While there has been no end to the controversy surrounding Betsy DeVos's confirmation as Secretary of Education, much of it centered on how much the face of the "New Kochs" actually understands about education. The upshot is that we really don't know where she stands on most issues at the forefront of education today--of particular interest, how our nation can train a future generation of cybersecurity experts.
The highlight reel of DeVos's shortcomings for the Secretary slot would be pretty funny if it weren't downright frightening, including as it does Senator Al Franken's impromptu tutorial for DeVos on the difference between proficiency and growth, which transpired during a confirmation hearing.
Unfortunately, with the hearings centered on the proficiency of DeVos vis-à-vis the job for which she was nominated by President Trump very few ideas about education were considered or explored in depth.
Consider: proficiency and growth are both dirt common terms in education policy, and central to the mission of the Secretary of Education. That she was unable to intelligently talk about these issues was unsettling. But meanwhile, there were far more granular ideas and discussions that didn't happen--the very real opportunity cost of a bad nomination.
So, were we to look beyond philosophy for a moment--charter schools and choice over a centralized authority and responsibility for what our kids learn--to what we might call "having a vision," the situation with the newly confirmed Secretary of Education swiftly migrates from the realm of horrid to "perfect vacuum" status (i.e., a void). There is simply no "there" there.
Ideally, we would have heard the thoughts of a worldly education expert talk about the road ahead, mapping out what will be crucial for our nation's success in the immediate future and the years and decades to come, and considered thoughts about how we can get there from where we are today.
All that was lost in the swamp of shoddy facts and weak claims about the efficacy of cyber charters.
The Wrong Cyber
While the vast shoals of detractors grumble that Secretary DeVos purchased her nomination with the $1.8 million that her family donated to the Trump campaign and GOP coffers this past election cycle, an important issue has gotten lost in the breaking scrum.
Cyber charters are not the cyber we should be looking for. We need to take a page out of Israel's playbook--and that of last administration--and focus major resources on educating our children at the earliest ages to become the cyber guardians, cyber soldiers, and cyber-secure citizens of the future.
While it goes without saying that Israel is a little more military-minded than the U.S., there should be at least some comparison between the United States and what our number one Middle East ally is doing when it comes to cybersecurity.
Last week, Israel announced the establishment of a national center for cyber education. While it's true that the U.S. and other countries have similar programs, there is something timely about Israel's announcement.
The cyber war has replaced the Cold War in many ways; mutually assured destruction no longer requiring the razing of cities when all an aggressor needs to do is shut down the power gird or delete the records of a bank or even an agency. Consider the potential mayhem (and major celebration on the part of millions of Americans) were all IRS files to be erased.
The critical infrastructure of any nation, its public and private institutions and its citizens are within reach of the threats that loom large in the realm of cyber attacks. Improving cybersecurity is an all-agency affair, but one that the Secretary of Education will have a major role in--something we know nothing about because the confirmation process was solely concerned with the most baseline questions about DeVos's competency for the job.
One particularly interesting aspect of the commentary surrounding Trump's cyber policy seems to focus on a finding of the Obama administration, specifically that our nation would need 100,000 cybersecurity specialists and hackers trained and ready to work on protecting our nation from cyber threats by 2020.
We need way more than 100,000, but the current administration's draft position on cyber (recently leaked) admirably sets out "to understand the full scope of U.S. efforts to educate and train the workforce of the future."
Again, it would have been instructive to hear what DeVos thought about that.
As I outline in my book, Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers and Identity Thieves, education is central to cybersecurity. It is a form of patriotism for individuals to take responsibility for minimizing the threats we all face by practicing good digital hygiene--and it is our schools' responsibility to teach our kids what they need to know to become a part of the solution to our cybersecurity issues, not the problem.
Our national cybersecurity is a shared responsibility, and education is central to what needs to happen next, which is why I welcome the news (from the leaked Trump cyber memo) that the Department of Education may soon share information with the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security regarding the information children are learning about computer science, mathematics and cybersecurity.
But again, I wonder what DeVos thinks about that.
What we're doing as a nation to get ready for the coming cyber invasions that threaten not only our national security, but our way of life, are nowhere near sufficient and the fallout could be truly disastrous. It really would be helpful to know what our new Secretary of Education plans to do about that.