U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is going to six states to look at how educators are working to meet the individual needs of K-12 students, starting off in Wyoming. The Rethink School Tour kicked off Tuesday as she visited the Woods Learning Center in Casper, Wyo. — an elementary and middle school known for personalized learning.
DeVos says she started her tour in Natrona County because the district is already rethinking how to meet student needs. Through open enrollment, families there can choose the public school that best meets their child’s needs.
But when asked about school choice in more rural areas, where there might only be one school in town, DeVos said educators still need to focus on meeting the unique needs of individual students.
“Coming here to Woods just really reinforces the notion that empowering teachers and empowering educators at the most local levels in school buildings is really key to continuing to engage kids in a meaningful way.”
DeVos visited with students in classrooms and met privately with district administrators and teachers. She later made remarks to students, teachers and the media in the school’s gymnasium, calling for dramatic changes to education nationwide. When an elementary school student asked DeVos how she plans to make these changes, the secretary offered no tangible measures. Instead she passed the task back to educators.
“I am going to challenge teachers and leaders in schools to start rethinking school because I don’t have all the answers,” DeVos said. “But I’ll bet lots of teachers and lots of schools around the country have answers.”
She also told students that changes in education face naysayers in Washington who loudly defend the current system. But new federal guidelines —under the Every Student Succeeds Act — are significantly shifting power away from the federal government, giving states and local districts more say over education practices. When asked, DeVos did not clarify who the naysayers are or how they're stifling innovation.
While DeVos gave her remarks inside, demonstrators gathered outside. Jane Ifland with Indivisible Casper coordinated the protest. She said she is concerned that DeVos’s support for voucher programs — which allow public funds to pay for private education — actually undermine reform in America’s public schools.
Following her visit in Casper, the secretary went to the Wind River Reservation to visit St. Stephens Indian School. The tour will also make stops in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Indiana.