DeVos says lower test scores show ‘student achievement crisis’

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday blamed Washington overreach, high-paid school administrators and layers of bureaucracy for American students’ lower scores on the Nation’s Report Card, pointing to the scores as proof that the United States “has a student achievement crisis.”

“Government has never made anything better or cheaper, more effective or more efficient. And nowhere is that more true than in education,” she said in remarks at the National Press Club in Washington.

The test scores released by the National Center for Education Statistics earlier Wednesday showed that average reading scores were lower for fourth- and eighth-grade students and lower in math for eighth-graders compared with the 2017 results. The tests, given every two years, assess students in those grades on math and reading.

DeVos has long called for a shift in the way the United States approaches education policy, pushing for ways to empower local districts to take back control from the federal government. She reiterated the need for change on Wednesday.

She applauded states like Florida for embracing charter schools and setting up tax-credit scholarship programs, education savings accounts and vouchers that help students attend schools they believe best fit their needs, regardless of whether they are out of their districts.

The secretary is backing a $5 billion tax credit proposal called Education Freedom Scholarships. As proposed, people who donate to the scholarship fund would receive dollar-for-dollar federal tax credits. Students would be allowed to use the money to go to private or public schools, including charters, outside their local districts.

“Why not let every dollar flow to whomever is best able to help students read, write, do math, to learn?” DeVos said Wednesday.

But Democrats and the teachers’ union have criticized the proposed scholarship, arguing that it could take away funds from public schools.

“Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos ignores the real issues that plague our classrooms and student achievement, presumably because they disrupt her political agenda to siphon public money into private hands and expand private school vouchers and for-profit school ventures,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement.

Weingarten also found the test scores “disappointing,” but said they weren’t surprising, in part because state funding hasn’t rebounded since the Great Recession.