The Job of the Education Secretary Isn’t to Defend Public Schools. It’s to Help Kids Learn.

The more politicians and commentators insist that the first responsibility of the secretary of education is to represent and support public schools, the more we have an example of “capture” in government. Capture takes place when an agency charged with monitoring an industry or profession ends up in the service of it. The agency or official starts to regard the object of evaluation as a constituency that must be supported. When the governor of a state gets too close to the public employee unions around negotiating time, he has stopped representing the people of his state and become a partisan of special interests. He has been captured.

When the opponents of Betsy DeVos hail public schools as the first beneficiary of the Department of Education, they do the same thing. They forget the civic principle of “by the people, for the people.” In the case of the Department of Education, the Cabinet secretary should not be primarily the representative of, or advocate for, public schools and all the people who work in them. His or her constituency is not teachers, superintendents, and the rest of the personnel. It is the students.

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