Education Week - November 29, 2017 - 16
DeVos on Workforce Readiness, Alternatives to College
By Alyson Klein
School choice remains
a central part of the
policy message from
U.S. Secretary of
Education Betsy DeVos,
but in recent
also has emphasized
the need for learning
the usual post-high
President Donald Trump tapped
Betsy DeVos to be U.S. secretary of
education one year ago, on Nov. 23,
2016. At the time, she was expected
to focus primarily on school choice.
One year later, Congress hasn't really embraced that agenda. But
DeVos has broadened her message,
talking about issues like apprenticeships and alternatives to traditional
At the same time, she hasn't
backed off school choice, despite
setbacks. She's made it clear she
plans to stick around for Trump's
entire term, despite rumors to the
Here are a couple of recent instances in which the secretary-
who remains one of the Trump
administration's highest-profile, if
controversial, Cabinet members-
has expanded her views involving
workforce readiness and other
The country needs to quit trying
to push every student to attend a
four-year college, and open up apprenticeships and other workplace
learning experiences to more students, according to DeVos
"We need to stop forcing kids into
believing a traditional four-year
degree is the only pathway to success," she said this month at the
first meeting of the White House
Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion. "We need to expand our
thinking on what apprenticeships
actually look like. We need to start
treating students as individuals ...
not boxing them in."
The panel, which was created
through an executive order signed
by Trump earlier this year, is
chaired by Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. DeVos and Secretary
of Commerce Wilbur Ross serve as
vice chairs. Ivanka Trump, the president's eldest daughter and a White
House adviser, was also on hand.
The Trump administration can
use its "bully pulpit" to advance career training and help set up some
incentives through the pending reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins
Career and Technical Education Act,
But most of the progress on job
training will likely come from the
private sector. The task force, DeVos
said, is about getting a chance to
hear from the business community
about how government can help
businesses advance their careertraining goals-even if the answer
is to get government out of the way.
She expects, too, that many solutions would be "regional in nature."
Mastering Workplace Skills
DeVos told a roomful of CEOs in
Washington this month that many
students aren't mastering the skills
they need to be prepared for the careers of the future.
She argued that 65 percent of
today's kindergartners will end up
in jobs that haven't even been conceived yet. Businesspeople, she said,
have told her that students need to
be able to think critically, know how
to collaborate, communicate clearly,
and be creative.
"My observation is a lot of students today are not having their
needs met to be prepared in those
areas," DeVos said at The Wall
Street Journal CEO Council's
meeting. And later she cited the
argument that the U.S. education
system was largely borrowed from
Prussia, a European state which,
she noted, no longer exists. The system, she said, needs to be changed
to offer more students and parents
individualized options. "When we
empower all parents, that will ultimately prepare students to be active participants in the workforce,"
she said in remarks at the Four
For the second time this year,
DeVos held up school choice-friendly
Florida as a model for the country.
The Sunshine State, she said, offers
"the broadest range of choices and
the greatest number of kids taking
advantage of those choices."
Other school choice standouts, according to DeVos, include Indiana,
Louisiana, and Wisconsin.
But she said no state has ever
gone truly big with choice, offering
it to every single student.
"All of these are still at relatively
small scales," she said. "We haven't
had a state that tried it with
We need to stop
is the only pathway
... We need
U.S. Secretary of Education
Confirmation Hearing Puts Choice, Civil Rights Front and Center
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 15
asked Blew if he thought students
in special education should have to
give up their rights to take advantage of a voucher program, as she
said that students in Florida who
use McKay scholarships must.
Blew said that any school that
takes federal funds has to follow the
law, including protections for students in special education.
And later Murray asked Blew if
she thought that the charter sector in
DeVos' home state of Michigan, which
has been criticized for its lack of accountability, is a model for the nation.
Blew cited a Stanford Univer-
sity study that he says shows students in Detroit perform better
than their peers in public schools.
Murray countered that that's different from what she has seen in
Zais took heat, too, for his record
in South Carolina, where he served
as state chief from 2011 to 2015.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., asked
him about a 2015 bill in the South
Carolina legislature calling for the
National Rifle Association to craft a
curriculum for K-12 students. Murphy asked if political organizations
should be allowed to design curriculum for K-12 schools.
Zais told him no, they shouldn't.
And he said he didn't remember
supporting that bill, even though
he is in favor of students learning
16 | EDUCATION WEEK | November 29, 2017 | www.edweek.org
about the Second Amendment.
Several Democrats grilled Zais on
his comments to the South Carolina
press that it didn't make sense to
spend money on 5-year-olds because
they can't learn.
"I do not recall having said that,"
Zais said, and he talked about the
learning his young grandchildren
experienced before age 5. He said he
supports early-childhood education
but sees it as a state issue.
The hearing also touched on a
number of other hot-button issues
and some of the Trump Education
For instance, Alexander asked
Zais if he's aware of the prohibitions
against the Education Department
in the Every Student Succeeds Act.
He noted that the Education De-
fill the Education
Department's No. 2
post and a key policy
partment can't tell a state that its
student-achievement goals aren't
"ambitious enough," as DeVos' department initially told Delaware.
Zais said he wasn't familiar with
Delaware's situation but seemed to
agree with Alexander that the federal role should be limited.
And Murray also asked Zais if he
agreed with comments by Candice
Jackson, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights, to The New York
Times that 90 percent of sexual assaults involve alcohol and breakups.
Zais said he wasn't familiar with
those comments, but seemed to agree
that sexual assault should be taken
seriously. (Jackson is slated to be replaced by Kenneth Marcus, the president of the Jewish Center for Human
Rights. He has yet to have his confirmation hearing.)
Overall, it looks like both Blew
and Zais are headed for confirmation-the hearing was relatively
fireworks-free, and nothing unexpected came up that would seem
likely to derail either nominee. Republicans hold the majority in the
Senate and are likely to vote to confirm both Blew and Zais.