Incoming Education Secretary Has an Opportunity to Encourage States to Further Raise the Academic Bar


In an opinion piece published by USA Today, Pioneer Institute’s Jim Stergios and Charles Chieppo, argue that rigorous, comparable education standards “reflect a view of public education as just another workforce development program.”

Education Secretary-designee Betsy DeVos should change course, the authors contend, by encouraging “the highest performing states and those that had shown significant improvement to share their standards-based success stories with other states.” If not, “she will once again set American education on a path of mediocrity and decline.”

The authors’ advice ignores the fact that states are beginning to see improvements from setting academic expectations high. To turn back or incentivize states to change course would undo much of those gains and return to an old, broken system of education.

This year most states made significant improvements in student proficiency in math and reading. Some of the biggest gains were made by third-graders, who have spent most of their academic careers learning to meet higher education standards.

Six years after adopting higher standards, “we know states aren’t just getting more honest, they are also improving student performance,” Jim Cowen explains in a video on the

“We are at a critical moment,” Katrina Boone, a former educator, adds. The new Every Student Succeeds Act “ensures states take full ownership of their academic standards and tests. As states make plans and set policies in 2017, it is important they continue to build on this increased honesty and improved performance.”

The emerging improvements states are making, says New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, “send a clear message that it’s a mistake to retreat from high standards or go back to low-quality tests,” especially as states take greater control of education through ESSA.

As Secretary of Education, DeVos has an opportunity to encourage states to continue to build on the success they are beginning to achieve. Conversely, incentivizing states to return to old models of education will undo the progress most have made and will create disruption and uncertainty for schools.

As the country’s highest education authority, DeVos will face pressure from those who wish to sink back to broken, politically expedient systems of education. That would be a mistake. Instead, she should use the office to encourage state and local leaders to further raise the bar for students and to empower them do so.