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Betsy DeVos Headed to Europe to Explore Career Education, School Choice

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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has used the nation's middle-of-the-road-scores on internationally benchmarked tests to make the case that the country needs to "rethink" K-12, with a focus on school choice and individualized instruction.

Now she's headed to explore K-12 and postsecondary education in three European countries that outperformed the U.S. on the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA: Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The focus of the visit: vocational education and school choice. She'll be on the road from June 6 until June 15.

"There is much to learn from our European counterparts as they continue to advance education options centered on the needs of individual students and focus on their ability to succeed in the modern economy," said DeVos in a statement. "The proof is in the results as Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom continue to outperform American students on [PISA]."

Here's a rundown of how the trip will go:

  • DeVos will travel first to Switzerland, where she is scheduled to give a keynote speech at the International Congress on Vocational and Professional Education on June 7. The day before, she'll get a briefing on Switzerland's internationally renowned apprenticeship program. (My colleague, Stephen Sawchuk, wrote this onsite look at that system.)  
  • DeVos will also visit a vocational and career-counseling center and meet with Mauro Dell'Ambrogio, the Swiss secretary for education, research, and innovation.  And she'll hold a roundtable with business leaders.
  • In the Netherlands, DeVos will explore school choice. The majority of the country's schools are publicly supported private schools, according to the department. She will visit several schools, including a career and vocational education school and meet with U.S. teachers who are in the Netherlands as part of the Fulbright program. She'll participate in roundtables, including one with students at IMC Weekend, a school that helps low-income students explore potential careers. She'll also meet with her Dutch counterpart, Ingrid van Engleshoven, the minister of education, culture, and science.  
  • And in the United Kingdom, she'll visit several schools, including The Grey Coat Hospital, a school for girls run by the Church of England, and Pimlico Primary, a charity-sponsored school. She'll meet with Lord Theodore Agnew, parliamentary undersecretary of state for the school system, as well as meet with Minister of State for School Standards Nick Gibb.

Noteably, the schedule appears to indicate that DeVos will be out of the country—or traveling—on June 6, when the U.S. Department of Education will host a school safety listening session. Anyone in the community can show up to give their views on what the federal school safety commission should consider in making its recommendations.

Is international travel typical for education secretaries? It wasn't a big focus for either of Obama's secretaries, Arne Duncan or John B. King Jr. President George W. Bush's second education secretary, Margaret Spellings, took at least seven international trips, including to Egypt and Russia. 

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House on March 13. --Andrew Harnik/AP

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