Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos found a couple of ways to meaningfully step forward over the past few weeks. First, and most important for correcting bad policy, she struck a blow for due process by withdrawing the lawless Obama administration directive about how colleges should adjudicate sexual assault accusations on campus. The 2011 directive will be replaced with regulations intended to protect students from sex crimes while protecting essential civil liberties. Under the Obama regulations, colleges had become kangaroo courts stacked against presumptively guilty male students, using the low bar of “preponderance of the evidence” standard and removing other elements of fair procedure, such as the right to cross-examine and prohibitions on double jeopardy. Those provisions are now over and will be replaced by the higher “clear and convincing standard” of proof and restoring the other elements of fair procedure, a big win for fairness and the rule of law.
Then, in a key address at the Kennedy School at Harvard, she outlined some very thoughtful views about how school choice not only has a role to play in advancing quality public education, but that this role is a vital part of any productive and fair delivery system. She noted that “Education is not a binary choice. Being for equal access and opportunity–being for choice–is not 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–parents and students–above policies and politics”.
Her argument was essentially that neither students nor the objectives of public education are advanced by this continuing battle over delivery systems. She noted, “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……….choice translated as giving every parent in this great land more control, more of a say in their child’s future……..trusting and empowering parents–all parents, not just those who have the power, prestige, or financial wherewithal to make choices”.
This is the kind of pulpit and voice, along with decisiveness we need from this education agency and it is encouraging that Secretary DeVos is finding hers.