CAL THOMAS: A new direction on education



American public school students fall well behind students around the world in math and science proficiency.

This is not debatable. According to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, both cited in The New York Times in 2012, “Fourth- and eighth-grade students in the United States continue to lag behind students in several East Asian countries and some European nations in math and science, although American fourth-graders are closer to the top performers in reading.”

Newly installed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, believes at least two factors have contributed to these and other problems in American education – lack of school choice and the failure of top-down policies dictated by Washington.

During an interview in her office Monday, DeVos cited one example: “This department just invested $7 billion trying to improve failing schools and there were literally no results to show for it.”

A U.S. News and World Report story in 2015 confirms her view that there is little connection between academic achievement and the amount of money spent: “The U.S. spends significantly more on education than other OECD countries. In 2010, the U.S. spent 39 percent more per full-time student for elementary and secondary education than the average for other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.”

DeVos wants to give more power to the states to set their education priorities: “I think the more states and locales are empowered to innovate and create and are unencumbered by unnecessary regulations and sort of beaten into compliance mentally vs. a can-do and results-oriented mentality, it’s been repeatedly demonstrated that any type of top-down solution, no matter where you try to employ it in government, it’s not successful.”

While acknowledging that resistance from teachers’ unions and some members of Congress is strong, she believes a growing number of people are getting behind school choice:

“We had an example of that in Florida where over 10,000 parents and students marched in Tallahassee against (a) lawsuit that the teachers union had filed, which of course, has been dismissed, thankfully.” The lawsuit tried to block a school voucher program.

She notes that while school choice for all is the goal, the Every Student Succeeds Act (a reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which established the American federal government’s expanded role in funding public education) has a provision “that will allow states that are particularly innovative to implement some choices … on a very local level. And I am very much going to encourage them to take the ball and run with it as far as possible.”

DeVos believes the protests during and after her confirmation were not “spontaneous, genuine protests,” but are being “sponsored and very carefully planned. We’ve seen enough written that they want to make my life a living hell. They also don’t know what stock I come from. I will not be deterred from my mission in helping kids in this country.”

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist who appears in hundreds of newspapers and regularly appears on Fox News and other media outlets. Readers may email Cal Thomas at

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    Simple question: what are the ‘choices’ for Lee and Itawamba country high schools? Who are these alternative to public schools?

    • Numbercruncher

      There is none. The charter school law requires local school board approval for A,B, and C districts. Fat chance of getting approval and eating into some of that money for huge superintendent salaries, along with all of his assistants. Cancel the taxpayer paid vacation to the coast each year? Whatever!

      Take a good look at the Desoto County schools website. There are actually titles of “administrative assistant to the associate superintendent of….”. Can an associate superintendent not make his own copies? You can’t ask him to get his own coffee? Answer the phone? You kidding? All of that eats in to their two hour power lunches. How do Texas schools survive with so many students in their districts? You don’t need an entire school district to educate a couple thousand kids like there are here.

      Ask any lee county teacher. Most of your administrative staff’s goals are to get a job at the “central office”. That’s because it pays a lot and the work is low.