- - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” That sentence leaps out from the opening pages of the report, “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.” It was written in 1983, but could just as easily have been penned today.

Which is all the more reason to celebrate President-Elect Donald Trump’s choice of Betsy DeVos to be the next head of the U.S. Department of Education. The time for change and reform in education is long overdue. And Betsy DeVos will start by asking this question on Day One: What is best for our children?

Albert Einstein famously said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The most recent international test results on education bear that out. Scores of 15-year old students from the United States continue to decline in math and stagger along in reading and science. Simply put, our students deserve better.

Here are three areas in which Mrs. DeVos will push change to benefit children:

• More choices, scholarships and options. A good place to start is by putting parents and students in charge of their education, and providing them with greater freedom and flexibility to find the school that meets their needs.

• Transforming education. Technology is moving ahead at breakneck speed, and businesses are racing to stay apace, but too much education is still stuck in the chalk and blackboard phase. President Trump has talked about modernizing infrastructure; Mrs. DeVos will move swiftly to modernize our education infrastructure. Our students deserve it and, just as importantly, so do our nation’s teachers.

• Focus on reading. Ronald Reagan, who was president when the “Nation at Risk” report was written, called America a shining city on a hill. But students who are unable to read will never find the city or the hill. These students have no hope, and no opportunity for improvement. There needs to be a laser-like focus on improving reading scores. If you can read, you can do anything. Unfortunately, the converse is also true.

Mrs. DeVos understands our nation cannot keep wasting the potential of so many children trapped in failing schools. More choices, greater modernization and an emphasis on literacy will not only help each and every child, they will provide a booster shot to our nation’s growth and productivity.

One other point bears noting. Mrs. DeVos understands the importance of talent to the success of a team. The best teachers deserve to be recognized and rewarded for their work. Good teachers will benefit from her leadership and advocacy.

Let’s be honest: Mrs. DeVos is not a conventional choice to be the new secretary of education, and that is to her benefit. She is driven to succeed and, much more importantly, she is driven to see our children succeed. One thing is certain: Students, parents and teachers could not have a stronger champion fighting for them than Betsy DeVos.

Bill Schuette is attorney general of Michigan.

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