Noise about Betsy DeVos: What does it mean?

February 9, 2017 Published by

There’s lots of noise right now about Betsy DeVos, the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. What does it mean?

First of all, for the last 16 years of federal policy the focus was on curriculum, instruction, teacher evaluation, assessment, and school accountability. There was almost no discussion about governance (school boards and administration), delivery systems (i.e., what entity will provide the education), the role of parents, or the value of the educational experience to the student. Most of the discussion was about teachers and schools and tests.

And as the report that was released one day before the Obama educational administrators left office indicated, the $7 billion spent on teachers and schools and tests made little difference. Of course it didn’t. I knew that before it started. Why wouldn’t it work? This emphasis made public schools more unstable than they were before. It took disadvantaged students from unstable environments and put them in an even more unstable schooling environment (changing rules, teachers, administrators, curriculum, tests). The greater the level of instability, the closer one is to merely surviving. The closer one is to survival, the less energy and time there are for academic learning.

What will Betsy DeVos prioritize at the Department of Education? She is past president of the American Federation for Children where much of her work involved the delivery of educational value to disadvantaged students.

I think DeVos will focus on governance, delivery models, parental choice, and the value of the educational experience to students. Her other focus will be on higher education and the issues around due process, cost, and student debt—yet another governance issue.

I for one am grateful that she is not expected to deal as much with curriculum instruction, teacher evaluation, assessment, and school accountability. Regarding those matters, the past eight years have been a disaster, especially for children from poverty.

But the real issue that everyone is missing is this: Betsy DeVos might have eight years max in office, but during those eight years Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook are going to figure out how to do personalized, online learning. They already have gotten together to fund it with billions of dollars using AI (artificial intelligence), screen eye movement, gaming, and interactive approaches.

This personalized online learning will be delivered in schools and at home. And that will totally change the landscape of education—both public and private.

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This post was written by Ruby Payne

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