Betsy DeVos is not some fringe player in the education-reform movement. Her support for school choice is squarely in the mainstream of serious thought on how to improve public schools.
COLUMNIST Dan Thomasson recently took to the opinion page in this newspaper to warn that Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to be secretary of education, could lead to the death of public education. This charge is ridiculous on its face. DeVos fully appreciates the vital role that traditional public schools play in our K-12 education system. She simply wants them to perform at a higher level and believes that injecting competition for students is the best way to force the entire education system to up its game.
Thomasson creates a false equivalency between DeVos’ support for parental control and the obstruction efforts of the nation’s teachers’ unions — the single biggest impediment to education reform in America. They have opposed ending tenure and establishing merit pay, which would tie teacher compensation to student achievement. They have attempted to block school choice at every turn, even opposing the efforts on the part of the Obama administration.
Both of President Barack Obama’s education secretaries, John King and Arne Duncan, supported expanded school choice over the objections of the teachers’ unions. The support of the Obama administration is a big reason that the percentage of children attending charter schools doubled over the last eight years.
DeVos is not some fringe player in the education-reform movement as Thomasson suggests. Her support for school choice is squarely in the mainstream of serious thought about the best ways to improve our schools. Thomasson’s column also distorted the facts on Detroit’s charter schools. DeVos is a strong supporter of holding traditional public schools and charter schools accountable. She successfully advocated for passage of a new law in her home state that gives an A-F grade to every public and charter school in Detroit. Schools receiving an F grade for three consecutive years would be shut down. This is the ultimate accountability measure.
Thanks to DeVos’ advocacy more than 50 percent of children in Detroit are attending charter schools, which are providing them with better educations. According to Stanford University, charter students in Detroit are obtaining the equivalent of an extra three months of learning each school year in comparison to their peers in traditional public schools. Furthermore, according to Michigan’s standardized test, charter school students in Detroit are outperforming children in traditional public schools in math, science, reading and social studies.
The school-choice successes in Detroit are seen in many states in America. It is a reason that more than three million kids now attend a charter school. Parents are voting with their feet and seeking better alternatives to underperforming public schools. In Chicago, more than half of all students choose charter, magnet or school-choice options. It is telling that there are one million children nationally that are on the waiting list to get into a charter school.
DeVos would like to meet the growing demand for schools of choice by creating more options for parents to select and children to attend the institutions they believe best meet their needs. She believes that K-12 money should follow the student to the best schools available to them regardless of their race, income or ZIP code. This is not a radical idea. It is a philosophy rooted in the principle that parents, not education bureaucrats and union bosses, should have the ultimate say in how and where their children are educated.
DeVos is a proven education reformer who will put the interests of parents and students first. Too often the education establishment makes decisions on the basis of what is best for the adults in the system. As a result, we have a situation in America where only 40 percent of high school graduates are college and workforce ready, according to results from National Assessment of Educational Progress testing.
This is a stinging indictment of the K-12 system that has long been dominated by teacher’s unions. DeVos will shake up the status quo and force an important discussion over who should be in charge of education policy in our country: state and local leaders and parents or D.C. bureaucrats and teacher unions? It is time to have this debate. The stakes for our children and the long-term competitiveness of the American economy couldn’t be higher.