U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visits Nome
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited Nome on Wednesday, August 28 as part of her first official visit to Alaska. She spent most of her time in Nome at NACTEC, taking a look at the regional vocational training center’s facilities and hearing about their programs. She also met with community leaders at NSEDC in a meeting closed to the media. The day before she visited Kotzebue and took a trip to Kivalina, visiting the village’s McQueen School and taking a look at the construction of the community’s new evacuation road.
DeVos was nominated for the cabinet-level position by President-Elect Trump and immediate opposition to her confirmation followed. The primary objections were her lack of experience in education and her total, almost fanatical commitment to school vouchers. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski was one of two Republican Senators who opposed her confirmation, describing DeVos as “so im∆1
mersed in the push for vouchers that she may be unaware of what actually is successful in the public schools, and what is broken or how to fix them.” As alternatives to the public school system are unlikely to evolve in rural Alaska, DeVos’ political crusade for vouchers was not the primary interest for her in Nome.
After touring NACTEC she met with the two members of the media present to answer questions. On NACTEC she said “I think it’s a great model and I was just visiting earlier in Anchorage the King Technical High School which has now partnered with the Lower Yukon District to provide opportunities for students from there. I think it’s an important way of leveraging infrastructure capital in a way that’s going to meet the needs of students in a creative way.”
Does her belief in the importance of school choice have any relevance in rural Alaska? “I think it has some important implications,” she answered. “It could bring in courses and opportunities that students wouldn’t otherwise have by doing so virtually with the finest instructors from all over the world. It’s great to see what the districts have done here to cooperate on a career and technical center and leverage the facilities in an important way, adding some choice into that mix. Adding more opportunity for choices would only add more creativity and more customizing to the needs of each community and specifically to the needs of the students in those communities.”
In her comments Wednesday she repeatedly stressed the importance of meeting the needs of students as individuals. “I encourage people to think very broadly about what education and school choice can mean and to think differently. It’s not just a matter of buildings it’s a matter of programs and a variety of opportunities that can be offered.”
While in Anchorage she met with Governor Mike Dunleavy, who is also in favor of vouchers for parents who wish to send their kids to alternative schools. Asked if any changes in educational policy for Alaska might be coming she had a ready reply. “Nationally we are working under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which has really returned a lot of the flexibility and control to the states to decide and determine how to best meet the needs of the students in those states. And we’re going to continue work with Alaska and every other state to make sure that we’re not getting in the way and being impediments to meeting the needs of the students.”
The previous policies of the No Child Left Behind Act had presented obstacles to rural Alaska schools and caused many schools to be categorized as failing to educate because of statistics designed for urban schools. “And No Child Left Behind is no longer the law of the land,” said DeVos. “I’m looking forward to working with the governor and the commissioner on every way we can continue to support Alaska’s drive to meet the needs of students on an individual basis.”
After Nome DeVos was off to Fairbanks to visit schools there.