Herewith a partial list of desirable actions:
- Fill deputy secretary positions with rock-solid, anti-Common Core, pro-local control advocates who know what they’re doing. Bill Evers and Sandra Stotsky come to mind.
- Release a plan for winding down the U.S. Department of Education. Practicalities preclude immediate elimination, but implementing an orderly dissolution is vital.
Schools exist to teach academic content, not to act as therapists and social workers.
- Recommend legislation, perhaps through amendments to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), to remove the pressure points that lock states into the Common Core standards and testing scheme. Amendments should include eliminating 1) prescriptive language about state standards; 2) requirements for state education plans (especially the requirement that they align with 11 federal statutes); and 3) all mandates requiring certain types of assessments, or assessments at all. Freed from these federal strictures, states can make their own decisions about standards and assessments. They can also save the money that’s wasted on administering federally required assessments that haven’t been proven either valid or reliable.
- While such legislative fixes are pending, assure states by whatever legal means necessary (e.g., waivers) they won’t be penalized financially or otherwise for replacing the Common Core standards or derivations thereof, or for adopting new assessments that align to their new standards. If any such assurances require an executive order from the president, Secretary DeVos should recommend that he issue one.
- Recommend legislation, and an executive order if necessary, ending federal “incentivizing” of particular education policies through grants or otherwise. The first federal programs to be eliminated should be those focused on non-academic matters, such as social-emotional learning (SEL), “21st-century community learning centers,” and “Promise Neighborhoods.” Schools shouldn’t be lured into providing for students’ health, psychological well-being, or access to welfare benefits. Schools exist to teach academic content, not to act as therapists and social workers. Moreover, the government has no business probing and influencing the most intimate aspects of a child’s nature.
- Related to that, notify the National Assessment Governing Board that USED objects to the contemplated illegal revision of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to assess mindsets and “school climate.” Depending on how it’s structured, this revision would violate either the NAEP governing statute, 20 USC 9622(b)(5)(A), or the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment, 20 USC 1232(h).
- Recommend a thorough rewrite of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to 1) strictly limit the types of student data that can be collected (for example, banning collection of psychological data such as that concerning mindsets and dispositions); 2) protect all data from disclosure except in extremely limited circumstances; and 3) give parents more authority to limit collection, use, and disclosure of their children’s data by online operators.
- Pending this rewrite, initiate the process to reverse the Obama administration’s regulation promulgated in January 2012, which vastly weakened the privacy protections of FERPA. This will restore FERPA’s original protections while the statute is being strengthened to address modern threats.
- Recommend to the Commission on Evidence-based Policymaking the retention of the ban on a federal student unit-record system. This ban prevents the federal government from establishing an enormous database to track free citizens throughout their lives.
- Initiate a thorough security audit of all data systems maintained by the Department of Education and immediately take steps to eliminate the security problems found. It’s a national scandal that the Department is allowed to operate a system that exposes sensitive student data to hacking and other unauthorized access.
- Recommend an executive order reinstating the historical and plain-meaning interpretation of “sex” in Title IX, and immediately drop all administrative actions against schools or districts that were initiated based on the Obama administration’s interpretation of that term to include gender identity. This will ensure private facilities and sports teams that are provided for girls remain restricted to girls. It will also halt government interference with proper psychiatric treatment of transgender children.
By publicly committing to these initial steps, DeVos can assure the grassroots she’ll vigorously implement Trump’s education policies. She could be the last-ever secretary of education — and go out in a blaze of well-earned glory.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to correct a typographical error in the headline.
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Jane Robbins is an attorney and senior fellow with the American Principles Project.