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Betsy DeVos

Keep School Weird: DeVos At SXSW Says Education Improvements Will Come From Private Sector Innovators

Better education won’t come from Washington, but from innovators like those at South by Southwest: DeVos 

David Royse | LedeTree

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos showed off a little of her inner tech hipster at South By Southwest, and said the innovation-focused entrepreneurial people that attend conferences like SXSW are the hope for a better education system – not the government or schools establishment.

“I can’t help but think of this city’s unofficial motto,” DeVos said at the SXSW Edu conference this week in Austin, Texas. “Keep Austin Weird. Let’s apply that same unique spirit to doing what’s best for students.

“Be different. Be bold. Try something unexpected. Do something new.”

DeVos, who has been criticized widely by public school advocates for her history as a backer of religious schools and an alleged lack of interest in public schools, said education in the United States was built for an industrial economy that doesn’t exist anymore, and doesn’t develop the kind of minds needed by the new tech economy.

“Through all those changes in our homes, our communities, our country and our world, education in America has largely remained the same,” DeVos said, according to remarks prepared for delivery.  “Students lined up in rows. A teacher in front of a blackboard. Sit down; don’t talk; eyes up front. Wait for the bell. Walk to the next class. And… repeat. Students were trained for the assembly line then, and they still are today. Everything about our lives has moved beyond the industrial era. But American education largely has not.”

DeVos said employers report that students are coming to them with the skills for high tech employment – including basics like coding.

“Here in Austin and in communities across the country, coding is a more common and high demand skill than riveting or stamping was a few decades back,” she said. “Why don’t we embrace a paradigm shift, a fundamental reorientation… a rethink?”

DeVos also moderated a panel discussion of education that included the CEO of online education platform company edX, Anant Agarwal; Strada Education Network senior vice president David Clayton; and Ben Wallerstein, head of consulting firm Whiteboard Advisers.

Before the panel even ended DeVos was drawing criticism for not including any actual educators on a panel about education. She defended the choice of speakers on the panel, which was put together by the Department of Education.

“We are at an innovation conference,” DeVos responded, according to EdSurge.  “I believe that teachers can and are innovators—and believe that we actually have to free up teachers to be able to be a lot more innovative in their own classrooms.”

EdWeek reported that DeVos’ speech brought “quiet, polite applause.”

In her remarks, DeVos did praise some college programs she said were looking to be innovative, including Miami-Dade College’s video game design program, Purdue University’s acquisition of Kaplan in a bid to extend online education, and the Keck Graduate Institute’s for-profit Minerva Schools, a darling in the Silicon Valley tech community.

And in her speech, DeVos did manage to also mention teachers – as well as the students themselves – as possible originators of good ideas in education.

“What students really need won’t originate in Washington, it will come from people in this room,” DeVos said. “It will come from entrepreneurs, philanthropists, teachers and parents – those closest to students. And it may well come from students themselves.”




About David Royse

David Royse
David Royse is the Editor-in-Chief of Ledetree.com. He has been a professional journalist for more than 20 years, including stints with The Associated Press and The News Service of Florida. He enjoys writing about health and medical science, and hopeful stories about scientific breakthroughs and new technology.

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