Betsy DeVos Is Right: More Choice Will Improve Education

On Tuesday night, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a confirmation hearing for Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos. Devos, a longtime proponent of school choice, also fielded questions about her positions on higher education and preschool. The hearing turned into a vibrant debate among the senators about the merits of education choice, what the federal government can and should do to advance choice, the state of student loans and grants, and the efficacy of preschool. School Choice In her opening remarks, DeVos posed an important question: “Why,” she asked, “in 2017, are we still questioning parents’ ability to exercise school choice?” Indeed, research in the field of education choice has demonstrated that parents are savvy consumers of education services, schools, and products, and that access to school choice shifts parents “from the margins to the center of their children’s academic development.” Moreover, University of Arkansas researchers have written that school choice moves parents “from a marginal role as passive recipients of school assignments to active participants in the school selection process in very practical ways.” This more active role yields impressive benefits for students. Research has shown that school choice improves academic outcomes for participants and for children in nearby public schools, leads to more satisfied parents, and saves money for taxpayers. Reviewing research on the topic, researcher Greg Forster found that, of all random assignment evaluations conducted to date, 14 out of 18 show that choice improves academic outcomes for students. Moreover, 31 of 33 empirical studies find that school choice improves academic outcomes in public schools. Forster also found that 25 of 28 empirical studies on the fiscal impact of school choice find school choice saves money. The Senate hearing also turned to a discussion about school choice options such as vouchers, tuition tax credit scholarships, and charter schools, and what such options mean for traditional public schools. The essence of the debate was about the definition of “public” education. DeVos suggested that policymakers...

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