The Heartland Institute’s senior fellow for education policy explains why newly confirmed U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would do well to “improve her standing with grassroots groups” by first addressing local control of education before she moves ahead on school choice.
In a column at The Hill, Robert Holland explains that while the teachers’ unions and “grandstanding Senate Democrats” received much of the attention in the controversy over DeVos, the “magnitude of the opposition” facing the new secretary from the grassroots base of her own party is not a factor to be ignored. In fact, Holland says DeVos could dispel a significant portion of the controversy surrounding her confirmation by letting these grassroots parent groups know she intends to use her new authority to free state and local governments from the oppression of federal control.
As incongruous as it may seem, given DeVos’ championing of a parent’s right to select the best possible school for a child, parents organized in grassroots groups in all 50 states were among the most adamant critics of President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead federal education policy.
On social media, these groups have names such as Stop Common Core in Florida (or New Jersey, or Oregon, or Michigan, or insert your own state). Their reach is enormous. The concern for many of these activists boils down to this: While choice may be desirable, it is not feasible when big government imposes uniform requirements on all schools for such central policies as curricula, testing, and teacher evaluation.
Where is the choice, Holland asserts, when a child moves from a school in one zip code to another, but the standards, curriculum, and testing remain the same due to federal mandates?
Calling attention as well to reports of Common Core supporters on her staff, Holland observes that grassroots parent activists “see DeVos’ longstanding support of powerful organizations that pushed Common Core standards on schools nationwide as rendering null and void any ‘choice’ that might emanate from Washington, DC under her leadership.”
He urges the new secretary to invite onto her staff as well “education scholars who understand the federal government has no constitutional authority to dictate education policy,” and that the U.S. education department should be “phased out of existence.”
Holland also confirms what the parent groups have been saying all along, despite touting to the contrary by Republican leadership: the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – which replaced No Child Left Behind – places final control over state standards and tests with the federal education department.
Observing these factors, Holland urges DeVos to make local control of education – and not school choice – her first order of business.
“A push for federal school vouchers in the current regulatory climate could backfire big-time either by flopping in Congress or, if enacted, drawing more private and religiously affiliated schools into the freedom-killing Common Core web,” he warns. “Having a dedicated school choice activist as U.S. education secretary does not alter the reality choices are properly made in communities and homes, not in Washington, DC.”