New National Test Scores Show Betsy DeVos Was Right About Public Schools

In this Feb. 22, 2018, file photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), at National Harbor, Md.

By Mary Clare Amselem Published on April 18, 2018

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ recent interview with Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes caused quite a bit of backlash from critics.

As my colleague Jonathan Butcher has written, 60 Minutes ignored many of the facts about the state of education in America. Response to the interview drew quite a bit of criticism of DeVos and her policy solutions.

Perhaps one of the most pivotal moments came when she suggested that the United States’ heavy federal investment in education has not yielded any results. Stahl hit back, asserting that school performance has been on the rise.

But the latest government data show otherwise. According to the recently released 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation’s “report card,” we now have more evidence that DeVos was correct.

In fact, recent scores show virtually no improvement over 2015 scores. Eighth-grade reading saw a single point improvement over 2015 scores (10 points is considered equivalent to a grade level), while all other categories saw no improvement.

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These lackluster results come on the heels of declines on the 2015 assessment, suggesting the beginning of a trend in the wrong direction for academic outcomes.

Indeed, Stahl’s claim that the state of public schools has gotten better simply doesn’t hold up to the data. It fact, DeVos is entirely correct to point out that public school outcomes have not meaningfully improved, and that our nation’s heavy federal intervention in K-12 education has failed to help the problem.

As Heritage Foundation education fellow Lindsey Burke writes:

Forty-nine out of 50 states were stagnant on the 2017 report card, and achievement gaps persist. Historically, federal education spending has been appropriated to close gaps, yet this spending — more than $2 trillion in inflation-adjusted spending at the federal level alone since 1965 — has utterly failed to achieve that goal.

Increasing federal intervention over the past half-century, and the resulting burden of complying with federal programs, rules, and regulations, have created a parasitic relationship with federal education programs and states, and is straining the time and resources of local schools.

Indeed, for decades, Washington has poured billions of dollars into the public education system under the assumption that more federal spending will close achievement caps and improve the academic outcomes of students. With mounting evidence that more federal spending is not the answer, it may be time to consider other policy approaches.

DeVos is correct to suggest school choice as a solution to lackluster school performance. Parents who cannot afford to send their child to a school that is the right fit deserve to have options. As DeVos told Stahl:

Any family that has the economic means and the power to make choices is doing so for their children. Families that don’t have the power, that can’t decide, ‘I’m gonna move from this apartment in downtown whatever to the suburb where I think the school is gonna be better for my child.’ If they don’t have that choice, and they are assigned to that school, they are stuck there. I am fighting for the parents who don’t have those choices. We need all parents to have those choices.

In light of recent evidence from the nation’s report card, 60 Minutes and other school choice critics should consider that DeVos was correct in her framing of problems facing the nation’s schools and is on the right track with possible solutions — namely, that empowering parents is the right approach to improving American education.


Copyright 2018 The Daily Signal

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  • Morenowthanever

    I just love this woman. She probably has the biggest job in the “swamp”.

  • Alvinator

    Not only that, she is wealthy – she is doing the job because she wants to, not because of pay or position.

  • Conservator

    I just retired from a career in public education administration and in my experience Federal and State bureaucracy does little to improve education and in most cases makes it less effective. All the money wasted at the state and federal level is amazing. The people at that level are well paid, have expense accounts to travel to all kinds of meetings and conferences (an industry in and of itself), fancy offices in high rent areas etc etc.
    The impact of these bureaucrats is often negative because they force local schools to implement their centralized policies in order to get the money that is supposed to flow to the local districts. Local administrators are forced to spend huge amounts of their time in meetings and completing paperwork and reports to satisfy their overseers in the capitol offices. Often the funding for a particular program fades away over time but the schools have to keep doing all the reporting and paperwork for less and less benefit while the state and federal agencies head off on a new “tangent” and add another layer of reporting and accountability. The schools have little choice but to comply. The bureaucrats are experts at using a small amount of funding to force implementation of their projects and no local administrator can afford to turn down any funding no matter how many strings are attached. The best thing the Trump administration could do for educators in the local schools is to eliminate or greatly reduce the Dept. of Ed. Unfortunately bureaucracy is like Kudzu (that pernicious weed you see along highways in the south that grows up and over trees and everything in it’s path) once it is established it grows unchecked until it absorbs all the resources and covers everything.

  • Lisa

    I’m all for school choice. Although we homeschooled our three kids and two are already in college, I would love to see parents able to send their kids to religious schools if they wanted. What I’ve observed after 18 years of homeschooling is that parental involvement and empowerment is key. You wouldn’t believe the number of sacrificial, hard-working families I’ve had the privilege of knowing. Some families even homeschooled 9 kids successfully! If I could see my property tax dollars support Christian schools as well as public, I’d be a happier citizen.

    • Rebekah Banks

      Actually, I don’t think we want tax dollars going to private schools. When a school accepts money, in any form, from the government, the government then has the right to go into those schools and dictate what they can/can’t teach and what they are required to include as part of their curriculum. I too have homeschooled all four of my children, but I have spoken with administrators who absolutely do not want federal funding for their schools.

      • nickstuart

        When you leave the City of Destruction (government schools ) don’t look back (don’t ask for anything from the system )

  • Remember that 60 Minutes and other news shows have a vested interest in disaster. “If it bleeds, it leads” is their timeworn manifesto. So they have no concern or care what works for the least of these; they have every interest, however, in reporting on ever-increasing chaos, and securing sinecures for themselves and their friends.

  • Kenneth Schoonover

    DeVos is right on the money! (Pardon my pun there.) And I think one reason for that is because the federal government spends lots of money on bureaucratic, “one size fits all” education programs without considering how they’re going to work. (Remember the standardized testing initiatives which our federal government promotes. Standardized tests alone don’t measure the individual student’s ability to learn.) Also, what about parental involvement, the quality of the teachers and administrators in the school districts, and the condition of the buildings and grounds? These are things that are under the control of the districts and their citizens and can’t be improved just by throwing more money at them.

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