Serving every student requires a shift in mindset from a portfolio of schools to a portfolio of learning opportunities.
Taking Betsy DeVos Up on What She Has Said
The newly confirmed education secretary Betsy DeVos has been a very controversial nominee. Many have raised serious concerns about her experience and views. Given the intensity of the debate, it will take time before education reformers who opposed her can contemplate working with her. But it will eventually need to happen.
It’s hard to know for sure from just one hearing, but DeVos has said that she:
- thinks families should have choices so they can make the best matches for their children
- favors competition and a fair chance for people with new ideas to attract students and get public funding
- thinks technology is important but also values solid classroom teaching
- supports good traditional public schools
- wants every child to have a good school
- thinks all schools should be accountable (but won’t endorse all the rules and reporting requirements that now apply to district schools)
- prefers state and local initiative to federal action
If DeVos really believes these things, she should be a natural supporter of the strategy now being pursued in 40+ cities, where leaders are committed to offering choices to all families, creating a level playing field for competition between incumbent and new (mostly charter) schools, and judging all schools based on student outcomes. As the new Secretary has said she prefers, the initiative for these strategies is local, often with support from governors and state superintendents. In some cases—for example, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Newark, D.C.—this “portfolio strategy” also includes collaboration with private schools that want to be part of a citywide system of schools and be held accountable for results.
This is where education reformers and DeVos might come together. And, she can make a real contribution by inviting ideas for more innovative and productive uses of federal funds in cities that are taking real initiative.
It’s too soon to know what Secretary DeVos’ “choice” initiatives will look like, and whether they have any real chance of enactment. But reformers, and more importantly students, will gain nothing by ignoring potential areas of agreement.
Give students flexibility, supports to explore different academic and career pathways without closing the door on other opportunities.
Despite periodic stalemates, a local portfolio strategy will very likely endure, spread, and continue to evolve.