In one of her first major policy addresses as education secretary, Betsy DeVos made it clear that multi-billion-dollar education experiments conducted under the Obama administration have come to an end.
During a speech Thursday at the Brookings Institution, DeVos said the Obama-era concept of throwing money at schools has proven to be a failure. DeVos, a champion of school choice, noted that critics of choice insist money must be poured into “broken schools.”
“If only schools received more funding, they say, the schools could provide a better learning environment for those being left behind. But of course, we’ve already tried that, and it’s proven not to work,” she said.
She then demolished the contention that money equates to results by revealing the impact of a $7 billion program known School Improvement Grants hailed by the Obama administration as its “biggest bet” on education.
She said a report on the results, released only two days before the end of the Obama administration, found “that implementing any SIG-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.”
“At what point do we accept the fact that throwing money at the problem isn’t the solution?” DeVos said. “Good intentions and billions of dollars clearly aren’t enough to give students what they need to succeed.
“Waiting and hoping for a miracle, while blocking efforts that can help millions of children immediately, is simply not something this administration will abide,” she said.
Throughout her address, DeVos focused on the need to address students as individuals and empower parents and local schools in crafting responses to vastly differing local environments.
“We must shift the paradigm to think of education funding as investments made in individual children, not in institutions or buildings,” she said.
DeVos said education needs to look at diverse ways to achieve its outcomes, referencing the transportation revolution created by ridesharing services such as Uber.
“Just as the traditional taxi system revolted against ridesharing, so too does the education establishment feel threatened by the rise of school choice. In both cases, the entrenched status quo has resisted models that empower individuals. Nobody mandates that you take an Uber over a taxi, nor should they. But if you think ridesharing is the best option for you, the government shouldn’t get in your way,” she said.
“We celebrate the benefits of choices in transportation and lodging. But doesn’t that pale in comparison to the importance of educating the future of our country? Why do we not allow parents to exercise that same right to choice in the education of their child?” she added.
Statistics show the need for new approaches in education, DeVos said.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That’s not policymaking. Neither is education reform without changing the culture around education,” she added. “Changing the culture starts with shifting away from an ‘us versus them’ mentality. The focus shouldn’t be on whether we have a ‘public’ system, ‘private’ system, ‘charter’ system, ‘virtual’ system: It should be about the child, and about what is best for each individual student,” she said.
“I think we need to change the conversation from how we invest in schools, and what types of schools we invest in, to investing in students. At the end of the day, if the finest school building with the best teachers isn’t educating all of its individual students effectively, that school is failing those students,” she said.
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