Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has taken a bold, liberating approach to providing younger Americans with the best education possible. She calls it freedom of education.
Educational freedom is an important concept because it recognizes both the structural and technological possibilities for learning that have emerged since the development of the school choice movement. School elections began in Wisconsin under Gov. Tommy Thompson and State Rep. Polly Williams (a former welfare recipient who was Jessie Jackson’s state chair and became Wisconsin’s longest-serving state representative with 30 years of service).
The addition of vouchers was the bold reform of 1989. At the time, however, we assumed that the only delivery system for learning was from sports schools. Vouchers should both expand the opportunities for students and parents to find the right schools for their needs, and also put competitive pressure on unionized public school bureaucracies, forcing them to improve or lose students.
Since the evolution of school choice and vouchers, there has been an explosion of new approaches and technologies, stemming from individual family home schooling, collective home school co-ops, apprenticeships and now online learning. At Gingrich 360, we work with the American Cornerstone Institute by Dr. Ben Carson who created this Little Patriots program. It is a remarkable resource for students, parents, and educators who want to learn about American history in an engaging, fun, and informative way. Khan Academy, Prager University and Udacity are examples of other online learning tools to promote lifelong learning.
Secretary DeVos explores this explosion of choice and the educational freedom it offers in her new book,No More Hostages: The Fight for Educational Freedom and the Future of the American Child.” As DeVos wrote:
“Educational freedom begins with the premise that every student is unique and every student learns differently. All parents know that. Yet we have a school system that basically treats children as if they are all the same. At its core, my vision for American education is to ensure that all children have the freedom to learn in their own way. It’s designed to give parents the freedom to find the best option and fit for their children. … Crucially, freedom of education also means giving teachers the freedom to meet the needs of their students in many different learning environments. Currently, public school teachers have very limited choice over where to teach and how to teach.
“The positive, ambitious vision for Educational Freedom is this: Students will be empowered to find learning venues that maximize their potential, rather than being trapped in state-assigned zone schools. Every child has the opportunity and resources to learn and become a full member of his or her community. Freedom of education honors this vision. It puts the student, not the system, first. That alone – putting children at the center of our education system – is reason enough to move this cause forward for every child.”
DeVos’ concept of educational freedom was embodied in a new Arizona law that would expand its Empowerment Scholarship Account program. As Steve Moore wrote in the Committee to Unleash the Prosperity Hotline Newsletter:
“We’ve been saying for many months that THIS is the school choice moment we’ve all been waiting for. So we stand on our desks and rejoice that the Arizona Legislature passed perhaps the most ambitious school election law in American history.”
While commending Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for supporting the bill, Moore wrote that ESA would offer $6,400 in scholarships for Arizona students to study the schools of their choice, including public, private, religious, or charter schools. As of 2011, the program was only open to 11,800 students whose parents were in the military, were in foster care, or were Native Americans living on reservations. But soon all of the country’s 1.1 million students could benefit from the program.
As ALEC and other organizations carry the message—and more concerned Americans read Secretary DeVos’ book—we are moving closer to a real revolution to achieve real freedom of education for all Americans.
No other education reform would do more to help poor children learn to overcome poverty and live prosperous and prosperous lives.
No other reform can better prepare the next generation of Americans to compete with China and have a productive, effective workforce at their disposal.
No other reform is as important in helping citizens learn enough to be truly self-governing and free.