An Open Letter to Betsy DeVos

Dear Secretary DeVos,

First, I’d like to congratulate you on your appointment as the United States Secretary of Education.  I share with you the passion of influencing the lives of children through education.  I am particularly ardent about providing educational opportunities for students who live in poverty.

I’m sure you would agree that whatever form of governance schools use, they should implement the best possible programs and practices, ones that have been tested in rigorous research and found to be effective.  Evidenced-based solutions are a bi-partisan, non-political issue that focuses on common ground and, in my opinion, has the potential of having the greatest effect on student achievement regardless of the school a student attends.

Our country, as well as others, has invested extensively in high quality educational research.  The pace at which we are accumulating evidence of what programs and practices are effective in reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies and other areas is astonishing.  My former colleague and current Director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, Robert Slavin, claims that “If all 52,000 Title I schools adopted and implemented the best of these programs, the U.S. would soon rise in international rankings” and “achievement gaps would be cut in half.” With the potential of results like that, it seems to me that this is the topic that should be on the forefront of our national dialogue on improving all of our schools.

As it relates to evidence-based solutions, I encourage you to use your platform as Secretary of Education to do four things.

  • Elevate the conversation and celebrate the promising news regarding the body of educational research that is available to educators. Understand that most practitioners continue to be unaware of this information or are skeptical of its worth.  Use your voice to let educators know that the research is legitimate and that it contains a body of knowledge that will enable them to become more effective in raising the bar for all students.
  • Adopt policies that will help support educators at all levels to understand which programs and practices are most effective. It is challenging for educators to wade through the labyrinth of claims that many companies make regarding their products.  To assist the public in making informed food choices, the federal government requires food manufacturers to accurately label their products.  To assist in keeping our citizens healthy, the federal government requires that claims made by pharmaceutical companies are supported by evidence and federally approved.  In education, there are no such regulations to help protect our students.  Providing such guidelines will go a far way in assisting educators in making informed choices for our children.
  • Establish policies at the federal level that encourage states, districts, and schools to adopt and successfully implement evidence-based programs and practices. Adequate support must be provided to educators at all levels to encourage them to select research-based solutions and implement them successfully.  When schools successfully adopt and implement these solutions, our students—particularly those who live in poverty—are given the best chance for success.
  • Continue to support and fund the continuation of educational research so that we can continue to verify its effectiveness and relentlessly identify new practices that will help us to serve all students. While much has been done to establish a strong research base in education, we must continue to foster our nation’s innovative spirit and encourage our educators to develop new ways to best teach our students.

It is my hope that by doing these things we can change the current national debate from bringing students to high quality schools to bringing high quality evidence-based education to all students. 

Let’s make our schools greater.

Sincerely,

Mark T. Rolewski, CEO
Ro Educational Leadership, Inc.
http://markrolewski.org/

Mark T. Rolewski is a former teacher, principal, and central office administrator and currently the CEO of Ro Educational Leadership, Inc. He has assisted schools and school districts in designing and implementing successful turnaround initiatives for over 20 years.

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