school has become increasingly difficult. US students are rated near the bottom in every international ranking.”

        False. American students’ test scores have risen substantially over the past few decades. There remains a racial gap in scores because even as black and Hispanic students’ scores have risen, white and Asian students’ scores have also risen. In particular if you disaggregate scores by race, white and Asian students in the U.S. score the same or higher than such often-raved-about countries as Finland. If you look at a single state like Massachusetts, its students outscore Finland. Also if you look at China, which scores among the highest on international rankings, the reason they do is because they game the system. They only test students in Shanghai who get the best educations, not the rest of their poor rural population.

        The American media never bothers to find out the true story about test scores, so the same false narrative keeps getting rewritten and republished.

        • Cubs Fan says:

          Well, that’s the problem isn’t it: to get American scores to match other countries you have to disaggregate and selectively massage the data. Other countries could do the same. When you take the whole data pack, for all the tens of thousands of public schools, you get scary, and poor results. Don’t believe me, or the media: look at the most recent TIMSS or NAEP data. It doesn’t look good. Do some schools achieve well compared to the best internationally? Of course, but there are so many that score well below average that it drags the rest down. I taught AP Calculus for 32 years and I know how brilliant some of our students are. I also am aware of how little many others know. They are culturally illiterate knowing nothing of history, art, literature, science – and math. I also know that there are some fantastic charter schools, like the BASIS schools, that produce outstanding, well-rounded students. They also accept all students, handicapped included. What they don’t tolerate is nonsense, ill-disciplined hoodlums, and students who won’t do their part of the equation by studying and doing homework. And yes, there are some really poor charter schools, which fortunately are closed down when they aren’t performing – at least where I live.

          • Cyril Blair says:

            “Well, that’s the problem isn’t it: to get American scores to match other countries you have to disaggregate and selectively massage the data. Other countries could do the same.”

            Actually they couldn’t really do the same. America is pretty unique in having a large chunk of white students, and then smaller chunks of Latino, black, and Asian students. Countries like Finland, Poland, Japan, and South Korea, besides having radically smaller populations, both overall and of students, have radically fewer minorities. A large chunk of students in American public schools don’t even speak English as their primary language. Many of them start school without speaking English at all. Why would we expect their test scores to be as high as other students’?

      • William Safford says:

        This, in turn, is disingenuous.

        There are lingering systemic racist and other reasons for the woeful condition of certain public schools in the U.S. We have a long and storied history of denying many children good educations, especially minorities.

        Think of the relative conditions of white and non-white public schools in the South during Jim Crow.

        Think of the segregation academies that were established in the South post-Brown v. Board, so that white children would not have to be sullied by going to school with non-white students. A few still exist.

        This barely scratches the surface, and the South is not along in its complicity.

        Many of these issues remain unresolved to this day.

        Blaming people in public education is metaphorically tying both hands behind their backs then mocking them for not putting up their dukes.

        In many cases, the primary function of a charter school is profit for the private company or companies that run them. After all, any time you see the word “privatization,” think “profit motive.” Someone wants a cut of the cash flow. As Deep Throat said about President Nixon: “Follow the money.”

        Even those charter schools with worthy goals and good results — and there are quite a few of them — do so because other solutions are blocked. They’re doing what they can.

        “School choice” is often a crock. It’s a choice for the few, at the expense of the many. This is what Betsy DeVos espouses.

        Oh, BTW, look at the nature of the DeVos fortune: Amway. It’s called multi-level marketing.

        Here’s what John Oliver had to say about multi-level marketing:

  • AKP says:

    She also donated $200,000 to a proposition that banned same-sex marriage in her state.

    • DESR says:

      Which is a legitimate position to hold, however much you might not like it, and however much it may well look rapidly out-of-date.

      I don’t think we can exclude people from public life because they have held ‘legal’ opinions that time and the tide of national affairs have rendered somewhat old-fashioned.

      And no, it is not the same as segregation etc. And even if it were, what about all those people who had to reform their views over the years in that regard, because society had moved on. They still were elected to congress and served in high office.

      Is she forever to be cast out because of her ‘outrageous’ view that marriage as she sees it can only be between a man and woman?

      Of course not.

      • John says:

        We don’t “exclude” people from public life. She will be the Education secretary. But her positions and views can inform her performance in her job. LGBTQ issues are very much a hot-button topic in American schools today and how her positions could affect policy, and how those policies affect real people, are very much worth discussion. Your comment is rather shocking for its naivete.

      • Mikey says:

        Bigotry is never a “legitimate position to hold”.
        If someone were making $500,000 donations to the KKK would you say that their position was “legitimate”? (DeVos made a $500,000 donation to NOM in 2012. An organization that works to revoke marriage equality, and that works hand in hand with other groups which seek to criminalize homosexuality.)

      • Holly Golightly says:

        Bravo. See? It’s easy, after all, standing up to the cant of the Left!!

    • Holly Golightly says:

      You mean she exercised her constitutional right of choice in a democracy? Scandalous; shouldn’t be allowed. Off with her head!!! Doesn’t she know she HAS to think like you do?

  • Larry says:

    The Grand Rapids Symphony performs in the DeVos Performance Hall.

  • Brian Hughes says:

    This is not a good thing, Norman. One cannot appoint an education secretary diametrically opposed to public education.

    It’s important to note that DeVos has put herself in the pocket of Michigan governor Rick Snyder. (You remember him–the guy who allowed residents of Flint to drink contaminated water!) She was a vocal proponent of Snyder’s efforts to gut Michigan’s public schools.

    • V.Lind says:

      You are very, very right. And it is her views on education and LGBTQ issues that make her an appealing candidate to Trump. Her cultural activities, while substantial by the sound of it, are irrelevant to the post for which she has been nominated.

      No doubt her connections will ensure the new Prez some dressed-up nights at the Ken Cen, but it is unlikely to be for ballet or opera — more likely for some popular rocker. And don’t expect evening such as when the Kennedys presented Casals — more likely to be Kanye, with Kim in the audience.

      Anyway, I’ll bet her cultural activities have provided fabulous tax shelters.

  • DESR says:

    Is it just marriage that preoccupies her?

    Does she believe in DeVos?

    • Manuela Hoelterhoff says:

      The mysterious DeVos is a pointless institute dreamed up by Michael Kaiser as a perch for himself when the Kennedy Center finally took his credit cards away. By then he had flown the globe many times in his sage mode dispensing management advice to hapless little opera companies in distant lands and just up the coast where he helped send the poor New York City Opera into a death spin (he doesn’t seem to mention this in his extensive bio). Before leaving the KC he extended the contract of music director Eschenbach as a you to the new president. He always gets away with it, which is why he is always smiling.

  • David Boxwell says:

    Sponsor of the arts, daughter of ardent homophobe, and brother of for-profit and unindicted war criminal.

    Americans, they are a funny race.

  • Man of Kent says:

    The crux of the issue: America is called the great melting pot and the public schools are the pot.