A Conversation on Empowering Parents with Secretary Betsy DeVos


(applause) – Good evening everyone,
my name is Archon Fung and I’m the academic dean of the Harvard Kennedy School. Tonight we are joined by two professor and a very special guest to
explore the critical question of how to improve our education system. In particular, should we
address the challenges of our education system by shifting resources from school districts to parents by giving them tax dollars to choose whether to send their
children to public schools, charter schools or privates. This is the latest chapter in
a debate that’s been going on for some time. Milton Friedman developed
the idea of choice in his 1955 essay, “The Role
of Government in Education.” Policy makers including our special guests here tonight develop these programs into experiments in the 1980s and 1990s. Given that this debate has
been going on for 60 years more than 60 years. Why did 1,900 people
sign the Facebook page to protest tonight’s event. The controversy surrounding this forum reflects the large and profound divisions in American politics and society today. This country is more divided now than it has been in many decades. Many people on all sides feel fearful and deeply threatened. For educators, this is
an especially sad moment because it has made many
people stop listening to each other. In this time of division what
we need most is to listen and understand one another instead of circling the wagons
into our own echo chambers. The Kennedy School is all
about understanding differences and building digit bridges but
creating an inclusive space now is especially difficult
because many people from all sides would
rather shut each other down rather than hear what
one another are saying. I’m sure that many people
have followed the controversy over Colin Kaepernick and the other NFL football league players and
staff have been kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. What are they saying? From the farms of Virginia
to the halls of Philadelphia to the field at Gettysburg, the idea that we are all created equal is the deepest of American aspirations. These Americans in silently kneeling remind our fellow citizens all of how we’re all falling
short of eye that ideal because some of us are imprisoned or killed at much higher
rates than others. Yet many view they’re very
speech as an American. Many people on the left side
of the political spectrum are also feeling fear and threat that prevents them from
listening to other views. In a disturbing series of recent events we’ve seen students and activists shut down conservative speakers
at several college campuses over the past year. Shutting people down is contrary
to the values of this space and the Harvard Kennedy School. Here we encourage the exchange of ideas and different viewpoints. Even if we do not agree
especially if we do not agree it is important to hear and
allow others in attendance to listen and speak as well. The practice of our forum
and acts these principles by giving speakers an opportunity
to articulate their views and then insisting that
they take questions from you the audience. People in this audience
will as they always do here have an opportunity to ask questions in the last portion of tonight’s event. I will ask the Harvard University police to escort from the forum anyone who insists upon
preventing others from speaking or hearing by disrupting this event. That is because our practice of dialogue and debate is critical. When you prevent others from speaking or hearing disagreeable views or when you yourself
refuse to be challenged by those who disagree. It means that you are so
sure that you’re right and so sure that they are wrong that you have nothing to learn from them. But on an issue like school choice how can anyone be so sure of themselves. When we look back years from now we might see school choice as a salvation for disadvantaged learners in Dorchester, the Southside of Chicago
or Detroit Michigan. A Salvation that enables them to escape failing schools and seize the opportunity
for a better life. School choice might enable educators to create the widest
array of opportunities and pedagogy’s for students. On the other hand, we may come to see that school choice became a
way to fleece the public and exploit uninformed parents who send their children to
ineffective private schools. While enriching the
operators of those schools. Still worse, we may come
to see school choice as a misguided effort to abandon the dreams of Thomas
Jefferson and Horace Mann for a system of common schools in which Americans from all
backgrounds high and lowborn learn how to be citizens of a
successful republic together. I do not presume to know
how the future will judge us on this question or so many others. I do think that looking at the evidence will help us all reach a better future. Evidence about what kinds of traditional public, charter and
private school arrangements actually work. We’ll explore these and other
questions about education with our distinguished colleague
and special guests tonight. Professor Paul Peterson
is the Henry Lee Shattuck professor of government and the director of the program on education policy and
governance at Harvard University. He’s the senior fellow
at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and senior editor of Education Next, a great journal of Education policy. He’s a member of the distinguished Academy American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Education. He’s written many, many books including Saving Schools from Horace Mann to virtual learning, School
politics, Chicago style and City Limits. Which is a path-breaking study
of urban politics and policy. Elizabeth DeVos is the
11th Secretary of Education of the United States. She has been involved in
politics and education policy for more than 30 years in
her home state of Michigan and nationwide. In an interview with the
Philanthropy Roundtable she recounted how she first got engaged with education issues. In a visit to potters
House, Christian school and Grand Rapids. There she saw a school that had managed to create a safe warm and rich educational learning environment for many low-income children. She started helping
individual students with, with their tuitions. Then supporting the school itself which her family still does through their philanthropy. This effort grew into a
larger philanthropic effort to provide a scholarship fund and then she pursued
this commitment to choice in the public policy domain. Working to pass Michigan’s first charter school law in 1993. Then as now she seeks to
transform education systems to provide such choices for parents and students more broadly. Her fierce advocacy of school choice has drawn equally fierce criticism. The New York Times wrote that
it is hard to find anyone more passionate about the idea of steering public dollars away from traditional public
schools than Betsy DeVos. Her Senate confirmation vote to become education secretary
could not have been closer. It was split 50-50 with
Vice President Pence breaking the tie. So we have a lot to talk about
and controversial issues. I’ll return be returning a bit later to moderate the question
and answer period. But for now please welcome to
the John F Kennedy Jr. forum professor Paul Petersen and
Secretary Elizabeth DeVos. (applause) – Thank You, Dean Fung
for that kind introduction and Dean Elmendorf, thank
you for the opportunity to be here at the Kennedy School. Truly one of the gems not just of Harvard but of all of American
post-secondary education. Professor Peterson, I look
forward to our conversation but I first want to
recognize the significant and influential contributions to the advancement of school choice, you’ve made over the years. Through both the program on
education policy and governance here at Harvard and Education Next. Few scholars have left
such indelible fingerprints on this critical conversation. Thank you for continuing to
facilitate that dialogue. And a special thanks to president Faust for her decade of leadership as president of this one of
America’s finest institution.. institutions of higher learning. As she and Harvard prepare
for their next steps, I wish her nothing but the best. Here in Cambridge there
are many great people working on many great ideas to better the lives of all Americans and people across the globe. and that’s been the case
for a very long time. Your graduates have gone on
to shape culture and society. Create new businesses
and new technologies, help cure diseases and
yes lead government.. governments at all
levels around the globe. It’s a privilege to be
here at the Kennedy School. I don’t really want to talk about my age but President John F Kennedy
is the first president I can personally remember. Though I can’t say I
remember all that much. But I do know that President Kennedy understood the proper role of the state and once warned that quote “Every time we try to lift a
problem from our own shoulders and shift that problem to
the hands of the government.” “We are sacrificing the
liberties of our people.” End quote, President
Kennedy had it right then and despite the fact
that we’ve all too often disregarded his observations. He’s still right today. One of the many pernicious effects of the growth of government is that it’s people worry less
and less about each other. Thinking their worries are now in the of so-called experts in Washington. There’s perhaps no better example than our current education system. Many inside and outside of government insist a government
system is best equipped to educate children. In that fantasy scenario,
the state replaces the family the schoolhouse becomes the home and the child becomes a constituent. Not too long ago the American
Federation for teachers tweeted at me. The Union wrote “Betsy DeVos says public should invest in individual students.” No, we should invest in a
system of great public schools for all kids. The union bosses made it clear
they care more about a system one that was created in the 1800s than they do about students. Their focus is on school
buildings instead of school kids. Isn’t Education supposed to be about kids? Education is an investment
in individual students and that’s why funding and focus should follow the student
not the other way around. I’ve been on the job now for some time and I came into office with a core belief. It is the inalienable right and responsibility of parents to choose the learning environment that best meets their child’s
unique individual needs. I’m even more convinced of that today. This symposium rightly asks us to consider the future of school choice but the current reality is the vast majority of
futures in America today are left to chance, not to choice. The world got to see what
many of us already knew in the film “Waiting for Superman.” Parents who want to free their child from a failing school are
sometimes allowed by the system to enter a lottery for only a few seats in a different school. Even today thousands of children vie for limited openings. The students are numbered and often represented as plastic balls rolling around in a cage, as if children were part of a bingo game. I suggest that any sycophant of the system or skeptic of choice visit
one of these lotteries. Watch the faces of these parents, many of whom are struggling
to get by every day. Watch their faces hidden in their hands are covered in tears
because they didn’t win a new future for their son or daughter. This scene is heart-wrenching and it’s downright disgraceful. Children’s futures aren’t to be gambled. There are too many kids
who are trapped in a school that doesn’t meet their needs. There are too many parents who are denied the
fundamental right to decide the best way to educate their child. It’s what makes me so
passionate about changing this paradigm once and for all. Now I’ve been called the school
choice secretary by some. I think it’s meant as an insult but I wear it as a badge of honor. So let’s talk for a moment
about what choice really is. School choice. Defenders of the system
would have you believe it means vouchers right
and charter schools. They say it means private schools or maybe even religious schools. It means for-profit schools. They say it means taking
money from public schools. No accountability, no standards the Wild West, the market run amok. Well, I’ve got to give it to them they’ve done a mighty fine job of setting the scene for that
house of horrors in the press. They did so by trying to
paint an indelible line, forcing a false dichotomy. If you support giving
parents any option, any say. You must therefore by.. diametrically opposed to public schools. Public school teachers and
public school students. Yet nothing could be
further from the truth. Think about food. Yes, food. Probably a good time to think about it since it’s just about dinner time. Like education we all need
food to grow and thrive. But we don’t all want or
need the exact same thing at exact same time. What tastes good to me, may not taste good to you. What’s working for me right now, might not work a few fewer years from now. Accordingly, we choose how
to get the best get the food that meets our unique needs. Think about how you eat. You could visit a grocery
store or a convenience store or a farmers market to
buy food and cook at home. Or you could visit a restaurant. Maybe a sit-down place,
maybe a fast-food joint. Maybe a hybrid that
combines the best of both. Near the Department of Education there aren’t many restaurants but you know what. Food truck started lining the
streets to provide options. some are better than others and some are even local restaurants that have added food
trucks to their businesses to better meet their customers’ needs. Now if you visit one of those food trucks instead of a restaurant, do you hate restaurants or are you trying to put
grocery stores out of business? No. You are simply making
the right choice for you based on your individual
needs at the time. Just as in how you eat, education is not a binary choice. Being for equal access and opportunity, being for choice is not being against anything. I’m not for or against any one type. One brand or one breed of school choice. I’m not for any type
of school over another but the definitions we have
traditionally worked from have become tools that divide us. Isn’t the public made up
of students and parents? Isn’t public money really their money? Taxpayers money? And doesn’t every school
aim to serve a public good. A school that prepares its students to lead successful lives
is a benefit to all of us. The definition of public education should be to educate the public. That’s why we should fight less about the word that comes before school. I suspect all of you here at Harvard, a private school will take your education and contribute to the public good. When you chose to attend Harvard did anyone suggest you were
against public universities. No. You and your family sat
down and figured out which education environment
would be the best fit for you. You compared options and
made an informed decision. No one seems to criticize that choice. No one thinks choice in
higher education is wrong. So why is it wrong in elementary middle or high school. Instead of dividing the public when it comes to education the focus should be on the ends not on the means. We should be for students, all students and that’s why I’m for
parents having access to the learning environment
that’s the right fit for their child. I believe in students and I trust parents. So with that understanding of choice what does the future look like? I’m not a creature of Washington so I’m not afraid to say this. We do not know what the future
of school choice looks like and that’s not only something
with which I’m okay. It’s something I celebrate and embrace. The future of choice should be whatever parents want for their children. The future of choice relies
upon parents being empowered to make choices for their children. What this looks like for
one family in Wyoming will be different from what
an Indiana family decides. In fact, what choice
looks like for one child may it’d be different
than what it looks like for his or her own sibling. States are different, families are dynamic and children are unique. Each should be free to
pursue different avenues that lead each child to
his or her fullest future. that’s why I wholeheartedly believe the future of choice does not begin with a new federal
mandate from Washington. That might sound counter to active to some coming from the US Secretary of Education. But after eight months in Washington and three decades working in States I know if Washington
tries to mandate choice all we’ll end up with is
a mountain of mediocrity. A surge of spending and they bloat of bureaucracy
to go along with it. But Washington does have an
important supporting role to play in the future of choice. We can amplify the voices of those who only want
better for their kids. We can assist states who are working to further empower parents and urge those who haven’t. We don’t need a new federal
program to administer. Washington and in particular
the US Department of Education just needs to get out of the way. That’s because the real
future of choice is in States. It’s their futures to shape and it’s already underway today. I recently went on a tour of the heartland to visit the teachers,
parents and students who are shaping their own futures. We called it the rethink school tour because I wanted to
highlight and learn from innovative educators who are breaking free of the standard mold to better meet the
needs of their students. What I saw was encouraging, traditional public schools,
charter public schools independent private
schools, parochial schools home schools even a high school at a zoo. They were all different,
all with unique approaches but what they all had
in common was just that a deliberate focus on
serving their students and students and parents chose them. What worked in those schools for those students might
not work everywhere and it might not work for you but it worked for them and that is the future of school choice. There was another common characteristic these very diverse schools shared. They all embrace doing
right by their students without anyone in Washington giving them a permission slip to do so. Or more importantly without
anyone in Washington telling them no. That is also the future of choice. Just as no one school regardless of its quality or rigor is the right fit for every student. There is no magic
one-size-fits-all approach from Washington DC or any State Capitol when
it comes to education. The future of choice lies in the states in places that have been at
the forefront of this effort for several years. Like Arizona, Florida, Indiana Wisconsin and in places that
are just now entering the arena like Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana and even where
some might have thought unthinkable Illinois. Today 26 states in the
District of Columbia offer more than 50 different
private school choice programs that allow parents more opportunity to access more educational options to serve their kids needs and while there are similarities no two are the same. Different states, different
needs, different students different solutions that’s
the future of choice. It’s important for all
of us to remember that we’re not just talking
about abstract theory or some wild social experiment here. This is about putting people, putting parents and students above policies and politics. I’ve seen the tremendous
impact of empowering parents and the corresponding impact on students up close and in person. I saw it again on my Rethink School tour. I heard it directly from the students, the parents, the teachers, administrators I had the privilege to meet. One student at Kansas City Academy, a private arts focused high school put it quite bluntly. At KCA, I feel like I fit in. I feel like I belong. I didn’t have that at my other school. every student in America deserves a shot to experience that same thing. And have no doubt, this
isn’t just about feelings. It’s also about learning and achievement. It’s about putting students at the center of everything we do. And time and time again,
studies have shown that more options yield better
results for all students. Just yesterday a new study was released by the Urban Institute that looked at Florida’s tax
credit scholarship program. A program that provides low-income parents the opportunity to send their students to the school of their choice. Florida’s program was one
of the first in the nation and today serves more than
a hundred thousand students across the state. While previous studies have
shown increased achievement for scholarship recipients. This study also found a significantly increased
college attendance rate. Further this study demonstrated the longer a student participated
in the choice program. The better their long-term
educational outcomes. The data are encouraging but I didn’t need another research paper to know the program works. I’ve seen living proof. Denisha Merryweather
failed third grade twice. She was on the path to dropping out just like her mother had and
her brother had before her. Thankfully her godmother found the Florida Tax Credit scholarship program and a small school that
fit Denise’s needs. Denisha told me that, merely a week or ten days
into attending that school she knew she had found a fit and she was on her way to thriving. She graduated high school, the first in her family to do so. Graduated college and just this may earn
her master’s degree. Denisha is living proof that choice works and there are many more
Denise’s out there. Hundreds of thousands more who don’t have those
same opportunities today. I firmly believe we as a nation stand at a crossroads. Nearly everyone agrees, what we’re doing now is not working and the data are quite
clear and confirming that. We’re in the middle of the pack at best compared to other nations. Middle, average. Those aren’t words with
which I’m comfortable describing the United States. It’s not the company the future we should feel comfortable
offering Denisha or anyone else. So what do we do? What does the future hold? More funding does that fix the problem? Again the data would show otherwise. With the US spending
significantly more per pupil. (applause) Again the data would show otherwise. with the US spending
significantly more per pupil than nearly every other
country in the developed world. And without the student
achievement to go along with it. We can keep doing what we’ve
been doing for generations and keep expecting different results. That is as we know the definition of insanity. Or we can do something different. We can be bold, we can be unafraid. We can choose to do what’s right not because it’s easy
but because it’s hard. Many thought Kennedy’s
words were merely a dream. Some even thought they were dangerous but his vision and determination
made them a reality and that’s a reality we still reap the benefits from today. If we can put a man on the moon, surely we can put families in charge of their own destinies. We can rethink school and I posit we do that by
embracing the future of Education as one that fully integrates choice into every decision we make. Not choice translated as vouchers or charter schools or private schools or any other specified delivery mechanism. No, choice translated as giving every parent in this great land more control. More of a say in their child’s future. More choices. The future of choice lies in trusting and empowering parents. All parents, not just
those who have the power, prestige or financial
wherewithal to make choices. No more choice for me but not for thee from politicians in
Washington or in statehouses. The future of choice lies in caring less about the word that comes before school and more about the individual students that school seeks to serve. The future of choice lies in funding and supporting individual students, not systems or buildings The future of choice
lies in allowing students to progress at their own pace. To take charge of their learning, in recognizing them as the
unique individuals they are. The future of choice lies
in embracing learning that fosters creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking. Traits that prepare students
for further education or the workforce and
for lifelong learning. The future of choice lies
in recognizing America the greatest country in
the history of mankind can and must do better for our students. All of them, because we must do better for our future. Our children are 100% of our future. They deserve 100% of our effort. Thank you again for the
opportunity to share my thoughts and I look forward to our conversation. (applause) – Madame Secretary, thank you very much for joining us at Harvard. It’s very gracious of you to come. it’s an honor to have you in our midst. You have focused so much
of your time and energy over the years on education and I know that’s a really important thing but some people say that unless we address
the problems of poverty and malnourishment among so many children education isn’t going to have a chance so shouldn’t those problems be given priority? – That’s a really good question and I think obviously when we talk about focusing on individual children and supporting individual children issues go beyond just issues of education. But my heart has been
and my focus has been on offering opportunities for all children to have a great education
and I am a firm believer that if all parents are empowered with those same kind of opportunities we’re going to see some
significant changes in opportunity in general for those who have really faced generational poverty and who
have not felt opportunity in our country. I believe this is the biggest barrier to opportunity ultimately
is the lack of access to and the opportunity to
choose the kind of education that works for their child. – Well, some people say we have14,000 school districts in the country and people can move to the
community of their choice and they can choose their school by choosing the neighborhood
in which they wish to live. Don’t we already have school choice? – Well, unfortunately many families don’t have that opportunity. They are stuck in the schools to which they’re assigned and they don’t have the opportunity of moving somewhere else. I’ve heard many stories
from, from families who wish that they could do that they could send
their child to a school other than the one to
which they’re assigned and they have they don’t
have the economic means to make that decision. If they’re empowered with
joy if they’re, if they’re empowered with, with the funds for their their child to choose a
school that will work. They will have opportunities
that will be well beyond the ones that are right there
in their assigned district. – Well, okay, so, I understand that, that this blog is choice to
people without means but aren’t some parents better equipped to make those choices more skilled can figure out how to navigate
through a choice system. Won’t they take advantage
of that opportunity at the expense of others. – I’ve met a lot of parents over the years that have been working on this and I think it’s an insult to parents to suggest that they can’t
figure these things out. I think it’s an insult to parents from low-income
situations that suggest that just because of
their economic situation they therefore either
can’t figure things out or don’t care about their children it is an insult and I’ve
never seen any parent that hasn’t really truly
wanted and loved their child and want better for their child. And I think about Danisha Merriwether the young woman that I referred to. In her case her mother was not
capable of making a decision but thankfully she had
a godmother in her life who cared about her and who found a better option for her. And she’s a you know
a living example today of what a difference an
opportunity like that can make. – Well one of the arguments
we hear in Massachusetts especially last year in
the election campaign was that if you expand charter schools and do give some parents more choice you’re gonna be taking money away from the public schools from the schools run by the districts. So, what’s your take on that? – Well, again, I’m trying
to make the argument that we should be focused
on funding students not funding buildings or systems. If students are empowered to go where you know to a place that’s
going to work for them those, those environments
are going to form up in support of students and I think we, we get really hung up on what word comes before school and we don’t really think about the fact that we’re talking about kids lives while we’re, well, we’re
ordering, while we’re arguing about systems and approaches to education that have work clearly
have worked for some but they’re not working for all too many. So my view is empower
parents to make those choices and the, the schools will… the schools that are not
able to keep kids attracted to their school they’ll, they’ll start to make the changes as a result we’ve seen that in Florida where there’s a you know
the widest range of choices and in the districts
where the greatest number of choices exist and students go to a wide variety of schools the traditional public schools
there have actually improved as a result and I think you know we would see that ubiquitously, but again, I think this is a
matter for states primarily to deal with and focus on. – So how rapidly should we
expand our choice system? Is there a pace that you
think is the right pace? It’s been very slow up until now. yesterday would be really good. No, I seriously, I mean, we, we are losing thousands and thousands of kids every year and we can’t wait any longer. We really cannot wait any longer. We’ve been doing things the same way and expecting different results for more than a couple of decades and this, this country was built on creative entrepreneurial
risk-taking people and education is ripe
for those types of people to grab hold and solve problems and meet the needs of students. And the rethink schools to work I said I went to all kinds of
schools and you know to a place they were very focused on meeting the needs of specific kids. They were very open to say we’re not, you know,
we’re not for everybody and we don’t expect everybody
to want to come here. I think all schools
should have that attitude and all schools should be
focused on really rethinking how they can meet their students needs. – So what do you think of the
introduction of technology into the school’s creating
these blended learning programs? Do you think this is a potential
force to disrupt the system in a major way? – I think technology is
as holds great potential. I think, I’ve seen places
where it hasn’t been introduced particularly well where it’s been kind of
band-aided on top of something I don’t, you know, that’s not that’s probably not the right answer but but again I think we need to have a lot of different approaches be able to take root and, and see what ultimately will work for the most kids and
that’s not to suggest that moving from where we are today that we should move to another scenario where it’s very much the same only in a different approach or format. I mean, I happen to think
that personalized learning and mastery based competency approached learning it
holds great promise. But I think that, you know that might that might work for a lot of kids but it might not work for everybody. We shouldn’t expect
that everybody is going to learn in the future in the same way. – Well, you mentioned in your remarks that for the tax credit program has been identified as really quite successful in getting kids to college and I like that because it was my students
who did that study so I confess that so thank you for that. – I’m so pleased to see (mumbling) – But you know there’s been a lot of talk about a federal tax credit program. Are you going to announce the unveiling of a tax credit program? – Not here and not now. – Is there, is there a
hope that we can see this coming down the track? there’s certainly, yes, there’s certainly a lot of hope for that but as I said if we go with
a federal tax credit approach we need to ensure that it’s not one that’s going to create a whole another bureaucracy to administer. And I again really believe
that states are best equipped and best positioned to address the broadest
range of choice on a state and an individual state level and I think it’s great to
see states taking this on in different and creative ways and I would just hope that more states would embrace this notion and the ones that actually have it would expand their offering and get more even more assertive about offering parents
more of these choices. – Well, I appreciate the fact that state and local governments are primarily responsible for our schools but there is some federal role. We do have a Department of Education What would you say are
some of the accomplishments you’ve been able to realize within. I know it’s only eight
months into your term but can you sort of sum up what you think are some of
the most important things – Sure
– that have been done. – Well, obviously, the
implementation of the every student succeeds Act that Congress passed late in this last session
or in this last term is a really important
part of the responsibility of the department and the intention of that
bill was to really return a lot of flexibility to the states and allow the states
to become more creative in their approaches to
meeting the students need there that that process is under way. We have 35 or seven more
states to plans to approve that’s a big part of the k-12 focus at the department right now. We’ve been reviewing and in some cases either pausing or starting
a new rule making process on a number of regulations related to higher education and that you know that process is ongoing. We are also in the midst
of a very big review of the department in general to look for ways to streamline and make more effective and efficient the work of the department
and to also review all of the regulations you know every administration there’s
more and more regulations piled on and very few times
do you take a step back and say what is really relevant and what is really necessary today. We’re committed to you know divesting of as many
of those as we possibly can. – Well with respect to ESSA,
the every student succeeds act which was passed in 2015. They asked for measuring something that other than test scores
that’s one of the things that Congress and an idea that’s come up is let’s look at chronic absenteeism. What’s, what’s your thinking on that? – Well, you know, all
the states are coming up with different measures I think that’s an interesting approach. I’m not sure that that’s
the right approach or the best approach but
I’ll now with hold judgment and let’s, see let’s see
what the state’s results are you know another thing to remember is that these plans are, these
plans are words on paper. The real proof is going to be in how they actually implement things and a lot of the creativity or a lot of the flexibility that Congress intentionally built into the law is will come in the
implementation of these plans in the States and it’s one of my goals
is to continue to really urge and encourage States to press things as far as they possibly can. Take, you know, take what you have what opportunity you have and let’s switch from being a compliance mentality which which has really been the case over the last decade or two into one that’s more.
it takes more ownership around, you know, your
education in the state for which you’re responsible. – Well, these are all fascinating comments that you have but I think I better turn the conversation over to two others and
let some of the students (mumbling) do you wanna… – Thank you very much,
Thank you very much, Paul Thank you very much, Secretary DeVos – Thank you, Dean. – So I know a lot of people
have questions to ask and there are four microphones
as per the usual forum drill scattered around the forum and let me remind everyone in the room of the importance of
discourse and exchange and civility and most
importantly allowing everyone to fully participate in this
question-and-answer period. Both listening hearing and speaking and the rules of the
forum question and answer are designed to do that. The first rule for those of
you who haven’t been there is please identify yourself. The second is, ask a question
that is compact and brief and I’m afraid I will have to cut off anything like a lengthy statement and questions end with a question mark. Let me remind you of that and the third rule is one per customer. One question per person please. who would like to, are
people at the microphone? Yes, ma’am. – Hello, Secretary DeVos,
I’m actually a parent here I don’t know how many parents
there are in this room. I have children who have
been in district schools, charter schools and parochial schools. so I think all systems can work for us but I think as a whole that most systems aren’t working for us
and they’re not working for black parents like me they’re not working for
parents who aren’t rich and so I’m gonna assume you
have good intentions really so if, if I think that
there should be some rails from our federal government
to make sure systems are looking for us because they have never
worked for my people. Why don’t you think that
you should have any say or any control over setting minimums of what that should look like so systems aren’t the wild, wild west and just new systems popping up knots serving our people. – so what is the role of federal
government and setting rail minimum standards to make
sure the systems function well for everyone? Well, first of all, let me thank you for asking that question and it’s really great
to hear about the fact that you’ve had experience
with different schools and how many kids do you have? – I have three.
– Three. Okay, what grades are they in now? Can I ask that? – Well, I have two year old son I have an 11 year old
and I have 14 year old. Okay, great. My goal, my hope is that
all parents like you and all others would have the
power to be able to choose a school that is right for your child. To have the funds that go to your child Traditionally today that go to a system rather than being directed,
being able to be directed by you that you would be able to say this school is not working for my kid today and I’m gonna find one
that’s working better. Now, accompanying that there has to be a lot of great information
available to parents to be able to know how is this you know first of all what
is this schools approach to teaching and learning and secondly, what, what are the results? How are kids doing who go here? And all of that information I think first and foremost needs to
be very transparent to parents so they can help that, that
would help inform your decision but it starts with you being empowered to make that choice and that
decision for your child. and we have lots of, I
guarantee in this audience we have lots of families representatives from lots of families who are
able to make those decisions because they had the
economic means to do it. It’s not right for some
people to be able to choose and you not to be able to and yet we spend more and more and more money funneling through a system
that tries to tell you we’re going to do better next year and then it doesn’t. – Thank you, oh, I’m sorry I have to give – Absolutely, I love to talk to parents – Gentlemen here. – Hi there Secretary DeVos,
thank you for coming. My name is Kent Hefner,
I’m a senior at the college but I’ve been lucky enough to take a class with Professor Peterson on education policy here
at the Kennedy School. And we looked at a large
body of academic research that shows the effectiveness
of charter schools voucher programs and other
school choice programs. However, traditional public schools are still very much falling behind. How do we bring that
accountability, transparency and choice that we’ve
seen with charter schools and vouchers and apply it to
traditional public schools and what role does the
federal government play in making that transition? – Is it Ken or Kent?
– Kent. Kent, nice to meet you. Well, first of all, the
every student succeeds act is going to help bring more
information to, to individuals schools are going to have
to report more information to parents that, that’s a good step but I think we have to go
much further in many cases and again I’ll refer back to
the school tour that I did a couple of weeks ago. where schools have kind of
thrown out what they’ve done before and have taken, have considered their student the student
population they have and have re-addressed their approach to helping students learn. The first school I went
to was in Casper, Wyoming. It’s a traditional public school. Now, the county that Casper is in has open district choice so they don’t have any
private school choice there yet but they have open district choice and this school has been
run by teachers for 26 years and just within the last few years they switch to a mastery based competency approach to
teaching and learning in the school. And they did so without
anybody else telling them they had to do that, they
as a community decided that was what was right for the students they were serving. The kids are thrilled
that the kids were… I loved visiting with them. They, there if I had that opportunity when I was in school and there’s probably a few others in here who could move as fast as you were able to and whatever subject or
take as long as you needed in another subject. I think that would you know
that kind of an approach could have some revolutionary results for a lot of kids who are
either getting bored to death or who are getting left behind. But I would challenge all schools all existing schools
today to look seriously at some of these new approaches to making sure kids are engaged and that their curiosity isn’t snuffed out by the time they’re in
fourth or fifth grade. – Thank you. – Up here in the balcony. – Hi secretary DeVos
oh, that’s right, sorry. My name is Liz Kaufman Carlin and I’m a master’s fellow in the program on education
policy and governance. I’m also a dual degree candidate here at the Kennedy School and
at Harvard Law School. I before this I was a teacher both in district schools
and in charter schools. As an educator we as a country have agreed that keeping
kids safe in schools is one of our prime values. Keeping making sure that every
kid who walks into school at the beginning of the day leaves healthy happy physically and emotionally safe. Now your administration was very busy since the beginning of the year. Many of the policies your
administration has passed make educators such as myself feel that we have fewer
tools in that toolbox towards keeping kids
safe in our classrooms. Whether that’s keeping trans students safe in K to 12 schools. Whether that’s repealing
title 9 protections that make it difficult for
a sexual assault victim. (applause) Or whether that’s protecting families from predatory for-profit schools with low graduation rates
and low unemployment rates. So can you talk a bit about how your administration
thinks about safety for all kids especially
our most vulnerable kids. when you’re thinking about either passing or repealing policies. Thank you very much.
– Thanks. Let me just say first and foremost, I agree that one of the most
important things we can do is ensure that all kids have a safe and nurturing learning environment and I am committed to that and I know that everybody in
the Department of Education and frankly the administration
is really committed to that to. The policies that you have referred to or some of the regulations
that you have referred to. I think often with these issues we, we start
talking past one another instead of really talking
about the issue itself. So with respect to the, the transgender bathroom guidance. As you know the whole legal history on that issue is very complicated, difficult, unclear and uncertain. Let’s just say that with
respect to any student that feels unsafe or discriminated
against in their school that is the last thing we want and the office for civil rights at the Department of Education continues to hear and
work with the schools that have any of those issues to deal with and we’re, we’re committed to doing that on behalf of the students, any student that has any issue of discriminative.. They feel as discriminatory. We are committed to continuing to do that. With respect to the title nine sexual assault on campus issue. As you know we have taken steps to start a rulemaking process that is going to actually be… It’s actually going to go
about this in the right way. I credit the former administration for having raised the issue
of campus sexual assault to a level where we’re talking. It’s not an issue that
we’re going to be sweeping under the rug or putting
into the back room of a you know a college
administration building. It should not be that way. I have said it before I’ll say it again. One sexual assault is one too many, by the same token one student that is denied due process as one too many. So we need to ensure that that policy and that framework is
fair to all students, all students and we’re
committed to doing that. – One more question up here. – Hi, my name is Jeffrey I’m a master and public
administration student here at the Kennedy School. So you’re a billionaire with
lots and lots of investments and the so-called school choice movement is a way to open the floodgates
for corporate interest to make money off of
the backs of students. How much do you expect
your net worth to increase as a result of your policy choices and what are your friends on Wall Street and in the business world
like the Koch brothers saying about the potential to get rich off the backs of students? – You can choose not to
answer that Secretary. – Well, let me, let me just say I’ve been involved with education choice for thirty years. I have written lots of checks to support giving parents and kids options to choose a school of their choice. The balance of the balance on my and my income has gone
very much the other way and will continue to do so. I’m committed, I am committed. I am committed to ensuring every child, every child has the opportunity to get an equal opportunity. To get a great education, that means every child, not rich kids. Not kids whose parents are politicians and can get them into the right school under the right circumstances. Every, every kid. – Are you suggesting that..
– No, wait. I’m sorry one per customer. Oh, I know a lot of people are at the mics and we’re almost out of time so I’m going to do a lightning round of three more questions. thirty seconds each no more and then the secretary
can choose to answer whichever ones she wants to deal with. Three-round. I’m sorry. I’m sorry the event is
scheduled to go till 7 p.m. So she’s got to go unfortunately I will remain for as long as people want to talk Paul. May remain, I don’t know but we have time for a lightning round of three questions very brief
beginning with you ma’am. – Hi, Secretary DeVos, thank you very much
for being here tonight. I’m Caroline, I’m a student
at Harvard Law School and as a graduate of MIT. I truly believe in the
power of STEM education to prepare the rising
generation for myriad careers. I’m aware of your
department’s announcement of millions of dollars to
support STEM education. So Madam Secretary, how can that investment and
your personal involvement ensure that more young people and specifically young women pursue careers in STEM. – So a STEM question. I’m just going to collect two more. Yeah. – Hi, my name is Susie. I’m a first year MPP student and a former high school
math teacher in New Orleans. So you mentioned that
every child in education is really important I share that view, but my question is about the one billion dollars
of title one funds. That you propose to be portable to allow for more choice. What concrete steps
will you take to ensure that low-income district schools still receive the support that they need. To raise that bar for children
who can’t or don’t leave. – Good.
– Okay. So about the funds and
and low-income communities in schools and their health. Third question and then
I’m gonna turn it over to the Secretary. – Hi my name is Sally Marsh. I’m a senior at the college and I’m from Grand Rapids Michigan. So my question relates to Michigan. You mentioned that taxpayer dollars belong to the taxpayers
and individual families. Thanks in part to your
advocacy in Michigan. We lead the nation in for-profit schools paired with some of the
weakest accountability laws. On 2014 review of Michigan charter schools in the Detroit area found widespread wasteful spending corruption, poor student performance and little transparency
with corporations profiting. On the at the expense
of Michigan’s students especially those in Detroit so given the fact that in Michigan students have a lot of choice but not good choices and corporations are profiting from that. Why do you think that choice
is appropriate for the nation? – Okay. So STEM for young people, women. (mumbling) Charter schools in Michigan. – I’m gonna go with charter schools first. First of all the first of all of the students that are still
left in the city of Detroit. Forty-nine percent of them… Excuse me, everybody who has had means and wants to move elsewhere has moved outside of the city of Detroit. And the students that are there forty-nine percent of them have chosen to go to charter schools. Nobody’s forcing them to
go to charter schools. Of the traditional
public schools in Detroit not one of them has ever been closed down because of performance, not one. Yet there have been over
20 charter schools closed. I just cite those statistics and ask you to think about that. Are there room is there room
for improvement, absolutely. But the reality is that of
kids going to charter schools in Michigan and in the city of Detroit. They are gaining three or
four months more per year over their public school
counterpart parts. So there is a difference. Now billion dollars no
longer in the budget but that would have
been a optional program for states to embrace if they wanted to go to a
student waited funding formula in their states to provide
parents more choices. It was a choice thing. STEM great for young women to be encouraged to pursue STEM related careers and with us with a special emphasis on computer science. Which has not traditionally been you know discussed as part of STEM more broadly and we are, we are looking forward to rolling out an opportunity for young kids to get really more opportunities to be exposed to and
engaged in STEM subjects and particularly young girls because science is cool and math is cool and we need to make sure
that they understand that and know the opportunities
for the long term. – Thank you very much,
thank you very much. I just wanna take a minute. To close the evening. I’ve been to many forum events in this forum event there has been the most strongly held and widely held set of views that I’ve experienced in a forum and I think that you know context like that conversations like we just have, had are very difficult and I think we did a reasonable and good job of allowing this exchange. I want to thank secretary DeVos. You have a lot of poise
and a lot of courage. Thank you for coming here and thank you for Professor Peterson for an extremely engaging conversation on one of the most important
policy topics there is which is how to educate
our next generation. Thank you very much. (applause)

23 thoughts on “A Conversation on Empowering Parents with Secretary Betsy DeVos”

  1. This was my question that I had prepared tonight, but I never got the opportunity to ask Betsy DeVos herself.

    "My name is Kim and I attended the New England Institute of Art in Brookline Massachusetts.

    Like thousands of others, my school defrauded me, but I'm stuck with debt.

    You are supposed to protect students, but instead you're hiring for-profit school executives to work for you and saying that students like me just want "free money."

    This doesn't help us.

    Secretary DeVos, will you commit to meeting with a group of Massachusetts students like me to hear our stories and give us the help we need?"

  2. "You can choose not to answer that…" –says so much about the whole circus that this was from the start. Someone who is representing us should be forced to answer our questions.

  3. for-profit colleges are a scam. I got ripped off by 2 of them. 1st one I blamed myself. Quantity does not mean quality. this lady is cancer to education. for-profit colleges need to be held accountable.

  4. Good lord. The secretary of education doesn't need to answer questions about education… That speaks volumes on her loyalties to the credit class.

  5. She left so fast cause of a question she didn't want to answer. I hate how their getting away with these scams and think it's cute.

  6. Silent protest is perfect and reflects the best and brightest of this country. We are in such a tough spot in this country right now: get screwed by a cold overgrown system or by the greed of corporations.

  7. This protest was done the right way, and was so much more effective than those at other colleges/universities where the speaker was drowned out.

  8. "Don't insult parents by saying they can't find a good school for their kids."
    Seconds later: "Her mother was unable to find a good school but luckily she had a godmother that did."
    Good "luck" kids.

  9. apparently devos and the moderator weren't paying attention at 3:50 since they dodged the question about the kochs

  10. God damn you, Fong. "School choice" is just a euphemism for segregation and you know it. How can you countenance this?

  11. Maybe you should come to Finland and learn from good education system. Not like yours. If you want #maga you need system like ours.

  12. Public schools are failing because of sever budget cut teachers have 35 to 40 kids per class with out teachers aid they have striped high schools program except sports wood working, mechanics, civics, art, music , all schools should have the same regardless test scores would rise if class size was smaller. If all public schools had the same computers art science music teachers aids and if they rid us if standardized test the no child left behind has failed it leaves tons of kids behind fails way to many including my self

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