Making her first appearance before a public audience as the new U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos addressed magnet school leaders at Magnet Schools of America’s recent National Policy Training Conference in Washington, DC. MSA invited the Secretary to discuss her vision of magnet schools within the school choice landscpape. Her appearance was also used as an opportunity for us to hear more about Secretary DeVos’ priorities now that she’s in office, and to expand her understanding of magnet schools at a time when she is formulating her agenda and budget for the next four years.
She began by sharing how she has witnessed the success of magnet schools first hand and recognized City High Middle School an IB program in her home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She added, “After 40 years since the inception of magnet schools, I think it’s important to celebrate their important role and also to remind ourselves that there’s so much more work to be done. But the reality is: What makes your schools transformative places of learning is not the brick and mortar, it’s you, the human connection. You and your teachers are the difference-makers and the life-changers.”
MSA Executive Director, Todd Mann then asked the Secretary several questions related to magnet schools. He begin by asking how magnet schools can gain more attention and support at the federal, state, and local level. The Secretary answered that she is “agnostic to the delivery method of education, as long as it meets the individual needs of students.” She added, “It is clear that magnet schools are doing a tremendous job and that she would like to help us highlight this success by telling our story in a more personal way.”
Mann followed-up and asked the Secretary to describe her views on promoting school diversity as a strategy for improving student achievement. Secretary DeVos responded, “Experiencing and being a part of a diverse environment is critical to the development of any young person, child, or student. Magnet schools focus significantly on school diversity and giving students a broad view of the world. This can’t be celebrated enough.”
Before concluding the discussion, Todd asked the Secretary if she would support increased magnet school funding at the federal level. DeVos responded, “the Department is still formulating its budget, but she supports magnet schools and other high performing school models.” She added, “We shouldn’t, however, necessarily focus our conversations on funding school buildings, but rather we should discuss funding students.” That ambiguous statement certainly caught the attention of the audience.