by Betsy DeVos
In today’s polarized environment, it can often be hard to discern the truth. So allow me to lay out two facts plainly and clearly:
I believe every student should have an equal opportunity to get a great education.
And I believe many of those great educations are, and will continue to be, provided by traditional public schools.
These are not new views for me. You may just never have heard them if you only read about my views in the press.
Since taking office, I’ve visited traditional public, public charter, private, parochial and Department of Defense schools. I intend to visit schools of every type to see firsthand what’s working – and what’s not – for students across the country.
I visited Van Wert City Schools in northwest Ohio. It’s a traditional public school district with much to be proud of, including a robotics program that’s nationally competitive. Van Wert is a good school district. It is meeting the needs of many students. Yet the parents or guardians of nearly 20 percent of students who live within Van Wert’s district lines choose to send their children to a nearby district or to a different option in Van Wert instead. In doing so, these parents are seeking the education that’s the best for their child and his or her unique needs. This shouldn’t be controversial. Every parent should have that option.
School choice is pro-parent and pro-student. It isn’t anti-public school. Many students attend great public schools, and even if given the choice to send their kids elsewhere, many parents will choose to keep their child in a public school. If the school is meeting their needs, they should. School choice isn’t about elevating one type of school over another – it’s about trusting parents to choose the best fit for their child.
Many public school districts across the country already offer various forms of school choice. I saw this recently in Miami-Dade, Florida, where the public school district offers parents more than 500 choice programs, including magnet, charter and advanced curriculum schools. These in-district options help students excel and grow, putting them on paths to higher education and good careers.
Miami-Dade’s model demonstrates that more options foster collaboration, not conflict, between its schools, with students and parents reaping the rewards.
Public schools are the backbone of our education system. They will always play an important role in fulfilling our obligation as a nation to provide a quality education to every child. The Department of Education, under my leadership, will continue to support all types of schools that put the needs of students first.
What we will not do, however, is accept the status quo simply because it’s how things have always been done. We owe the rising generation more than that. The complexities they will face in life look very little like the environment of the mid-19th-century, which underpins much of the thinking behind our current educational system.
What we will not do is accept the status quo simply because it’s how things have always been done.
For example, why isn’t there more focus on how technology can transform education in the same way it has positively changed so many other aspects of our lives? Today, it’s possible for every student to learn at their own pace, with responsive technologies advancing them through topics they’ve already mastered and delving deeper into areas where they’re struggling.
Societal mobility also challenges the existing conception that a student should attend a school based solely on where he or she lives. We shouldn’t conflate education with school buildings in the same way we no longer conflate brick-and-mortar banks with finance or video rental stores with entertainment.
Confronting these types of questions head-on is the only way to put America’s education system on par with our major economic competitors around the globe, whom we’ve lagged behind for far too long.
My mission is to unleash a new era of innovation in education to drive unprecedented achievement. With the help of great teachers, principals and leaders, America can lead the world in student growth and development. It will happen in public and private schools alike, and we should embrace that. Our obligation isn’t to any type of school – it’s to students.
It’s time we put them first.