Despite feeling the sting of criticism in the “mainstream media,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unleashed a critique of her own against the Obama administration Thursday for spending money on a failed effort to turn around the nation’s schools.
“The previous administration spent seven billion of your dollars on ‘School Improvement Grants,’ thinking they could demonstrate that money alone would solve the problem,” DeVos said. “Yet their own report, issued as they walked out the door, showed that it had zero impact on student outcomes and performance.
“They tested their model, and it failed — miserably,” DeVos said.
DeVos made her remarks Thursday in National Harbor, Md., at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an initiative of the American Conservative Union.
As has been her practice since she was confirmed as secretary of education this year, DeVos did not take questions from the media.
DeVos used her brief speech at CPAC to tout the benefits of school choice and to urge conservative college students to fight efforts to squelch their right to free speech.
She casted herself as an independent voice who is not interested in winning the affection of critics or those interested in upholding the status quo.
“My job isn’t to win a popularity contest with the media or the education establishment here in Washington,” DeVos said. “My job as secretary of education is to make education work for students.”
She lamented the fact that the nation’s test scores have “flatlined” and that 1.3 million students drop out of school annually.
Although it was unclear as to which test scores DeVos was referring, it is true that math and reading scores at grades 4, 8 and 12 have declined or not changed much in recent years, according to data accessible from The Nation’s Report Card.
Despite the dropout figures that DeVos provided, high school graduation rates in the 2013-2014 school year rose to an “all time high of 82 percent,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
DeVos accused the “education establishment” of “blocking the doorway to reforms, fixes and improvements for a generation.”
“This not a Left or Right issue,” DeVos said. “This is an American issue. We need education to work for every child.”
While President Barack Obama’s education secretaries — Arne Duncan and John B. King, Jr. — were fond of saying that all students should be able to succeed regardless of zip code, DeVos proffered a different version of that the idea by saying that parents should be able to “choose the best school for their child regardless of their ZIP code or family income.”
“We have a unique window of opportunity to make school choice a reality for millions of families,” DeVos said. “Both the President and I believe that providing an equal opportunity for a quality education is an imperative that all students deserve.”
DeVos also sought to connect with college students of the conservative stripe and urged them to speak up for their right to free speech and insinuated that they are being dominated by a left-leaning regime in American academe.
“The fight against the education establishment extends to you too,” DeVos said. “The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.
“They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community,” DeVos said. “But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.”
Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter @dcwriter360.