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Commentary By Diana Furchtgott-Roth

5 Things Betsy DeVos Can Do to Help Students as Test Scores Decline

Education Pre K-12

Charter schools could bridge the gap to other countries’ superior education systems

Children need new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to give them more options for a better education.

In America today, only 82% of high school students graduate in four years, a share that declines to 73% among African-Americans.

American 15-year-olds scored 20 points below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average on the latest PISA international test in 2015 in mathematics, considered the gold standard for international testing. Their peers in Finland, Australia, Korea and most of Europe all scored higher. American scores are declining rather than rising.

DeVos is a proponent of charter schools, and the growth in these schools is exemplifying educational innovation in cities and towns across the country.

Charter schools receive public funding, but are independently operated. With more flexibility, they provide a convincing alternative to traditional public schools. In many areas, interest in charter schools is so high that they conduct a lottery to determine which students are admitted.

Here are five ways that Secretary DeVos can promote charter schools.

1. Expand charter schools block programMax Eden, my colleague at the Manhattan Institute, suggests that DeVos use the charter school block grant program to help encourage states to move toward a charter sector that’s freer and more open, that makes it easier for new schools to launch and expand, and lets parents rather than bureaucrats be the ultimate judges of school quality.

The program already makes it easier for successful charter schools to get approved for expansion and encourages states to defray facilities costs.

2. Streamline charter school regulations. DeVos could encourage states to do a complete review of the regulatory burdens facing charter school launches, operations and expansion. “In the same way that we assess red tape around businesses, states should be encouraged to do a full review of all red tape around charter operations,” Eden told me.

3. Enable charters to operate across state lines. DeVos could ask states to enter into an interstate compact to enable successful charter schools to open across state borders. When Great Hearts Academies in Arizona tried to open in Tennessee, a generally charter-friendly state, regulators prevented the expansion. Successful charter chains often opt to double down in a particular state where the regulators know and trust them rather than make forays into other states.

4. Legislation to allow Title 1 portability. Preston Cooper, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, suggests that DeVos encourage Congress to pass legislation to allow Title I portability, essentially allowing the federal funds that supplement state and local spending in high-need school districts to follow students to their school of choice. States can do this with their own funds but, for the most part, not with federal funds.

5. Use ESSA funds for charters. An education bill passed in 2015, titled the Every Student Succeeds Act, includes a “weighted student funding pilot,” which allows a few select school districts to pool federal funds with state and local funds. That combined funding can follow particular students to public schools, including, in theory, charter schools. DeVos could encourage school districts participating in the pilot program to use the funds for charter schools. If successful, Congress could authorize more wide-ranging portability of federal funds.

The benefits of charter schools are well-documented. Stanford University economics professor Caroline Hoxby compared children who were accepted at New York’s charter schools with those who applied but were not admitted. She found that by the end of eighth grade, students who attended a charter school could expect to score 30 points higher on a standardized math test than their peers who missed out on the lottery, closing 86% of this “gap” between schools in wealthy and poor neighborhoods.


If parents do not like their children’s charter schools, they can leave. This threat of exit gives charter schools an incentive to raise school quality in order to retain students — the same incentive faced by millions of products and services across America. Secretary DeVos has an opportunity to allow education to catch up.

This piece originally appeared on WSJ's MarketWatch


Diana Furchtgott-Roth is a senior fellow and director of Economics21. She also serves on the transition team for President-elect Donald Trump. Follow her on Twitter here.

This piece originally appeared in WSJ's MarketWatch