Secretary of Education

Opening Remarks:

Secretary DeVos

Key Remarks from the Sectretary of Education's Speech on 02.10.2017

We can rethink school. And, I posit, we do that by embracing the future of education as one that fully integrates “choice” into every decision we make. Not choice translated as vouchers, or charter schools, or private schools, or any other specified delivery mechanism. No. Choice translated as giving every parent in this great land more control, more of a say in their child’s future. More choices. The future of choice lies in trusting and empowering parents — all parents, not just those who have the power, prestige, or financial wherewithal to make choices.

The definition of public education should be to educate the public. That’s why we should fight less about the word that comes before “school.” I suspect all of you here at Harvard, a private school, will take your education and contribute to the public good. When you chose to attend Harvard, did anyone suggest you were against public universities? No, you and your family sat down and figured out which education environment would be the best fit for you. . . . Instead of dividing the public when it comes to education, the focus should be on the ends, not the means.

Education is not a binary choice. Being for equal access and opportunity — being for choice — is not being against anything. It’s important for all of us to remember that we’re not just talking about abstract theory or some wild social experiment here. This is about putting people — putting parents and students — above policies and politics.

I'm not for or against one type, one brand or one breed of school choice. I'm not for any type of school over another.

But the definitions we have traditionally worked from have become tools that divide us. Isn't "the public" made up of students and parents? Isn't "public money" really their money—the taxpayer's money?

And doesn't every school aim to serve the public good? A school that prepares its students to lead successful lives is a benefit to all of us. The definition of public education should be to educate the public. That's why we should fight less about the word that comes before "school."

Instead of dividing the public when it comes to education, the focus should be on the ends, not the means.

We should be for students—all students. And that's why I'm for parents having access to the learning environment that's the right fit for their child. I believe in students, and I trust parents.

So, with that understanding of "choice," what does the future look like?

I am not a creature of Washington, so I am not afraid to say this: we do not know what the future of school choice looks like! And that's not only something with which I am okay, it is something I celebrate and embrace.

The future of choice should be whatever parents want for their children. The future of choice relies upon parents being empowered to make choices for their children.

What this looks like for one family in Wyoming will be different from what an Indiana family decides. In fact, what choice looks like for one child may be different than what it looks like for his or her own sibling!

States are different, families are dynamic and children are unique. Each should be free to pursue different avenues that lead each child to his or her fullest future.

That's why I wholeheartedly believe the future of choice does not begin with a new federal mandate from Washington!

That might sound counterintuitive to some, coming from the U.S. Secretary of Education, but after eight months in Washington—and three decades working in states—I know if Washington tries to mandate "choice," all we'll end up with is a mountain of mediocrity, a surge of spending and a bloat of bureaucracy to go along with it.

But Washington does have an important supporting role to play in the future of choice. We can amplify the voices of those who only want better for their kids. We can assist states who are working to further empower parents, and urge those who haven't. We don't need a new federal program to administer. Washington, and in particular the U.S. Department of Education, just needs to get out of the way!

That's because the real future of choice is in states. It's their futures to shape. And it's already underway today.

The future of choice lies in the states: in places that have been at the forefront of this effort for several years, like Arizona, Florida, Indiana and Wisconsin; and in places that are just now entering the arena like Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, and even where some might have thought unthinkable, Illinois.

It's important for all of us to remember that we're not just talking about abstract theory or some wild social experiment here. This is about putting people—putting parents and students—above policies and politics.

I've seen the tremendous impact of empowering parents—and the corresponding impact on students—up close and in person. I saw it again on my Rethink School Tour. I heard it directly from the students, parents, teachers and administrators I had the privilege to meet. One student at Kansas City Academy, a private arts-focused high school put it quite bluntly: "At KCA, I feel like I fit in. I feel like I belong. I didn't have that at my other school."

Every student in America deserves a shot to experience that same thing.

And have no doubt, this isn't just about feelings. It's also about learning and achievement. It's about putting students at the center of everything we do. And time and again, studies have shown more options yield better results, for all students.

I firmly believe we, as a nation, stand at a crossroads. Nearly everyone agrees: what we're doing now is not working, and the data are quite clear in confirming that. We're in the middle of the pack, at best, compared to other nations.

Middle. Average. Those aren't words with which I'm comfortable describing the United States. It's not the future we should feel comfortable offering anyone.

So what do we do? What does the future hold? More funding? Does that fix the problem? Again, the data would show otherwise, with the U.S. spending significantly more per pupil than nearly every other country in the developed world—and without the student achievement to go along with it.

We can keep doing what we've been doing for generations, and keep expecting different results. That is, as we know, the definition of insanity.

Or, we can do something different. We can be bold. We can be unafraid. We can choose to do what's right "not because it's easy, but because it's hard." Many thought Kennedy's words were merely a dream. Some even thought they were dangerous. But his vision and determination made them a reality, and that's a reality we still reap the benefits from today. If we can put a man on the moon, surely we can put families in charge of their own destinies.

We can rethink school. And, I posit, we do that by embracing the future of education as one that fully integrates "choice" into every decision we make.

Not choice translated as vouchers, or charter schools, or private schools, or any other specified delivery mechanism. No. Choice translated as giving every parent in this great land more control, more of a say in their child's future. More choices.

The future of choice lies in trusting and empowering parents—all parents, not just those who have the power, prestige or financial wherewithal to make choices.

No more "choice for me, but not for thee," from politicians in Washington, or in state houses.

The future of choice lies in caring less about the word that comes before "school" and more about the individual students that "school" seeks to serve.

The future of choice lies in funding and supporting individual students, not systems or buildings.

The future of choice lies in allowing students to progress at their own pace, to take charge of their learning, in recognizing them as the unique individuals they are.

The future of choice lies in embracing learning that fosters creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking—traits that prepare students for further education or the workforce, and for lifelong learning.

The future of choice lies in recognizing America—the greatest country in the history of mankind—can, and must, do better for our students—all of them. Because we must do better for our future.

Our children are 100 percent of our future. They deserve 100 percent of our effort.


Secretary DeVos
United States Secretary of Education