Where DeVos Stands on Standards

 

In a piece published by Western Journalism, Janice Daniels contends that Betsy DeVos’ “indefensible support and promotion” of high, comparable education standards should disqualify her from serving as the U.S. Secretary of Education.

“Americans need a sound education in American history,” Daniels says, which conflicts with more rigorous education standards. President Trump, she surmises, should leave comparable standards in the “dustbin of really bad ideas.”

First, let’s address the American history issue.

The Common Core State Standards only cover math and English language arts. They say nothing of Social Studies or History (or Science or the Arts, for that matter). It’s hard, then, to understand how rigorous, comparable education standards pose a risk to the integrity of U.S. History instruction given that fact.

What’s more, comparable education standards are not a means to rewrite history or a tool of the federal government to indoctrinate students with certain ideologies. Standards outline the skills and knowledge students should reasonably be expected to master at each grade level. How educators support students to reach those goals (curriculum, lesson plans, materials, instruction) is entirely the purview of teachers, administrators and local school boards.

In addition, Daniels asserts that states should do away with comparable standards.

Contrary to Daniels’ suggestion, however, DeVos has made clear that she believes control over education standards, assessments and accountability should reside with state and local leaders. Importantly, she has indicated she will encourage states and districts to further raise the academic bar for all students.

In response to questioning from Senator Patty Murray, DeVos wrote: “I believe in high standards of excellence and achievement and it is the job of states to set those standards.” [Emphasis added]

What’s more, the Every Student Succeeds Act – which permanently replaces No Child Left Behind and prohibits the federal government from meddling in states’ standards and accountability systems – limits the authority the Secretary of Education will have to influence decisions about academic standards.

“The only way the Secretary of Education could ‘repeal’ comparable academic standards is by executive fiat – a maneuver that would violently contradict [President Trump’s] pledge to increase local control and directly infringe upon the rights of states that have chosen to use comparable standards,” Collaborative for Student Success Executive Director Jim Cowen explains.

 

DeVos has acknowledged that reality and pledged to respect the intent of the ESSA as written by Congress. “I will implement the statutory requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), including by adhering to the prohibitions on the Secretary interfering with decisions concerning the academic standards states choose to adopt,” DeVos notes in her response to Sen. Murray.

 

States have taken control and ownership of their education standards. Most are now beginning to see indications of student-performance improvements, suggesting that higher standards are working.

 

The next U.S. Secretary of Education should encourage state and local leaders to build on that success by further raising the academic bar for all students. There is reason to believe Betsy DeVos will do just that.