DeVos Targets the System

Recently I had a long discussion with an in-law who is a teacher. He desperately wants to help students and is full of zeal and naive good intentions.

I have no experience in teaching, but I suggested that the whole approach needs to be jettisoned. Evidently Education Secretary Betsy DeVos agrees. She gave a speech Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute. I don’t think anyone could disagree with her state of the school assessment.

She said:

We need a paradigm shift, a fundamental reorientation… a rethink.

“Rethink” means we question everything to ensure nothing limits a student from pursuing his or her passion, and achieving his or her potential. So each student is prepared at every turn for what comes next.

It’s past time to ask some of the questions that often get labeled as “non-negotiable” or just don’t get asked at all:

Why do we group students by age?
Why do schools close for the summer?
Why must the school day start with the rise of the sun?
Why are schools assigned by your address?
Why do students have to go to a school building in the first place?
Why is choice only available to those who can buy their way out? Or buy their way in?
Why can’t a student learn at his or her own pace?
Why isn’t technology more widely embraced in schools?
Why do we limit what a student can learn based upon the faculty and facilities available?

Why?

We must answer these questions. We must acknowledge what is and what is not working for students.

I couldn’t agree more. What we’re doing now is not working. She continued,

The vast majority of learning environments have remained the same since the industrial revolution, because they were made in its image. Think of your own experience: sit down; don’t talk; eyes front. Wait for the bell. Walk to the next class. Repeat. Students were trained for the assembly line then, and they still are today.

Our societies and economies have moved beyond the industrial era. But the data tell us education hasn’t.

She acknowledges that No Child Left Behind did not work:

With No Child Left Behind, the general consensus among federal policymakers was that greater accountability would lead to better schools. Highlighting America’s education woes had become an American pastime, and, they thought, surely if schools were forced to answer for their failures, students would ultimately be better off.

President Bush, the “compassionate conservative,” and Senator Kennedy, the “liberal lion,” both worked together on the law. It said that schools had to meet ambitious goals… or else. Lawmakers mandated that 100 percent of students attain proficiency by 2014. This approach would keep schools accountable and ultimately graduate more and better-educated students, they believed.

Turns out, it didn’t. Indeed, as has been detailed today, NCLB did little to spark higher scores. Universal proficiency, touted at the law’s passage, was not achieved. As states and districts scrambled to avoid the law’s sanctions and maintain their federal funding, some resorted to focusing specifically on math and reading at the expense of other subjects. Others simply inflated scores or lowered standards.

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

She also says Common Core didn’t work and is dead:

The Obama administration dangled billions of dollars through the “Race to the Top” competition, and the grant-making process not so subtly encouraged states to adopt the Common Core State Standards. With a price tag of nearly four and a half billion dollars, it was billed as the “largest-ever federal investment in school reform.” Later, the Department would give states a waiver from NCLB’s requirements so long as they adopted the Obama administration’s preferred policies — essentially making law while Congress negotiated the reauthorization of ESEA.

Unsurprisingly, nearly every state accepted Common Core standards and applied for hundreds of millions of dollars in “Race to the Top” funds. But despite this change, the United States’ PISA performance did not improve in reading and science, and it dropped in math from 2012 to 2015…
On a parallel track, the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grants sought to fix targeted schools by injecting them with cash. The total cost of that effort was seven billion dollars.

One year ago this week, the Department’s Institute of Education Sciences released a report on what came of all that spending. It said: “Overall, across all grades, we found that implementing any SIG-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.”

There we have it: billions of dollars directed at low-performing schools had no significant impact on student achievement.

At last someone has come out with the truth. Our current system isn’t working and is mired in bureaucracy. Pouring more money into it isn’t the answer either.

Asking the right questions is a start. Previous administrations haven’t wanted to do that. They were invested in the system. DeVos has two other suggestions she feels would lead to better education besides rethinking the concept of school.

“First, we need to recognize that the federal government’s appropriate role is not to be the nation’s school board…The Every Student Succeeds Act charted a path in a new direction. ESSA takes important steps to return power where it belongs by recognizing states – not Washington — should shape education policy around their own people…
“That brings me to point number two. And, to finish the analogy… let’s call a new play: empowering parents. Parents have the greatest stake in the outcome of their child’s education. Accordingly, they should also have the power to make sure their child is getting the right education.” That includes school choice, DeVoss says.

As she also said, “When we try the same thing over and over again, yet expect different results, that’s not reform – that’s insanity.”

You can read the whole speech here: https://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/prepared-remarks-us-education-secretary-betsy-devos-american-enterprise-institute

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