What Does Betsy DeVos Mean For EdTech and STEM Education?

February 17, 2017 - 2 minutes read

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s controversial pick for Secretary of Education recently appointed by the skin of her teeth, has a shaky relationship with tech — to put it lightly.

After making comments during a committee hearing that suggested guns should be in schools to defend from grizzly bear attacks, the Internet lit up like a Christmas tree with memes celebrating the looming grizzly attack. Meanwhile, techies and app developers braced themselves for what seemed likely to be yet another anti-technology, anti-STEM education leader.

With America lagging behind other developed countries in producing STEM-track students, tech companies are often forced to import talent from other countries, or simply do without it — much to the detriment of the US tech economy, where a report from Obama’s White House cited hundreds of thousands of unfilled jobs due to education shortages. This translates to huge losses, and not just for NYC iPhone app developers.

For now, how DeVos’s approach to the job will affect students and the US STEM track record remains foggy. On the one hand, as pointed out in a TechCrunch op-ed, the charter school policies she’s known for championing often have the affect of encouraging technology-based classroom experiences. Privatizing some elements of the education system allows startups like AltSchool to make services available that otherwise would be blocked by teachers unions (and the notion that education should be free and equal for students regardless of location and economic background).

On the other hand, DeVos is also on the record supporting the idea of more Christianity in the public school system. “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education … our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom,” said DeVos in a 2001 interview. For the mostly liberal, mostly atheist tech community, that’s a dangerous sentiment for a country where as many as half of registered Republican teachers believe that dinosaurs co-existed with humans, or were simply not real.

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