The 21st century poses many challenges to structures once thought to be tried and true. In a world where the velocity of change continues to pick up speed, old structures, bureaucracies and institutions will fail unless they adapt to an ever-increasing tempo. Nowhere is this truer than in the education of the next generation. As industries evolve, streamline and—in some cases—die, today’s students face challenges from peers at home and competitors abroad. Guarantees of future security are no longer ironclad so thorough preparation of children and youth becomes much more urgent. Betsy DeVos was made for such a time as this.
Confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Education in February, 2017, Betsy DeVos brings a passion to her post born of long experience as a champion for children and their parents. She is the daughter of a successful entrepreneur and a public school teacher, and she reflects both of those callings in her own life’s work. Having served as chairman of the Windquest Group, an investment management company, she understands the meaning of stewardship and the importance of prudent decision-making. Yet it is her time with the Grand Rapids, Michigan public school system that may be her primary motivator. Serving as a on-site counselor for 15 years, Ms. DeVos saw firsthand the educational disparities imposed by a one-size-fits-all system that fails its at-risk students. Helping those struggling young people has occupied her time long before she assumed her current post. Through the family foundation she led with her husband, Dick, DeVos was instrumental in founding a high school with an emphasis on aviation; spearheading a national campaign for educational choice; inaugurating a competitive festival for young artists from all over the world; and boosting research in and treatment of pediatric cancers.
This philanthropy is not the result of random selection. In many communities, needy families are deprived the excellence, challenge, encouragement and safety found in other schools, both public and private. Betsy DeVos understands how vouchers for private schooling enhance not only a student’s future prospects but also competition among institutions and districts. Through charitable giving and political activism, Interview with Betsy DeVos, The Reformer | Excellence in Philanthropy has aided the cause of educational reform in Florida, Louisiana, Indiana and her home state of Michigan. At the core of all of this grassroots and legislative activity is the firm conviction that the present information age will leave 20th-century educational models behind. Technology gives greater impetus to alternatives like vouchers, charter schools and homeschooling. Now a cabinet officer with the power to make even more of a difference, she is poised to champion these promising options at a national level—and on a world stage. In my opinion, her political ascendancy is timed perfectly.