Jan 29, 2018, 5:50 PM ET

Education Department faced turbulent year during Trump's first year in office

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2017 was a turbulent year for the federal Department of Education — an agency that oversees education policy for around 50 million kids nationwide.

Before Trump even swore the oath of office, his nominee for secretary, Betsy DeVos, seemed to flounder through her confirmation hearing.

In a testy exchange with one lawmaker, she apparently confused the terms "proficiency" and "growth." During another, she appeared unaware of a federal civil rights law protecting students with disabilities. And in perhaps her mostly widely ridiculed comment to date, she suggested that guns could be allowed in schools to ward off "potential grizzlies."

PHOTO: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies during a hearing before the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee May 24, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies during a hearing before the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee May 24, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

But DeVos' headaches didn't end with her confirmation, which marked the first time a vice president has ever broken a tie to confirm a Cabinet nominee. For weeks after her swearing-in, the secretary was hounded by protesters at routine appearances.

Critics' consternation only intensified when, just five months into her tenure, DeVos met with so-called "men's rights" groups, including organizations that purport to speak on behalf of accused rapists, to discuss Title IX sexual assault procedures on college campuses.

The meeting, department press secretary Liz Hill later explained, was part of the department's commitment "reducing the federal footprint in education," and "rolling back overreaching regulation implemented by the previous administration that may have been well-intended but that lead to far-reaching consequences."

So, the administration rolled back Obama-era guidance that had directed schools to use the "preponderance of the evidence" standard of proof in sexual assault investigations -- a relatively low standard DeVos said denied alleged perpetrators due process.

"No student should feel unsafe ... and no students should feel like the scales are tipped against him or her," the secretary told reporters. "Every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is no predetermined."

In a similar move, the department also withdrew guidance instituted under Obama that directed schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. Bathroom policy should instead be decided "at the state level," the administration said.

DeVos called the Obama guidance a "very huge example of the Obama administration's overreach."

Overall, the department says, their aim is to "first and foremost empower parents -- those closes to students -- with a menu of good education options," using a "21st Century approach to 21st Century challenges," according to Hill.

In the first eight months of the Trump administration, the department lost nearly 8 percent of its workforce, according to government data. When Trump took office, the department boasted more than 4,400 employees, Office of Personnel Management records show. By September, they were down to 4,055. And according to the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit, the administration has yet to even submit nominees for eight of the department's 15 key positions.

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  • John Springer

    Good for her, change is not easy nor painless.

  • Matt

    DeVos is connect to Performant Financial Co. which was JUST awarded part of the $400 Billion delinquent Student Loan Collections. This was an over ruling that awarded this contract from SEVEN companies to TWO, Performant Financial being the second. Look into THAT why don't you?

  • Dennis Lee Bridal

    Maybe that is why our last international PISA score ranks the U.S. 41st in the world in Math. Vietnam ranks 22nd. Canada ranks in the top 10 in reading, math and Science. The U.S. ranks in the mid 20's in both Science and Reading. The bottom line is our lower educational system (1- 12) has been declining for the last 20 years. It is sad when I see all the young people visit from Europe who speak three languages when out kids can barely speak one. Maybe, if teachers were paid more our educational system would not be going down the drain.

  • Harry Lambers

    Another liar. Parents need to be involved with the children's education so she wants to shut down public schools and go for charter schools in which parents have no say.

  • zenthrop

    Education is NOT an enumerated federal power per the 9th and 10th amendments. Fed HEW is ILLEGAL and the dept of education must be abolished.

    Education belongs to the states, not the feds. Fed HEW is a very dangerous centralization of power prohibited by the constitution.

  • Pologize3

    Whether you are republican or democrat it should worry you that DeVos is in charge of public education yet she has no knowledge of it.