U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Prepared Remarks at the Magnet Schools of America 2017 National Policy Training Conference

February 16, 2017

Below are the prepared remarks of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at the Magnet Schools of America 2017 National Policy Training Conference, Wednesday, February 15, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Good Afternoon:

Thank you for that kind introduction Todd, and thank you for inviting me to be here with you.

I want to begin by expressing my appreciation for all you do. I would like to share some thoughts on how I hope to support your important work, but first, let me just comment on something you may have seen on TV.

Last Friday, a handful of protestors tried to block my entrance into Jefferson Middle School Academy here in D.C. While I eventually made it in, and had very constructive conversations with Chancellor Wilson, many DC administrative leaders, some terrific teachers and Principal Dohmann, the protestors' behavior is a reflection of the way some seek to treat our education system – by keeping kids in and new thinking out.

Friday's incident demonstrates just how hostile some people are to change and to new ideas. Without realizing it, we, too, can fall victim to this trap of seeing our work in education as an "us vs. them" approach.

I know this to be true throughout the reform community, where there are those who claim to be champions of education, but they really only support their respective "sectors." These silos are unnecessary and unproductive in our common goal to serve all students. So I applaud your work to expand and improve options for all children through magnet schools.

The education of a child is not a zero-sum game. When a student excels academically, we do not place an asterisk next to his or her name based on the type of school he or she attends.

I want to encourage you today to look beyond the walls of your schools, beyond the invisible lines of your community, and let's renew our commitment to doing what's best for each and every child.

A quick question:
By a show of hands, who here got involved in education to make money? (If you did, I'm not judging you) ... I don't see any hands up.

Who here got involved because you don't trust teachers? Again, no hands.

Okay, last one. Who here today got involved in education because you care deeply about students and their needs?

Now all of you have raised your hand.

Our care for students and their futures is what brings us together. This is the common element that makes our mission so noble: Our collective goal is to provide all students with an equal opportunity for a high-quality education.

I don't need to recite the history of magnet schools and the vital role they've played to improve the lives of urban students, combat segregation, and provide a quality option to parents and kids alike. Indeed, magnet schools are often referred to as the original school choice option.

I've seen the evidence firsthand. In my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, City High Middle School is nationally recognized and is ranked the third-best school in the state. Forty-five percent are minority students, and 98 percent of all students are enrolled in IB programs.

In conversations with parents and students who are part of City High, it's clear how much they appreciate and value the opportunity that school provides.

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.

That is why I am honored to join you today. Your presence demonstrates your commitment to creating quality options, to embracing innovation, and to seeking new ways to better serve some of our most underserved students.

Let's also celebrate the fact that more than 2.6 million students benefit from attending 3,285 magnet schools. These schools are offering parents tremendous options, and they offer students an important opportunity they wouldn't have had elsewhere. I applaud your commitment to developing and communicating best practices to ensure all magnet schools strive to be models of excellence.

I'm proud to highlight the Department's Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), and note that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers new flexibilities that will hopefully lead to greater program success.

First, ESSA extends the grant term from three years to up to five years, and increases the maximum cumulative grant award from $12 million to $15 million. Grantees will now have more time and funding to implement their themes, diversify their schools and improve academic outcomes.

Second, ESSA allows grant funds to be spent on transportation for your school's students, thereby improving access to new, thriving magnet schools for all students. And third, ESSA allows your schools to measure diversity by both socioeconomic background as well as race.

But the reality is: What makes your schools transformative places of learning is not a federal grant; it's not the brick and mortar, it's you, the human connection. You and your teachers are the difference-makers and the life-changers.

The relationships you forge with your students give them a platform from which to launch.

As the Secretary of Education, I am committed to supporting your success, celebrating your commitment to quality, and working with you to ensure that magnet schools continue to play a vital role in bettering student achievements.

Please know, I am the type of person who listens more than she speaks, so know that my door is open to you, to hear your concerns, and to help you build on your achievements.

Thank you again for everything you do for America's children. I appreciate you, and I know the parents and students you serve do as well.

I wish you a very successful conference and visit to our nation's capital. Thanks very much.

Information source: U.S. Department of Education