by Natalia Castro
Betsy DeVos understands that education is best handled when handled locally. Time after time, we have seen big government policies make it more difficult for teachers to teach their students, including the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act and the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act.
Under the Trump Administration, the tide is turning. DeVos is using legal loopholes to turn the law against itself in order to give schools more latitude to teach their students based on what they know works rather than what the federal government wants to work. On DeVos’ “Rethink Schools” tour, she highlights the need for local, individualized curriculum rather than federal intervention. Now, Congress needs to match her energy and remove federal education regulations.
On DeVos’ “Rethink Schools” tour, she highlighted the need for local, individualized curriculum rather than federal intervention.
At the beginning of the year, the Department of Education (DoE) provided parents and schools with a guide to help them understand how to navigate a child’s education under ESSA, legislation that like its No Child Left Behind predecessor requires states to develop challenging academic standards.
The critical component of DeVos’ 2018 ESSA guide was not teaching parents and students how to conform to the ESSA, but instead how to work around it.
The ESSA was signed into law by President Obama in Dec. 2015 despite bodies of research which conclude that standardized tests don’t work. Cookie cutter formulas for teaching children have been proven ineffective and don’t allow teachers to teach how they know is best, instead creating a system where teachers just teach to the test.
DeVos’ new guide explains how parents can seek charter school and alternative public school admissions through ESSA grants. Perhaps most importantly, the guide outlines how states, with approval from the DoE, can waive certain ESSA requirements to meet individual student academic needs.
Under DeVos’ leadership more and more states are seeking these waivers. Her latest “Rethink Schools” campaign, takes her around the country to see how individual schools and districts are waiving their ESSA requirements in favor of policies that better cater to their student’s needs.
Last year, the tour began in the Midwest, where DeVos sought out schools in Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and Indiana who took “out of the box” approaches toward education. This year, the tour continued through the South with visits to Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, according to Education Week.
DeVos has met with schools helping students recover from addiction, a school based in a zoo for interactive learning, and rural school districts working together to Advanced Placement classes to their campuses.
DeVos has been providing parents with the guide discussed earlier in each of her visits.
DeVos noted in an Oct. 2018 press release, “Our focus is on returning power to the hands of parents, states and local educators, where it belongs. Parents should not have to parse through a 500-page legal document to understand how a law or policy affects their children’s education. Because states and districts have significant flexibility in how they meet the requirements of the law, parents should know and have a voice in how they use that flexibility to best help their children. These new resources will help empower those closest to students with information they need to be informed advocates as education decisions are made at the state and local level.”
DeVos has already granted New Hampshire and Louisiana permission to implement pilot programs that will assess students English language arts and social studies progress not based on randomly-selected texts in a test administered once during the school year but, instead, by assessing students on passages from books used in daily classroom instruction at regular intervals.
While these waivers and the “Rethink Schools” campaign are helping move control over education from the federal government back to teachers, parents, and local districts, the fact that these waivers are even necessary is part of the problem.
DeVos is approving these waivers and pilot programs now, but the next administration might not be so generous.
Congress must act to repeal the elements of the ESSA which force states into molds and prevent individualized learning. We already know this model does not work, so reforming it through Congress is the only way to ensure change sticks. DeVos has begun a great system that truly has allowed us to rethink schooling, but without Congressional action some might miss out on the lesson.
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Natalia Castro is the multimedia manager at Americans for Limited Government.