For years, the refrain surrounding the American public school system has been simple: there isn’t enough being done and children are being left behind. This mindset has permeated the way that politicians reference education but so few have been willing to stump for real change that can have long-lasting effects. Betsy DeVos is the newest Secretary of Education, appointed to the post by President Donald Trump, and she is echoing many of the same sentiments as those before her, albeit with a twist. Instead of just wringing her hands, Betsy DeVos is engaging in the idea of education reform from a conservative perspective — something that has rarely been done over the past couple of decades.
Betsy DeVos is a staunch conservative and mega-donor from the state of Michigan. For the better part of the past 30 years, DeVos has worked to tirelessly introduce the concept of true conservative education reform to the United States of America. By focusing on Michigan primarily, DeVos has been able to personalize her message while hammering home improvements to her own state. What exactly is conservative education reform? How is her mindset any different than the work that President George Bush attempted back in the early aughts? The difference, it turns out, starts with a man named Milton Friedman.
More than 50 years ago, Milton Friedman penned ‘The Role of Government in Education’. His writing focused on the role of the American government in the realm of education. Friedman, who was admittedly ahead of his time, would introduce the concept of ‘school choice‘ to the national registrar for the first time. The concept was picked up by Betsy DeVos, albeit at a much later date, and she has since worked to introduce it to the rest of the world. School choice would bring more equality to the field of education and it would allow students to have the opportunity to pursue their education that fits them more personally. This, in essence, is the core of school choice and the core of what has become the conservative position on education reform.
School choice is an admittedly tough sell to progressive leaders within teacher’s unions around the country and that is something that Betsy DeVos clearly understands. After being confirmed for her post at the Department of Education, DeVos quickly went about arranging a face-to-face with some of the most prominent union leaders in the field of education. While the vast majority of these representatives snubbed the invitation, largely in their NeverTrump angst, some few did choose to participate. Among those that attended the meeting was Randi Weingarten, a union representative. Weingarten was quick to realize that Betsy DeVos was a lesson in personality versus policy and how it is hard to differentiate the two at a glance. DeVos, Weingarten went on to admit, was soft-spoken and amicable during the discussion but her words were wrought with steel. Weingarten concluded that DeVos was a true believer of the school choice concept and that she would be a tough opponent during the legislative process.
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