When President Donald Trump appointed Betsy DeVos to the position of US Education Secretary in 2017, there was an outcry from teachers and public school administrators. Where was the experience? Betsy DeVos had never been a teacher, and she had also never worked in education policy. Still, her fight from the outside with education reform has been admirable. She has consistently worked hard for student’s choice, and that alone has earned her favor with parents who say that public school has not changed at all in the past 30 years.
Why is that important?
In the 1980s, the Reagan administration published a report on America’s schools that showed the country was behind other places in the world. So how would America’s public school system ever recover? The administration at the time put standardized testing into place to help recognize schools who were performing well, but it also penalized those schools that weren’t able to perform well on the tests. This led to those schools losing funding, and in most cases, they would become a “failing school.”
Educational choice rose out of the need for families zoned in failing school districts to choose a different school. While it was originally for charter schools, the programs have expanded and now allow for many other possibilities. Students can choose to go into a magnet program, for example. A magnet program allows students at one school to go to another school because the other school has a specific program, such as business law or a center for international studies. These programs make it easier for students to go to a school where the curriculum is perfect for their interests.
It also helps underprivileged students go to a new school if they are dissatisfied with the programs at their public school where they are zoned or if they simply want to transfer to a school because it’s a bad environment. DeVos has presented her case many times in interviews, but she has always been criticized for her inability to talk about educational choice openly.
Will educational choice options mean that public funding goes towards private schools?
DeVos has said that isn’t the case. She has shown that philanthropy is the reason that these programs exist. She has many donors who have contributed to her campaign, and she has donated over $35 million to education to support its growth. Unfortunately, many people do not realize that DeVos has other priorities since she has been in Washington as well. Education reform isn’t the only thing that she has been focused on.
Unfortunately, due to the incidents in 2018 with Parkland, gun violence rose to prominence and required that DeVos shift her focus towards keeping students safe in schools. She has created new policies and regulations to ensure that students are safe on campuses, but it has taken a long time to get that legislation approved. She will continue to fight for student’s choice throughout her tenure as US Education Secretary.
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