What Questions Should Be Asked at DeVos Confirmation Hearings?

What questions should lawmakers ask U.S. Education Secretary-nominee Betsy DeVos during her confirmation hearing this week? Joy Pullmann says lawmakers should ask what she will do to repeal high, comparable education standards.

In her piece in the Federalist, Pullman claims that a rigorous, consistent baseline of student expectations is effectively “an academically mediocre K-12 testing blueprint.” President-elect Donald Trump and DeVos have pledged to end “federalized” education standards, she adds, and it is important that DeVos explains how they will make good on that promise.

But this question seems inappropriate for the U.S. Secretary of Education nominee, give that the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind and returns near full control over education to state and local authorities, prohibits federal authorities from meddling in states’ standards and assessments. “States decide academic standards. That has been true for years but was spelled out explicitly by the [Every Student Succeeds Act],” conservative columnist Lyndey Layton wrote in the Washington Post.

As we have written before, calls for President-elect Trump and his administration to repeal high, comparable standards are moot. Between the Every Student Succeeds Act and the end of the Race to the Top Program, threats of federal overreach have ended. Most states are further raising the academic bar for students, which aligns with what parents want and expect from their schools.

Indeed, for all intents and purposes, the debate over high, comparable learning goals has been settled. Overwhelmingly, states have embraced a more rigorous, comparable baseline of student expectations. They have coupled those goals with high-quality assessments giving parents and teachers a more accurate measure of student readiness.

“We have accomplished what we need to accomplish,” Louisiana State Superintendent John White explained previously, “States have adopted higher standards, states have tests that measure those standards and they’re comparable, so there can be an honest baseline…That is a fantastic success for each state and for America and its children.”



States are having success with higher classroom expectations. This year a majority of states made significant student-proficiency improvements in reading and math. Some of the biggest gains were made by third-graders, who have spent most or all of their academic careers learning to meet higher standards – indicating higher learning goals are helping to improve student outcomes.

So what’s a better question to ask Devos? Rather than resuscitating a debate that has effectively been settled, lawmakers would be wise to focus instead on how DeVos – who has signaled her support for setting expectations to college- and career-ready levels – will empower states to continue to build on the success they are having.