Opposition to the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as the next U.S. Secretary of Education was widespread in Nassau County. At the same time, the Michigan-based philanthropist had her supporters. DeVos’s views on education mirrored those of President Donald Trump’s: both support school choice, vouchers and charter schools. Since the Republican Party controls the U.S. Senate, her confirmation was never in doubt.
Still, both DeVos and Trump are applying Band-Aid-like approaches to the crisis of public education. Are the above proposals—which will only affect a modest number of students—enough? Here’s a radical thought: Abolish the Department of Education (DOE). Who needs it? The DOE has been around since 1979. How’s it doing? In the 1950s, American students were number one in the world in all disciplines: math, science, reading and writing. After the Sputnik launch in 1957, American education went on high alert, determined to improve its standing in math and science. It succeeded handsomely—and, all without the benefit of a Department of Education.
The DOE is not necessarily to blame for the crisis in education. There are numerous factors: breakdown of family life, busing orders, the dumbing down of the curriculum. But, the DOE hasn’t improved the situation. Education is a local issue. School board members in Nassau County are the most dedicated public servants you’ll ever see. They selflessly give their time to tackle multimillion-dollar budgets, balancing the needs of students both in and out of the classroom as well as the financial considerations that affect young families and seniors alike. The property tax cap has helped but, again, that was a New York State—not a federal—piece of legislation.
Can bureaucrats in Washington understand our public school districts? Can they understand the pride people in communities from Oyster Bay to Roosevelt all feel about their local schools and their illustrious histories? Keep what worthwhile functions the DOE performs and let another cabinet agency handle the paperwork. In the meantime, Betsy DeVos’s main service would be that of the last secretary in the brief, unhappy history of the Department of Education.