One of the most consequential departments in the federal government is now run by one of the most debated members of President Trump’s Cabinet.
In a tie vote broken by Vice President Mike Pence, longtime influential Republican Betsy DeVos was confirmed as America’s secretary of Education.
America’s education system is broken and in need of a sharp change in course or, better yet, significant disruption. And Betsy DeVos, untethered by special interests or the education establishment, is best positioned to deliver.
Bettering America’s education system starts with the acknowledgement of a few principles:
• Students come first;
• Top down, one-size-fits-all models do not work;
• No special interests — especially unions — should hold special influence on the direction of public education;
• Good teachers should be rewarded;
• The current status of public education in the United States disproportionately hurts poor children and minority kids;
• Our education system is outdated and in dire need of modernization.
The Department of Education was created by then-president Jimmy Carter to fulfill a campaign promise to the country’s largest labor union, the National Education Association. The DOE was intended to help parents make effective schooling choices, not to dictate procedures and outcomes. “Primary responsibility for education should rest with those states, localities, and private institutions that have made our nation’s educational system the best in the world,” Carter wrote in his signing statement. Since then, however, the DOE has largely drifted into the orbit of predominantly partisan Democrats who dominate the teachers unions — groups still powerful enough to demand and receive protection from party officials at the state and federal level.
Meanwhile, public education partisanship has radicalized apace. As identity politics and critical theory have spread from the universities downward into high schools and beyond, the party line in education has grown more progressive but increasingly illiberal. The result is a militant bureaucratic approach, using schools to push revolutionary cultural and political change. Although not yet ubiquitous and not always effective, the strategy and its consequences show just how badly the DOE has departed from its original purpose.