Does being an advocate for something mean that you are the best qualified person to oversee the national policies concerning this area of concern? Well, despite having almost three decades of experience in education advocacy, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (SoE) has learned in the most difficult way that it does not. From her controversial senate confirmation hearing in 2017 to her most recent interview on 60 Minutes, SoE DeVos has left many members of the American population concerned about her ability to raise the quality of American education from substandard and mediocre levels in some areas to a higher quality level as observed in other areas.
First, let’s have a moment of clarity. This is not an op-ed piece to condemn and criticize SoE DeVos in any way, shape, form, or fashion. Second, the topic of concern is the state of American education in comparison to other nations in a competitive global community. Without question, conducting a thorough review of the American educational system is huge task with insurmountable challenges. This requires a willingness to invest an adequate amount of time and resources to ascertain viable alternatives from various schools of thought which are reflective of evidence-based research and studies, not from a purely one-dimensional ideological stance. In consideration of this, the American people, along with those representing them in Washington, D.C., must ask, “Is SoE DeVos the person to undertake this challenge?”
On the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) website, there is a section which displays the most recent Nation’s Report Card for academic subjects ranging from civics, geography, and history to mathematics, reading, science and technology. The reports reveal the percentages of students in 4th, 8th and 12th grade and how they perform at three achievement levels, which include: 1) at or above basic, 2) at or above proficient, and 3) at advanced. After a review of several of the achievement levels, it became obvious that the lowest percentages were among students in the “at advanced level” (approximately 2% – 9 %) versus the highest percentages within the “at or above basic level” (approximately 45% – 86%). These scores were compiled from data during a period ranging from 2002 – 2015.
As stated above, the available data represented is dated beginning back in 2002. This was subsequent to an educational initiative introduced during the Bush Administration (2001-2008) in 2001 entitled, “No Child Left Behind (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act)“, or more commonly known as, “the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001“. The “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001” is a comprehensive piece of legislation intended to provide a much needed overhaul to the American educational system. While it covered various areas of concern believed to directly and indirectly impact educational outcomes, it primarily focused on the three subject areas of reading, mathematics, and science. Another area of note included provisions for teacher preparation to better facilitate the best educational practices within a competitive global community.
As the Nation’s Report Card data indicates, there was not substantial improvement reported during the period leading up to the Obama Administration (2009-2016). In 2010, the Obama Administration released a revision to the “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001” entitled, “The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act“. This piece of legislation was intended to empower educators to broaden the curriculum to include other subject areas (i.e., history, the arts, etc.) that took a secondary place to the three previously mentioned primary subject areas. It also invested additional funding into the development of better assessments that were intended to measure the essential complex skills needed to compete within the global community. However, as represented in the data above, the American educational institution still seems to fall short of the mark.
So where does this leave the American children and their prospects of receiving a high level of quality education that is equitable across all socio-economic lines? In 2017, President Trump submitted a budget proposal for congressional approval which would decrease the DoE’s budget drastically from the previous 2017 appropriation of $115 billion to $65 billion ($50 billion reduction overall). In consideration of this, it appears that SoE DeVos has been given an extremely difficult task which includes attempting to function effectively and efficiently in accordance with the President’s tentative educational budget for 2018 .
In the final analysis, the intention of the Trump Administration is to roll back federal regulations that allowed the federal government to have more authority in improving the nation’s educational sector. In addition, SoE DeVos is advocating for the possibility of reallocating federal funding to schools of choice. School choice, according to EdChoice.org, “allows public education funds to follow students to the schools or services that best fit their needs“. The question that remains is, “What happens to the public educational institutions and students that are left behind in a school setting wherein funding has been reduced tremendously?”
Sean Mungin, author of “The Thorn In The Flesh”