U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke at the Turning Point USA High School Leadership Summit on Thursday in Washington, DC.
I wanted to highlight a couple of excerpts of her speech.
She first addressed educational freedom:
Way too many in the education world believe they need more involvement, more intrusion, more mandates, more money, more government.
But what do we believe? We believe in more freedom!
We are committed to expanding education freedom for all families across America. You’ve probably heard me described as “pro-school choice.” Well, I am, but choice in education is not defined by picking this building or that school, using this voucher or that scholarship. And it’s not public versus private. Parochial versus charter. Homeschool versus virtual.
It shouldn’t be “versus” anything, because choice in education is bigger than that.
Choice is really about freedom! Freedom to learn, and to learn differently. Freedom to explore. Freedom to fail, to learn from falling and to get back up and try again. It’s freedom to find the best way for you to learn and grow…to find the engaging combination that unleashes your curiosity and unlocks your individual potential.
You and your families already exercise freedom when you make choices about next steps for education after high school. I suspect many of you are going through this process right now.
You compare options, and make an informed decision.
If you choose to go to Georgetown, are you somehow against the Wolverines or the Fighting Irish? Well, you’re not — except when they’re on the basketball court.
If you decide to go to George Washington University, are you somehow against public universities? Of course not!
No one criticizes those choices. No one thinks choice in higher education is wrong. So why is it wrong in elementary school, middle school, or high school?
Truth is: there is nothing wrong with that! There is nothing wrong with wanting to pursue the education that’s right for you!
First, how about educational choice within public schools? She talks a lot about freedom from mandates and flexibility, but we are still waiting to see something, anything tangible headed in that direction from the Trump administration.
States still have to play “Mother, May I?” Utah had a request for flexibility denied. Schools still face top-down mandates. Parents still face difficulty in many school districts and states when attempting to opt their students out of assessments.
When are going to see real freedom from centralized control?
Secondly, federal programs can never truly expand freedom; they can only ultimately restrict it. Have we ever seen federal money come without strings attached? No. I favor school choice, but it should not come from the federal level. DeVos highlights choices that students have in college, but she neglects to mention all of the federal regulations colleges face from allowing federal student aid.
She then gives a nod to workforce development and personalized learning, she said:
It’s time to reorient our approach to education. We need a paradigm shift. A rethink.
“Rethink” means we question everything to ensure nothing limits you from pursuing your passion, and achieving your potential.
You – and all students – deserve learning environments that are agile, relevant, exciting. You should be able to pursue customized, self-paced, and challenging life-long learning journeys.
I recently visited a SkillsUSA conference where students competed with each other in a wide range of activities they had learned about: developing computer games, building homes, welding, baking, graphic design – to name just a few. They were all clearly excited about what they were doing!
And last week, I met a 70-year-old man who was in his fourth career. His first was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He went on to work in the defense contracting industry, followed by another career in banking. He found retirement to be quite boring, so he learned the necessary skills to drive big rigs across the country. And he said his fourth career is his best one yet!
So be open to possibilities that aren’t pre-planned. I suspect some – or maybe many — of you feel like your life thus far has been ordered for you. Class to class, grade to grade, graduation to graduation. But you will find that nothing – not your families, your careers, your faith journeys — is as predictable as it seems.
So what you learn is about much more than just acquiring “skills” or diplomas. You are your most important resource. Your education is about you. It’s about your aspirations and abilities. Your passions and pursuits. Your ingenuity and what you do with it is what gives life to your education.
We’ve had too much “rethink(ing)” in education circles, we need to go back to basics. Schools need to address classical education. It’s not just about a student’s interest. It’s not about skills. Kids need content, and the pendulum is swinging wildly away from that.