In response to an opinion piece alleging that Betsy DeVos is unfit to serve as Secretary of Education because of her position on high, comparable education standards, Ohio resident William Van Metre argues in the Cincinnati Enquirer that policymakers should go further to abolish the U.S. Department of Education entirely.
Among the reasons, Van Metre suggests, is that the federal government forced more rigorous, consistent education standards on states. “Let’s get the federal government out of the control of our children’s education. Let’s return it back to our locally elected school boards.”
Contrary to that claim, however, states and local leaders have led the efforts to raise academic expectations and they continue to demonstrate ownership of their learning goals. In fact, objective analyses have repeatedly rejected claims that federal officials coerced states into adopting a higher baseline of education standards.
In near unanimity, states have redoubled their commitment to rigorous, comparable education standards. Only one state, Oklahoma, has reverted back to a set of inferior learning goals. Instead, most continue to make adjustments to accommodate student needs and to further raise expectations.
In most places the results of implementing a more challenging baseline are beginning to emerge. Last year, a majority of states made significant student-proficiency gains in math and reading. Some of the biggest improvements were among third-graders, who have spent most of their academic careers learning to meet higher expectations.
“These findings,” explains 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.”
A recent RAND Corporation study reaffirms that position. The report says Louisiana’s success in aligning instruction to the state’s higher standards, regular and transparent communication and “strong support for local decision-making” corresponded with improvements in student performance. State leaders, the study adds, deserve a lot of credit for developing curricula, providing professional development, and aligning state assessments with higher standards.
We agree with Van Metre that education should be controlled close to home. As states implement the Every Student Succeeds Act – which prohibits the federal government from meddling in states’ standards, assessments and accountability systems – it’s vital they have a leader who will implement the law as written by Congress. And that leader should continue to encourage states to keep the bar high for students and schools.