Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will swing by Johnson County Community College and The Kansas City Academy on Thursday and Friday as she concludes a week-long “Rethink School” tour across the country.
The tour was intended to bring attention to schools with innovative approaches to learning.
Since her confirmation eight months ago, DeVos has fiercely advocated for a shift in the nation’s approach to public education and made clear her support for expanded school choice.
“It is our goal with this tour to highlight what’s working,” DeVos said in a statement earlier this week. “We want to encourage local education leaders to continue to be creative, to empower parents with options and to expand student-centered education opportunities.”
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But what will those changes look like?
Here are three things DeVos and her team could talk about when they visit JCCC from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday and Kansas City Academy at 8 a.m. Friday The visits are not open to the public.
Devos wants an update of a traditional public education system that she says now serves as a “dead-end.”
DeVos has said that most of the country’s children will continue to get their education in public school classrooms, including in charter schools that are public but operated by independent boards.
But she believes the methods used by current educators have not been updated in generations and has called the current system a “dead-end” and a “mundane malaise.”
Many critics have challenged the idea that educators have not revamped the way kids learn.
Career academies allow high-schoolers to take career-focused classes in areas such as medicine, public safety and engineering. And there are district partnerships with colleges, such as a Lee’s Summit academy that let students gain college credits, skills training and job internships before graduation.
Both are examples of school programs enacted locally that school officials say better prepare students for a 21st century workforce.
Devos wants more school choices for parents, and increased support for school vouchers.
In an interview with PBS NewsHour, Devos said that parents no longer believe a one-size-fits-all model of learning meets their kids’ needs. She strongly supports charter schools and expanding a voucher program.
Vouchers allow parents to apply the public money allocated to their child in public school to private or religious school education, which typically do not receive federal or state dollars.
According to Chartbeat National, after a school visit earlier this week a student in Casper, Wyo., asked DeVos what kind of changes she wants schools to make.
She said wants to start “with the opportunity for every kid, every child to go to a school that is going to fit their kind of personality.”
In Colorado, DeVos spoke of expanding options for kids with special needs who don’t feel they are being supported in public school.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that will create higher standards for how schools support special needs students.
Devos wants districts to champion “personalized learning.”
DeVos has spoken frequently in favor of curriculum tailored to individual students’ interests and needs.
That’s not necessarily a new concept for local schools. In the Shawnee Mission School District, Apache Elementary and Rising Star Academy have been named “innovative schools” that emphasize project-based learning, flexible seating and hands-on tasks.
At the brand new state-of-the-art Olathe West High School, each student receives a MacBook and can study in media centers, workshops and laboratories tailored to their studies.
And in Park Hill at the LEAD Innovation Studio students work in groups, collaborate on projects and combine disciplines. That might mean writing and performing a play in English class, or using math concepts during a science project.