Betsy DeVos Nomination: Thankfully, ESSA Would Tie Her Hands
The nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education resolves some uncertainty about education policy in the Trump administration. Like President-elect Trump, DeVos is a school choice advocate. The good news here is that the power of the Secretary of Education has been reigned in considerably as a result of specific limitations placed on the Secretary in the new ESSA legislation.
Any major changes to the way the federal government supports school choice would require Congressional action and approval. Implementing and supporting choice is really more in the hands of the states. We have yet to learn where DeVos comes down on the balance between federal and state control. Though I have a good guess.
The states are moving ahead with their plans and beginning to really embrace the flexibility that ESSA offers. I think that to get anything done over the next four years will require real collegiality on the part of the Department of Education.
Being an advocate for school choice is neither good nor bad in and of itself. But unless there is a pot of money hidden away someplace that I’m not aware of, expanded choice means fewer dollars for public schools that students leave. These are the very schools that most need extra support to meet the needs of the struggling student they serve.
I also wish that when we talked about choice we also talked about quality. For every successful KIPP or Green Dot school, there are dozens of charter schools that aren’t doing a good job. Many schools are no better and sometimes quite a bit worse than the traditional public schools their students previously attended.
While vouchers seems to offer an immediate solution, allowing parents to enroll students in established schools with good track records of success, other factors must be considered. For many families, choice is constrained by lack of access to transportation, extracurricular offerings and the availability of after-school programs. We can’t give up on improving all schools in the name of choice.
Everyone should pay close attention to Ms. DeVos testimony at her confirmation hearings. There’s a lot to be learned about issues beyond choice.
It will be interesting to see what other areas emerge as priorities for the Trump administration’s Department of Education. A well-rounded education for all students, civic education, career & technical education, STEM?
The Obama administration focused a lot of attention on STEM, with the President as the main cheerleader. How active a President Trump will be remains to be seen. But in an administration focused on creating/retaining jobs and jump-starting the economy, it would seem that both CTE and STEM should be among the Department’s priorities.
Invest in CTE and STEM, Please
The Obama administration never succeeded in getting any significant new funding for STEM, either for teacher development or student programming. It relied on a series of public-private partnerships to infuse resources into the schools. Every little bit helps, but schools need the assurance of sustained funding if they are to make significant progress on this front. Congress might be inclined to go along with increased investment in K-12 STEM.