Lance Izumi, senior director of the Pacific Research Institute’s Center for Education, recently interviewed U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and covered the importance of expanding school choice opportunities for every student in America, school re-openings following the COVID-19 pandemic, and the President’s education reform agenda.
Izumi is the author of The Corrupt Classroom (2017), which reveals the shocking situation in many American public schools, from teachers politicking in their classrooms, to one-sided curricula, to unsafe campuses to massive fiscal mismanagement. In 2019, Izumi published Choosing Diversity: How Charter Schools Promote Diverse Learning Models and Meet the Diverse Needs of Parents and Children.
Secretary DeVos opened their interview saying that when it comes to children’s education, following months of COVID-related lockdowns, parents are more aware than ever of the importance in school choice. “This Spring parents had to become teachers in addition to their day jobs. They are more attuned now based on what they observed,” she said. With most parents participating in distance and online learning with their children, parents are now interested in home schooling, and creating micro-schools and pods. She said more parents now want education choice.
“In 2016, President Trump promised to provide school choice to every disadvantaged child in America,” DeVos said. Since then, they restored local control through ending Common Core, and urging Congress to end education earmarks by proposing to consolidate nearly all federal K-12 programs into one block grant. DeVos said the Trump administration proposed a federal tax credit to support school choice, noting that 3 out of 4 families want education dollars to follow the children, and through parental school choice, this can and should happen.
She said Arizona, Florida and Illinois surprisingly have already expanded parental choice. However, more public charter schools, and particularly in opportunity zones, are needed.
Lastly, DeVos said in her opening, the Department of Education and the Trump Administration are “strongly urging schools re-open for in-person learning.”
Izumi added that parents are concerned about schools not re-opening, and said too many students are just not learning. “Los Angeles parents are suing the school district for inadequate learning,” Izumi said.
“We have strongly urged states, school districts, and schools to re-open for in-school instruction,” DeVos said, acknowledging that these are state and local decisions. “There is no other substitute for learning in person. Kids are thrilled when they are back in school together.”
Izumi said prior to the COVID outbreak, he’d seen drops in test scores in reading and math. “It’s not a coincidence we are seeing a surge in school choice,” Izumi said.
DeVos said with so many parents witnessing first hand the curriculum children were provided, “many are disappointed or underwhelmed,” and are “making different choices and decisions about education, especially with schools not responding this fall.”
The “School Choice Now Act,” introduced by U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Congressional School Choice Caucus co-chair, is legislation that ensures all students will return to their pre-pandemic educational institutions, DeVos explained.
Izumi noted that charter schools pivoted to online learning better than regular public schools at the time of the pandemic lockdowns. “Yet charter schools are being attacked on many fronts,” Izumi said. “In Michigan and California, charter schools are not receiving full funding.”
DeVos said there are still four states without charter schools. And there are 1 million families across the country on charter schools wait lists. “Many [charter schools] have been more nimble and flexible, and prepared to pivot during the COVID crisis,” DeVos said. “Families are choosing these schools – they are not forced to go to them.”
Izumi discussed the attacks to the charter schools, and especially the ones with online learning, by labor unions. And he noted that home schooling is also under attack by unions, as a recent Harvard University article advocated for a ban on home schooling.
Izumi also discussed with DeVos the growing militancy in teachers unions and the political demands against education reforms like charter schools and home schooling, as well as against teachers who don’t agree with their unions.
“It’s a very bad trend,” DeVos said, “and not focused on what’s best for students. It’s focused on adult issues, and protecting adult positions, and at the core, protects resources and power.”
“If we refocus on student needs, we get different results,” DeVos added.
Izumi said he sees support for home schooling growing in many states, and said in New York, of parents recently polled, a high number said they planned on continuing their home schooling.
“There is a lot of curriculum available for home schoolers – it’s no longer a mystery,” Izumi said.
A Conversation with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is available here.