Some of the country’s most prominent school choice champions—including U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and former GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush—will gather once again this week to push a choice-friendly slate of K-12 reforms.
Bush has been leading the national education reformer summit since 2008, extolling the virtues of charters, private school vouchers and virtual schools, despite mounting criticism of some states’ divestment from traditional public school coffers.
This week’s summit, which is slated to kick off Wednesday, is expected to do the same, taking on charter growth, the nation’s new federal education law (The Every Student Succeeds Act) and more.
Chalkbeat offered a primer on the school choice gathering this week.
On Thursday, Bush will introduce a keynote address by the nation’s most prominent “school choice” advocate, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. A long-time friend and former member of the foundation’s board, DeVos was championed by Bush to lead the education department under President Donald Trump.“I’m a big Betsy DeVos fan,” Bush told Chalkbeat in a recent interview. “I think she’s been the best advocate for school choice of moving to a parent-centered system of any secretary ever.”
The Nashville gathering of some 1,100 reform-minded players comes as efforts to reengineer education as a consumer choice have buoyed under the Trump administration, even as new data has called the movement’s primary vehicles into question.
Recent studies in Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio and Washington, D.C., show that student achievement drops, at least initially, when students use vouchers to attend private school.
Charter schools have fallen substantially in popularity among both Democrats and Republicans, according to a 2017 poll by choice-friendly Education Next.
And some virtual schools in Indiana, Colorado and Pennsylvania have been called out recently for low rates of student log-in and graduation, in addition to poor scores. (The nation’s largest operator of virtual charters, K12, is among the summit’s sponsors.)
Bush cites the “highly charged political environment” for the slump in charter cheering, and he questions the validity of the voucher research.“I’m not a psychometrician or a statistician, but I don’t think that the scale of the studies is enough to warrant great praise if they’re good for vouchers or great criticism if they’re not,” he said. “The next iteration of studies needs to go deeper.”
He’s promoting other reforms too, even as the effectiveness of his own Florida agenda is still being debated. His foundation, known as ExcelinEd for short, advocates for new teaching approaches like personalized learning, policy shifts such as emphasizing early literacy, and accountability programs like assigning A-F letter grades to schools based on test scores.
Ultimately, Bush said, student learning should be at the center of each decision, and “we need to significantly pick up the pace of reform.”