WASHINGTON (AP) — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday accused her predecessor of wasting billions of dollars trying to fix traditional public schools and said that school choice was the way to reform the system.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DeVos said that Arne Duncan's signature $7 billion project targeting failing schools did not produce any significant improvement. That failure, she said, was further proof that it is vital to give American parents the options of charter, private and other schools.
"At what point do we accept the fact that throwing money at the problem isn't the solution?" she asked. "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That's not policy making."
A report by the Education Department released in January concluded that the School Improvement Grants project, implemented in 2010-2015, "had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment."
Duncan, who served as education secretary in the Obama administration until late 2015, did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
During the Obama administration, high school graduation rates reached record levels but scores on standardized tests showed mixed results.
DeVos compared school choice to ride-sharing companies such as Uber or Lyft that provide consumers with alternatives to traditional transportation such as taxis and are often faster and cheaper.
"We celebrate the benefits of choices in transportation and in lodging, but doesn't that pale in comparison to the importance of educating the future of our country?" DeVos said. "Why do we not allow parents to exercise that same right to choice in the education of their child?"
Asked whether school choice options can also fail, DeVos said, "I am not sure that we can deteriorate a whole lot."
News investigations of charter schools that DeVos helped pioneer in her home state of Michigan have shown disappointing results.
Separately, a 2016 Brookings study that analyzed voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana concluded that public school students attending private schools with the help of publicly funded vouchers fared worse in reading and math compared with their peers who remained in public schools. "The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large," the report said.
In its annual report released on Wednesday, Brookings ranked school districts across the country in terms of school choice: the availability of various types of schools, the ease of enrollment, mechanisms encouraging the growth of successful school models, and subsidies for low-income families. Denver, New Orleans and New York were ranked at the top of the list.
"There is no question that alternatives to the traditional school district model are destructive of the traditional school district model," wrote Russ Whitehurst, the author of the report. "Whether they are harmful, neutral or helpful to students, families, and the nation is, in the end, an empirical question."
DeVos disagreed. "I would argue that these alternatives are constructive, not destructive for students, parents and teachers," she said.