What the Trump Administration Could Mean for Public Education
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Betsy DeVos Shares Her Vision for Public Education With the Senate HELP Committee
By: Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, PhD, NASP Director of Government Relations
Last night, Betsy DeVos, President-Elect Trump's pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education, answered questions from members of the Senate HELP Committee during her confirmation hearing. Her answers provide some insight as to how she may handle issues related to school choice, privatization of public schools, bullying and harassment, accountability, civil rights, and meeting the needs of students with disabilities. Although she gave little detail about specific plans to address these issues, we now have a slightly better understanding about some of the major education issues that could arise over the next 4 years. Many of these issues, including Ms. DeVos's answers to specific questions are summarized below. Some of Ms. DeVos's responses have raised concerns among educators and others committed to high-quality public education, and some also present possible conflicts with NASP's mission and priorities. These potential conflicts highlight how important it will be for every school psychologist to stay informed about the issues and be an advocate for public education at the local, state, and federal levels to meet the learning and developmental needs of all children.
High Standards and Accountability for All Public Schools NASP believes that all schools receiving public funding should be held accountable for ensuring that all students are held to, and meet, high expectations within a rigorous and comprehensive curriculum. When questioned about her commitment to holding all schools accountable, Ms. DeVos stated that she believes in accountability, but would not commit during the hearing to ensuring that all schools that receive public funds be held to equal accountability standards. No further details were provided, and she did not state which schools should potentially be held to different standards. When it comes to measuring student academic performance, there has long been debate on the use of tests and other indicators to measure progress and growth or to determine if students have met a particular proficiency standard. The Every Student Succeeds Act places great emphasis on this issue, encouraging states to set comprehensive measures. When Ms. DeVos was asked her thoughts on accountability measures, she appeared to have no knowledge of the issue. Given the importance of adequate and appropriate measurement of student success, and given NASP's support of the use of multiple measures, including measures of growth in accountability systems, her response raises concerns about her understanding of one of the most fundamental issues in school and student accountability.
Safe and Supportive School Environments NASP believes that all students have the right to be educated in a safe and supportive school environment that is free from bullying, harassment, and discrimination. During the hearing, Ms. DeVos stated that she agrees. Further, NASP has long advocated for the equal rights and equal protection of all students, including LGBTQ+ youth. Ms. DeVos was specifically asked about her views on rights for LGBTQ+ students in education. She said, "I embrace equality" and reiterated her belief that all students should attend a school that is safe and free of discrimination. She was also questioned about her views on conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, and Ms. DeVos stated that she has never supported this type of therapy, which has been discredited by almost every major medical and mental health association, including NASP. Her responses regarding her commitment to ensuring equality for all students are encouraging, and NASP looks forward to continuing work with the Department of Education to elevate and advance policies and practices that protect the rights and safety of all students. However, despite her stated commitment to ensuring safe school environments for all children, Ms. DeVos declined to say whether schools should be required to report suspensions and expulsions, and incidents of bullying and harassment, and she declined to say whether she plans to support the Office for Civil Rights, which investigates allegations of discrimination in schools. She also stated that she would support President-Elect Trump if he were to follow through on a campaign promise to repeal the Gun Free Schools Act. Her responses are potentially problematic, as NASP supports the collection of bullying and harassment data and believes that a strong and robust Office of Civil Rights is necessary to hold all schools accountable to our nation's civil rights laws. Importantly, we oppose any effort to repeal the Gun Free Schools Act.
Educating Students with Disabilities NASP has always been a leading advocate for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). During the hearing, Ms. DeVos said states should decide whether schools should be required to meet special education requirements mandated by IDEA, which signals either a lack of commitment to or a lack of understanding of the federal protections and guaranteed services that IDEA provides to all students with disabilities. States that take federal funding are required to uphold the mandates outlined in IDEA, and they do not get to choose which mandates to uphold and which ones to ignore. When further pressed on this issue, Ms. DeVos said that she may have confused this law with something else. NASP has concerns about the possibility a Secretary of Education may not fully understand one of the major civil rights laws that governs our public education system.
School Choice/Privatization of Public Schools Ms. DeVos has a long history advocating for various school choice options, including the use of private school vouchers. DeVos said that she would not coerce states to expand vouchers or charters, but she stopped short of saying that she would not use her role to expand efforts to privatize education or divert public funds to private schools. In many states, charter and other 'non-traditional' public schools serve students with disabilities. Conversely, students with disabilities who accept vouchers to attend private school are generally required under state law to waive the specific protections they would have under IDEA if they were enrolled in public school. At this time, NASP does not have a formal position on specific school choice options, but encourages school psychologists to be informed of these policies and how they impact students, especially students with disabilities.
What Can You Do to Ensure High-Quality Education for All Students? It is vitally important that school psychologists have an understanding of how certain policies-local, state, and federal-could impact schools and the children we serve. Equally important is staying in touch with your local, state, and federal officials to voice support for policies in support of all students, and to raise concerns when you believe specific policies would be harmful to the mission of school psychologists, to our public schools, or to the children we serve. NASP supports a public education system that educates ALL children and ensures access to the services and supports that they need to be successful. NASP will be sharing our public policy priorities with members of the Senate HELP Committee as well as Ms. DeVos in order to begin a dialogue about how to meet our mutual goal of improving outcomes for all students. We encourage all school psychologists to also have open conversations with your elected officials to share your views about various policy proposals. It is equally important that you voice your support when proposals are made that you feel will benefit the children we serve and share your concerns when you feel certain policies would be detrimental to schools and students. You can easily access the information you need to write or call your state and federal elected officials by visiting the NASP Advocacy Action Center.
NASP will continue to provide you with relevant information on these important policy issues as they unfold over the next several months. Please contact Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, PhD, NASP Director of Government Relations (email@example.com) with specific questions.