Over the years, Betsy DeVos has learned that education reform takes time and money, but when philanthropy focuses on a particular need and community, it can positively affect millions. That’s the case with educational choice reform. DeVos began working with educational choice philanthropy in the 1990s. She proposed several changes to education legislature in Michigan, and in 2017, she was appointed to the 11th Office of the US Education Secretary.
Many were fearful of someone like Betsy DeVos in office at the time. For one, she didn’t have a background in teaching. Rather, she was a businesswoman, but over the course of two years, she accepted several interviews to share her views and promote educational reform. She was criticized for her educational choice campaign, despite endorsements from Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
One of the main issues came from the public education community. Many educators believed that DeVos would use public funding for private schools, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, she pointed out that this was wrong in her 2018 interview with Leslie Stahl on “60 Minutes.” In the interview, she faced questions about whether educational choice was a success, even though she had only been in office for less than a year at the time.
It was clear that many opposed her simply because she was appointed by President Donald Trump as well. The president had promised educational reform, and he was even quoted saying that common core method would end during his administration. However, these reforms have been slow to take place. DeVos did inherit quite a few issues with America’s education system when she took the office in 2017. Many parents were complaining about students failing due to common core method curriculum in public schools, but it was also policies like standard testing funding.
In America’s schools, you are taught a curriculum based on a standardized test. If students do poorly on the standardized test, the school’s funding is re-evaluated, and they receive less resources than schools with higher test scores. The cycle is problematic as schools with no funding continue to do poorly on tests, while schools in more privileged areas have more funding and better test scores.
Educational choice is a way out for many students when there doesn’t seem to be any other options. DeVos has promoted school choice because it puts students first, in her words. She wants students to be able to go to a school where they receive the best education, especially if they are zoned for a school that is considered “failing.”
Educational choice programs include magnet schools, which are public schools with specific areas of study such as medical prep or business law. Students can also choose to go to private schools, charter schools, and virtual schools. Florida has one of the leading virtual school programs.
DeVos will need to work with state leaders to implement educational choice around the country. Right now, the most successful states include Louisiana and Florida.
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