Since I am a former governor of the great state of Michigan — and a firm believer in excellence for our nation’s education system — I often get asked about President-elect Trump’s choice as the next leader of the U.S. Department of Education. In each response, I start by calling Betsy DeVosBetsy DeVosMcAuliffe rolls out new ad hitting back at Youngkin on education Biden DOJ tries to shield DeVos from deposition in lawsuit over student loans The long con targeting student survivors of sexual assault MORE a highly qualified, creative and promising pick to lead the department.
America doesn’t need more fights around education. We need solutions —proven ways to educate students, helping them become good citizens who succeed in life and the working world. Business leaders are intently focused on promoting creative approaches that will raise the performance of our K-12 students — making them and the entire U.S. economy more competitive for decades to come. The key is supporting what works, from rigorous standards to charter schools to transparency across the system.
Thankfully, as a businesswoman and entrepreneur, Ms. DeVos has been singularly focused on accountability and results — exactly what our education system needs. She is a particularly strong advocate for increasing accountability of both traditional and charter public schools in Michigan.
For example, she supported a new state law that grades Detroit schools from A to F and shutters the doors of any school that receives an F for three consecutive years. It has been a bitter pill for some, but a necessary prescription for a city system that has been failing students for years.
Her experience with empowering Detroit parents with more and better choices is particularly instructive as large city school districts throughout the nation struggle. She knows that parents are not a “cause” to be helped, but instead have the wisdom to make the best choice for their children’s education.
Just like in other urban areas, the growth of more school choices in Detroit is providing different paths for parents, who jump at the opportunity to move their children from consistently failing schools to safe places to learn and achieve.
And it is working. According to research conducted at Stanford University by the independent Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), Detroit charter schools have consistently outperformed the traditional district.
A 2013 study found that on average in Michigan, charter school students gained several months of additional learning in reading and math when compared to their counterparts in the traditional public school system. In Detroit, the difference added up to more than three months per year.
Of note, CREDO concluded that Michigan was “among the highest performing charter school states.” I am proud that the law that Ms. DeVos championed and that I signed in 1993 is achieving these results. Charter schools may not address all the challenges in K-12 education, but they offer a powerful alternative for parents and create pressure to improve the rest of the system.
This creative approach to problem solving will help in Washington. With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) one year ago — the measure that replaced No Child Left Behind as the law overseeing elementary and secondary education — decision-making will now rest with state and local officials, fully informed by the thoughts, ideas, concerns and opinions of parents. I expect Ms. DeVos to provide valuable insights to local officials and hold them accountable for results, while leaving most of the authority where it belongs – at the local and state levels.
Few in America have dedicated themselves more fully to the cause of improving student achievement than Ms. DeVos. She is a fearless leader who has committed her time and resources to ensuring that our nation’s parents have a voice and our children have the best opportunity to succeed.
She has been willing to put the accepted truth to the test in her advocacy work — and that has meant a few sparks with other groups that care about education, including teachers’ unions. Her goals remain fixed: to make sure schools serve kids as well as possible. That approach will not change in Washington.
Betsy DeVos’ credentials as a business leader and entrepreneur — not to mention as a mother and grandmother — are second to none. To those who have seen the work that Ms. DeVos has led, and the educational successes she has helped achieve, it is clear that there is no one better to lead the Department of Education at this critical time.
John Engler is a Republican who served as the 46th Governor of Michigan from 1991 to 2003. He is currently president of the Business Roundtable in Washington D.C., an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. corporations.
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