Pioneer Institute: Betsy DeVos Should ‘Avoid the Beltway Education Trap’

The executive director and the senior fellow at Boston-based think tank Pioneer Institute warn Trump federal Education Department pick Betsy DeVos “to understand that the best school innovation comes from states, localities, and parents,” not the federal government.

In an op-ed at USA Today, Pioneer executive director Jim Stergios and senior fellow Charles Chieppo said that, if confirmed, DeVos needs a “different plan” from past U.S. Education Department (USED) secretaries hoping to “transform” American K-12 education.

The authors pointed out the “oxymoronic” education goal of President Barack Obama’s administration of incentivizing states “to adopt federally defined, one-size-fits-all approaches to school ‘innovation.’”

Stergios and Chieppo revealed the results:

As the 2015 results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress demonstrate, taxpayers spent tens of billions of dollars annually on “federal innovation” without improving the academic performance of our public schools. Just-released scores from the Trends in International Math and Science Study assessment show that, again, the U.S. was a below-average performer. Since 2009, our scores have also declined on the international PISA test.

The authors urged DeVos, whose confirmation hearing is scheduled for January 11, to learn the “important lesson” that “policies hatched by the federal government and its inside-the-Beltway partners like the National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers, the Fordham Institute, and Achieve, Inc. have failed repeatedly, and at great taxpayer expense.”

The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers are the creators of the Common Core standards, and both the Fordham Institute and Achieve, Inc. were funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help promote and implement Common Core. The Fordham Institute is just one example of a Washington, D.C., elite organization that supports both Common Core and school choice.

In a column at Breitbart News in 2014, Pioneer’s Jamie Gass described Fordham’s place in the Washington, D.C. “edu-blob”:

The institute continued to take money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has invested over $200 million in drafting the Common Core standards, evaluating the same standards Gates paid to develop, and building public support for them. Thus far, Fordham’s Gates haul is at least $3,461,116.

In 2010, Fordham used some of that Gates money to compare each state’s standards to Common Core. As you might expect, they found Common Core’s English standards superior to their counterparts in 37 states and the math standards better than those in 39 states. Fordham described the comparison as “too close to call” in most of the remaining states.

Fordham gave the Common Core mathematics standards an “A-” despite the failure to organize the high school standards by grade level, grade span, or course. Instead, they are listed in five unordered categories of “mathematical constructs,” leaving it unclear which standards belong to algebra and which to geometry.

Upon DeVos’ nomination as USED secretary, Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli wrote:

I suspect Trump will also come to appreciate DeVos’s political savvy—something that comes in handy for all cabinet secretaries. She was one of the first people in ed-reform to understand that we weren’t going to beat the teachers unions with op-eds and policy papers (as much as it pains me, a think-tank guy, to say that). She pushed the private school choice movement to invest in serious political giving much earlier than the mainstream reform groups did, and, so far, with far greater success.

Fordham senior visiting fellow Jason Crye also urged fellow supporters of school choice to support DeVos:

Whether parents should be able to be able to choose schools that others consider bad is a reasonable question—and worthy of debate. But let’s not allow that to blind us from the fact that a school choice advocate has been nominated to a cabinet position. That’s “huge” for our movement. We need to support Betsy DeVos. Give her a chance! Let’s not allow Utopia to get in the way of real change.

Though DeVos has financed and served on the boards of organizations that openly support Common Core, upon her nomination as education secretary, DeVos stated immediately, “I am not a supporter” of Common Core. “Period.”

“When it comes to the national K-12 English and math standards known as Common Core, DeVos has undergone a post-nomination conversion,” Stergios and Chieppo wrote. “Let’s hope that is true.”

“The D.C.-driven Common Core standards reflect a view of public education as just another workforce development program,” they added. “Research and data show that focusing on academic content and the liberal arts produces both better citizens and more skilled workers.”

Stergios and Chieppo pointed out that while DeVos has been a champion of charter schools in her home state of Michigan, the results have been far less than stellar.

“The incoming secretary is an avowed charter public school advocate,” they wrote. “Her advocacy should be shaped by results. Lax rules for determining who can open a school are among the reasons why charters in her home state of Michigan perform only slightly better than the traditional public schools there.”

The writers urged the USED nominee to “support state and local innovation and state policies” that actually boost student achievement, much like those developed in Boston, where charter schools have outperformed other groups of public schools.

Stergios and Chieppo advised DeVos, as well, to “stop support for the federal consortia that are developing Common Core-based tests,” and to “curb the collection of non-academic student data.”

“DeVos would be wise to revisit the 2013 amendments that gutted the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the faddish ‘social emotional learning provisions promoted by the Every Student Succeeds Act signed last year by Obama,” they added.

The writers said DeVos should avoid surrendering to the “D.C.-based education policymakers and lobbyists,” an act that would ultimately “set American education on a path of mediocrity and decline.”

“However well-intentioned Beltway bureaucrats and lobbyists may be, DeVos needs to understand that the best school innovation comes from states, localities, and parents,” they concluded.


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