With Donald Trump’s recent nomination of Betsy DeVos for secretary of education, people in the education world have picked sides faster than in a Super Bowl office pool. A common subject of debate, raised by Doug Harris in a New York Times op-ed, is the education track record in Ms. DeVos’s home state of Michigan. Ms. DeVos is an unabashed supporter of school choice, including the expansion of for-profit charter schools and vouchers.
In the ongoing debate about federal and state roles in K–12 public education, states got a leg up with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It renounces the strong regulatory role that the federal government had come to play, in favor of a return to state control.
My education policy friends were frustrated that education didn’t get more air time during the presidential campaign season, but I was relieved. I cringed every time I heard candidate Donald Trump and his surrogates talk about education. All I could think of was the analysis I did eight years ago of George W. Bush’s school choice legacy.
Five years ago, Baltimore City Public Schools seemed on the brink of a breakthrough. By almost all accounts, the district-led portfolio system—traditional and charter school options, all authorized and managed by City Schools’ central office—was working. But today, progress appears to have stalled. CRPE research director Betheny Gross and analyst Ashley Jochim researched Baltimore to understand the story of its reforms from 2007 to present.
The Every Student Succeeds Act abandons the prescriptive approach to school improvement embraced by both the No Child Left Behind Act and the Obama Administration’s flexibility waivers. Instead, states are empowered to craft their own “evidence-based” strategies to turn around struggling schools and districts.
The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives heavy deference to “local control.” School districts, charter schools, and communities are meant to be in the driver’s seat. And they are. States don’t improve student outcomes—schools and families do. State agencies have limited authority to intervene in low-performing schools, for example, and have limited staff, funding, and expertise to support serious improvement efforts in every school that needs it.
The NAACP’s resolution to oppose charter schools left thousands of black families whose children attend charter schools stunned. How could such a revered institution fail to recognize their beliefs and interests?