Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to a large gathering of young conservative women at Turning Point USA’s Young Women’s Leadership Summit Thursday evening and called the education system’s failure to properly teach U.S. civics a “huge problem.”
TPUSA founder Charlie Kirk facilitated the discussion with DeVos in a Q&A format. The conversation pivoted to a discussion of the failure of the education system– subpar public schools specifically– to properly teach students basic civics.
“It’s amazing how few students are exposed to the brilliance of these documents and our Founding Fathers,” Kirk said. “How are you planning to continue to address this problem as we move forward?”
“Well, it is a huge problem,” DeVos said before citing a recent statistic demonstrating the severity of the issue.
“The latest statistic that I saw suggested that only about 18 percent of high school seniors had a reasonable understanding of civics and U.S. history,” she said. “That’s a frightening figure when you think about it.”
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for the federal government to mandate a specific curriculum nationally to address this,” she added. “I do think it’s appropriate to talk very widely and loudly about the need to have robust civics and American history courses taught in every school across the country and for states, frankly, to adopt the requirement in their state to do so”:
Civics is not the only issue, DeVos said. According to an international assessment cited by DeVos, American schools are falling behind in many other areas as well.
“Just to put it in a little bit more in context as well, there’s an international assessment that’s done every three years and countries around the world– developed and developing countries. Results are compared for academic achievement,” DeVos said earlier in the conversation.
“And in the latest one, the United States was 24th in reading, 25th in science, and 40th in math,” she continued.
“Now, if we had results like that in the Olympics, do you think anyone in our country would stand for that?” she asked.
DeVos believes “school choice” is part of the answer, which she plans to pursue with the establishment of a federal tax credit.
“Individuals and companies could voluntarily donate to 501(c) charitable organizations that would be designated by the states that chose to participate in this tax credit,” DeVos explained.
If a state chose to participate and individuals and companies gave voluntarily to that fund, the state would then be able to take a portion of that federal pot and develop or augment programs that they already have in their state to extend scholarship opportunities to families and students in the state.
That way, parents would have the opportunity to “choose a better fit” for their child’s K-12 education, DeVos explained.