Jeb Bush: With Education, We Can Change Course

Speaking at this year's Foundation for Excellence in Education national summit, former Florida Governor and foundation chairman Jeb Bush voiced concerns about dropping incomes, shrinking high school and college graduation rates, reduced college participation, rising crime, and the "decimation" of family life. But despite that laundry list of challenges, Bush expressed hope: "I think we can all share the belief that there is one path that we know for certain could change this course," (10:10 in video) he said in his opening remarks.

This "child-centered" path includes restricting the influence of teacher unions and teacher tenure, and expanding school choice options. "We need a teacher evaluation system that is based on teachers being professionals, not part of some trade union bargaining process"(12:49), he said and continued, "We need robust school choice because, at least my anecdotal evidence is that thirteen thousand monopolies don't change unless there are options and unless you put pressure on these systems it'll always be insular and focused on the adults" (12:57).

In remarks by former Assistant Secretary of Education and current President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Chester E. Finn, Jr., he agreed that Bush's vision is one that many can share: "Bush pushed hard for putting the interests of children first and did so in language plainly intended to appeal across party lines." He added, while admitting that he would like to see Jeb Bush run for president in 2016, "It was the first education speech I can remember where I found myself agreeing with every single word."

Finn and Bush are not the only ones to notice the overwhelming bipartisan support for these particular platforms. In an editorial for National Review Online, Lance T. Izumi stated that some of the most fervent supporters of school choice and voucher programs are the traditionally Democratic African-American and Latino voting blocks. He suggests that Republicans put more emphasis on these types of universal issues.

Though the majority in attendance at the Foundation for Excellence in Education summit were members of the GOP, Bush's message will have resonated with groups such as Democrats for Education Reform and a growing number of liberal reform advocates.

The other steps that make up Bush's vision are high standards, including a strong endorsement of the Common Core State Standards; a universal commitment to digital learning and blended learning environments; and radical results-based accountability such as the "parent-trigger movement".

"Such laws, which exist in seven states, allow parents to engineer major changes to local schools — including drastic steps such as converting it to a charter school or ousting the current administration — if the school isn't meeting the community's expectations."

Still, others will disagree that all share in Bush's vision to quash union bargaining power and expand charter and voucher programs. Research Professor of Education at New York University, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Brookings Institution, and former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch writes:

"School reform cannot possibly succeed when teachers—who are on the frontlines of implementation—are left out of the decision-making process. If there is no "buy-in," if teachers do not willingly concur with the orders handed down from on high, then reform cannot succeed. If administrators operate by stealth and confrontation, then their plans for reform will founder."

Anne Mishkind

Anne Mishkind

Anne Mishkind holds a Master of Philosophy in Political Thought and Intellectual History from the University of Cambridge. She has worked in education advocacy and media and has a strong interest in education reform.
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