Report Cards: Comparing Departments of Education

Of all of the Orange Racist Misogynist’s cabinet picks, Betsy DeVos is among the most controversial. Nominated as US Secretary of Education, she was incapable of answering basic questions about education during her confirmation hearings and could not even denounce guns in schools because of the alleged threat of bears.

DeVos was confirmed only because Vice President and Religious Fundamentalist Mike Pence was the deciding vote. She is so unpopular that many parents have protested outside schools she’s visited.

It’s time we talk about the government’s role in education, so today we’ll compare Canada to the US.

In Canada education falls strictly to the provinces.

In Quebec, education is the domain of the Ministère de l’Éducation et Enseignment supérieur.

Originally run by a single minister, the department was split in 2016 and the responsibility of running it is now shared between the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports and the Minister Responsible for Higher Education.

The main goals of the Ministère include promoting research and education and contributing to the scientific, cultural and professional education of the people of Quebec. Its main law is the Loi sur le Ministère de L’Éducation, du Loisir, et du Sport, which in its preamble recognizes that all children have the right to an education and that parents have the right to choose where their kids go to school.

The law also includes the recognition that groups have the right to establish their own independent educational establishments and if said establishments serve the common good, they are entitled to governmental support. This recognition has come under fire in recent years as many religious schools have failed to provide basic education to their students in favour of religious teaching useless outside of their communities. In 2014 a former Hasidic Jew attempted to sue the province because he was taught only Torah (the main text in Judaism) at a school in Boisbriand, claiming the government failed to get him the basic education guaranteed by law.

Despite its guarantees, the Ministère’s own laws undermine its goals for it is also charged with the enforcement of the education provisions of the Charte de la Langue Française, Quebec’ main language law. Though the government is supposed to recognize the right of parents to choose where their kids go to school, the Charte imposes strict rules on whether or not a child can get an English education in the province. The Ministry also dictates course material in primary and secondary schools, and advises the government on Education policy.

Then there’s the Ministers themselves.

Quebec’s Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports is Sébastien Proulx, is an experienced politician and lawyer. Notable highlights from his time in office include investing government funds to refurbish arenas and curling clubs and his refusal to push for more extensive changes in a high school history curriculum developed by the former PQ government. The course has been widely criticized for leaving out the contributions of the Anglophone and Allophone Quebecois.

The Minister Responsible for Higher Education is Hélène David, former Culture Minister and University Professor. In light of recent sexual assaults at the University of Laval in Quebec City, she has pledged to fight rape on campus and sponsor initiatives to teach consent.

It should be noted, however, that while she seems to be doing well, her reputation is hardly pristine. As former Minister of Culture she was pushing the signage debate in 2016 when no one wanted to hear it.

As in Canada, education in the United States is primarily a State and community matter. The US Department of Education’s mission is to promote student achievement and ensure equal access to education to prepare them for global competitiveness. The Department, however, can only do so through scholarships, fellowships, and by demanding accountability of its schools through its budget.

The Department of Education’s main activities consist of distributing federal funds for education and monitoring that money. It gives fellowships to individuals for research into disabilities and rehabilitation and offers grants to schools for low income students to fund their education.

In order to keep parents informed and measure student progress, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires annual state wide assessments. This helps keep schools accountable.

Now let’s talk about Betsy DeVos.

Despite her vacant claim about supporting accountability, the Michigan philanthropist seems to be against it.

She is in favour of Charter schools, which are independently run public schools granted a lot of flexibility in how they operate in exchange for high academic accountability. They can apparently be started by anyone who submits an application to the state and have been widely criticized as being sloppy for-profit establishments.

DeVos has no experience in education and neither she nor her children went to public school. What she has is money and the 200 million she donated to the Orange campaign got her this cushy job.

Fortunately, unlike the Canadian model, the US Department of Education has so little power DeVos is unlikely to do much damage.

* Featured image: FreeImagesLive.co.uk via Creative Commons

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