Education Secretary de Vos: Positions on STEM Education

The Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as President Trump’s education secretary on February 7, 2017. She recently joined President Trump for the signing of two STEM related bills- Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act and the Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act.

“I was honored to join President Trump as he signed these important bills into law. Both bills passed Congress with strong bipartisan support and are a testament to the change we can make when we find common ground.

Women are consistently underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) professions, and these laws will help to alleviate that gap. By encouraging women to follow a career in STEM, we can help foster innovation, promote entrepreneurism and maintain our country’s global competitiveness.” ~Betsy DeVos, Federal Education Secretary

After DeVos’ confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Education Committee, several senators submitted additional follow-up questions to be answered before her final confirmation vote. Below are the questions and answers she provided in regards to STEM education before she was confirmed as Education Secretary. 

Q: In today’s economy every student needs to have a strong foundation in the STEM subjects in order to land and succeed in virtually any job – from the shop floor to the research lab to the boardroom.   Further, the best, most highly paying jobs are nearly all in the STEM fields.  If we are going to enable our students to compete in the global economy we must maintain a strong federal commitment to improve teaching and learning in the STEM fields.  What is your view on the best role the Department of Education can play in supporting improvements in STEM education at the state and local level in K-12, in Out-of-School time, Career and Technical Education, and in Higher Education?

DeVos: STEM education is an important and necessary part of our education system and, if confirmed as Secretary, I look forward to highlighting the successful programs that are happening around the country. I believe that the Department can continue research into best practices of STEM education, promote the importance of STEM education to states and local school districts, and encourage states and local school districts to prioritize funding for those activities.

 Q: Investment in K-12 computer science education is essential to ensuring our future workforce is equipped with the skills needed to fill critical US jobs and keep America competitive and safe for decades to come. What are your strategies to ensure that more students have access to computer science education?

DeVos: Computer science is a very important part of education. Most jobs today require a much higher degree of technical competence than even 5 years ago. If confirmed, I will work with states and school districts to encourage them to develop computer science as a critical skill. I will help identify best practices wherever possible.

 Q: Maximizing the effectiveness and reach of any federal funding program for computer science requires close coordination and organization with other agencies and branches of government outside the Department of Education. How would you coordinate any activities at the Department related to computer science with these other agencies and entities particularly the National Science Foundation, to expand their reach?

DeVos: If confirmed, I will work closely with other agencies, including the National Science Foundation, Defense Department, Commerce Department, Energy Department, and the Agriculture Department to improve coordination of computer science programs and help states and local school districts gain a better understanding of federal programs that support computer science programs.

 Q: We need to make sure that kids have a safe, enriching place to be after school gets out. Afterschool programs play a critical role in increasing student achievement, keeping students safe, and helping working families. There are over one hundred 21st Century Community Learning Centers across Minnesota that provide high-quality afterschool enrichment for young people. My amendment to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) re-authorized a current program for community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during after school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low performing schools. If confirmed by the Senate, how do you plan to support rich and high quality afterschool learning experiences for students?

DeVos: After-school programs are critical to the safety and continued learning for many students. There are many programs offered by wonderful local community groups and schools that offer valuable opportunities for learning. As you noted, the Every Student Succeeds Act included the reauthorization of the 21 Century Community Learning Centers, a program that helps to provide after-school services to many children. If confirmed, I will implement the law as intended and funded by Congress, including the 21 Century Community Learning Centers program.

Q: When I talk to employers around Minnesota, they constantly tell me that they are starving for workers who have a good grasp of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). This is not just a problem for Minnesota—it’s an issue all over the country. Nearly all of the top 30 fastest growing jobs nationwide require STEM skills, but our students in the United States are lagging behind the rest of the world. Given that you have donated to and served on the board of directors for several anti-science organizations and foundations including the Acton Institute, which has funded efforts to promote teaching creationism in schools and supported efforts to deny climate change, please explain how, if confirmed by the Senate, you will make sure our students are prepared for the 21st century careers in STEM fields that are so important for our country’s economic future?

DeVos: STEM is an important part of education, no matter a student’s background. Most jobs today require a much higher degree of technical competence than even 5 years ago. If confirmed, I will work with states, local school districts and institutions to encourage them to prioritize STEM education, and I will help identify best practices wherever possible to serve as models of where it is being done well.

Q: More than ever before, girls are studying and excelling in science and mathematics. Yet the dramatic increase in girls’ educational achievements in scientific and mathematical subjects has not been matched by similar increases in the representation of women working as engineers and computing professionals. Just 12 percent of engineers are women, and the number of women in computing has fallen from 35 percent in 1990 to just 26 percent today. The numbers are especially low for Hispanic, African American, and American Indian women. Black women make up one percent of the engineering workforce and three percent of the computing workforce, while Hispanic women hold just one percent of jobs in each field. American Indian and Alaska Native women make up just a fraction of a percent of each workforce. Women continue to face environmental and social barriers — including stereotypes, gender bias, and an adverse climate in science and engineering departments at colleges and universities — that continue to block their progress in STEM. If confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of Education, how do you plan to close the systemic achievement gap currently faced by women and minorities in high demand, high paying STEM fields such as computer science and engineering?

DeVos: A strong pipeline of students interested in pursuing STEM careers, including research in these subject areas, is important to our nation’s success. And this strong pipeline will not be complete if we do not work to dramatically increase the number of girls and minorities who pursue STEM careers. If confirmed, I will work closely with other agencies, including the National Science Foundation, to improve coordination of STEM education and research initiatives and to highlight best practices related to engaging more girls and minorities in these fields of study.

Q: Gender and racial gaps continue to persist in STEM fields. Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25% of STEM jobs. Eight states have fewer than 10 girls take the AP Computer Science exam and two states have zero girls who took the exam, a sfa-ong example of the inequities within computer science education. What will you do to address core equity issues in K-12 computer science education?

DeVos: Computer science is an important discipline. Most jobs today require a much higher degree of technical competence than even 5 years ago. And the gaps that exist in this and other STEM fields must be addressed. If confirmed, I will work with states and local school districts to encourage them to prioritize computer science education, and I will help identify best practices wherever possible to serve as models of where it is being done well. I will also look closely at the budget of the Department of Education to determine the best allocation of taxpayer dollars to programs when proposing budgets for future fiscal years.

 Q: Please describe how you, if confirmed by the Senate as the leader of the Department of Education, plan to work with business and industry leaders to identify key education and workforce issues and use federal resources to empower state and local education leaders and their communities, as well as public universities, with the resources they need to promote STEM as a priority and to drive change.

DeVos: If confirmed, I look forward to engaging with business and industry leaders to help schools and institutions of higher education better communicate about what is needed to prepare students for important jobs in the STEM fields. One way to do this is to implement the Career and Technical Education program (CTE) and, if confirmed, I look forward to working with Congress to reauthorize the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act to better connect the CTE programs with in-demand jobs, including STEM jobs.

Q: The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which supports the capacity of secondary and postsecondary educational institutions to offer high-quality career and technical education (CTE), is currently awaiting congressional reauthorization. What are your top three priorities for the Perkins Act reauthorization?

DeVos: I agree reauthorization of the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act is an important priority, and, if confirmed, I look forward to working with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and other interested members of Congress to update and improve the law. I believe we should work to align federal laws to ensure consistency across programs, reduce duplication and unnecessary requirements, and provide a seamless set of policies. It is also important to provide flexibility at the state and local level so officials on the ground can create and run programs that help students attain the skills needed to work in those in-demand jobs. Finally, I support transparency of data so parents, students, and other taxpayers can see how well their programs are working.

Q: You and your husband co-founded West Michigan Aviation Academy, which is a charter high school that offers educational pathways for careers in aviation. As an advocate for the expansion of charter schools, do you believe that federal policies should promote a larger role for charters in delivering career and technical education?

DeVos: First, let me clarify that my husband, Dick, founded the West Michigan Aviation Academy. I am very proud of the work being done there, and believe it represents the kind of innovation that is needed in education. I believe one of the purposes of education is to prepare students for their future after high school, which is likely college or a meaningful career. To do that, charter schools should be engaged in career and technical education, just as other traditional public and private schools should be. CTE is an important program that can help many individuals find work in in-demand jobs in their communities. If confirmed, I look forward to working with Congress as you work to reauthorize the law.

Q: Career and technical education plays an important role in strengthening the American economy, closing the skills gap and helping more students to become college and career ready. The Perkins state grant program, the primary source of federal funding for career and technical education (CTE), serves 11 million students nationwide by ensuring access to high-quality CTE programs aligned to the needs of business and industry. Will you make a commitment to, should you be confirmed, supporting our nation’s high schools, technology centers and community colleges through an increased investment in Perkins?

DeVos: I agree reauthorization of the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act is an important priority, and, if confirmed, I look forward to working with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and other interested members of Congress to update and improve the law. I believe that we should work to align federal laws to ensure consistency across programs, reduce duplication and unnecessary requirements, and provide a seamless set of policies. If is also important to provide flexibility at the state and local level so local officials on the ground can create and run programs that help educate students to attain the skills needed to work in those in-demand jobs. I also support transparency of data so parents, students, and other taxpayers can see how well their programs are working. I will look closely at the budget of the Department of Education to determine the best allocation of taxpayer dollars to programs when making a proposed budget for future fiscal years.

Q: The President-elect who has nominated you has promised to “end Common Core.” And ESSA prohibits the Secretary or Department from encouraging the adoption of any set of standards. As his Education Secretary, what specifically would you do to deliver on that promise while also complying with the law?

DeVos: If confirmed, I will implement the statutory requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), including by adhering to the prohibitions on the Secretary interfering with decisions concerning the academic standards states choose to adopt. I believe in high standards of excellence and achievement and it is the job of states to set those standards. While the federal government can highlight their successes, Congress was explicit that there be no federal role in determining standards.

Q: While 39 percent of White girls tested at or above proficient on the science portion of the 8th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam in 2011, only 9 percent of Black girls, 13 percent of Hispanic girls, and 15 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native girls achieved proficiency. Similar disparities exist across multiple subjects and multiple grade levels. What will you do to close the STEM gender and racial gap?

DeVos: A strong pipeline of students interested in pursuing STEM careers, including research in these subject areas, is important to our nation’s success. And this strong pipeline would not be complete if we do not work to dramatically increase the number of girls and minorities who pursue STEM careers. If confirmed, I will work closely with other agencies, including the NSF, to improve coordination of STEM education and research initiatives and to highlight best practices related to engaging more girls and minorities in these fields of study.

Q: The Higher Education Act was last reauthorized in 2008. One important provision in the law for Hispanic-Serving Institutions is Title III, Part F, which is intended to supplement STEM-focused grants and articulation programs between two- and four-year institutions. This provision is set to expire in FY 2019, during your tenure as Secretary of Education. Considering the dearth of Latinos in STEM fields and the threat this represents to American economic success, will you support Congressional efforts to extend the authority and the funding of Title III, Part F?

DeVos: I know many of these programs will be a part of a robust discussion as we all examine outcomes of the various programs authorized by the Higher Education Act. We share a goal of ensuring taxpayer dollars are being spent well. If confirmed, I look forward to engaging in that dialogue with you and your colleagues.

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