Viewpoint: Jeb Bush Wants to Talk About Education

School reform is a political hot potato, and the former Florida governor can’t get enough of it

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Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush attends Mitt Romney victory campaign Rally at Bank United Center on Oct. 31, 2012 in Miami, Fla.
Vallery Jean / FilmMagic / Getty Images

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush at a campaign rally for Mitt Romney in Miami on Oct. 31, 2012.

Last week was my first time at Jebfest. That’s how some insiders have started referring to the annual education-reform summit Jeb Bush organizes. For five years now, Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education has been gathering current and former governors, superintendents and policymakers, business leaders and educational vendors, nonprofit executives and think-tank types who may disagree on many things but are united in their desire to reform education.

(MORE: Viewpoint: Why the 2012 Election Has Compromised Education Reform.)

The meeting last week in Washington attracted people from both sides of the aisle, ranging from hard-core adherents of Bush’s education ideas to reform-minded analysts like me who support some of what his foundation is doing but are skeptical of other aspects. (One area we agree on is the promise of the new Common Core state standards; I’m a partner at a nonprofit that was hired to analyze Common Core implementation for Chiefs for Change, a network of state schools chiefs sponsored by Bush’s foundation.) The conference organizers asked me to moderate a session at the summit with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, where we discussed plans for President Obama’s second term, the challenges facing Hispanic students, and education politics. And I also sat down for a private interview with Bush to talk about his views on education and the current political landscape. Here are some of the highlights from the interview, which includes his thoughts on education and poverty, his discomfort with being called a centrist and a key policy issue where he parts ways with his brother George.

Why your emphasis on education?

There is now increasing, irrefutable evidence linking our country’s prosperity to education outcomes.  We’ve lost our leadership in education, and now we’re one of the least socially mobile countries in the world. You can directly link it to a variety of factors, but the solution has to include transformational education reform.I’ve believed that for a long while. Combine that with being governor, where we got a chance to implement pretty meaningful broad-based education reform and, seeing the results, it kind of cements my passion for this. [The foundation] started more to defend the reforms we had in place, but it’s gone way beyond that.

What grade would you give President Obama on education?

A passing grade. Which is better than I’d give him on economic policy or budget policy. He has a heart for kids.  And he has Arne Duncan, and I think Arne deserves praise.

If you were still a governor, would you have applied to compete in the President’s Race to the Top reform competition for states?

Yes. And I would have been upset that Florida didn’t win in the first round. If it’s rewarding the best efforts, we should have been first in line.

Florida’s request this year for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act’s accountability measures sparked controversy because it proposed lowering interim targets based on race. What did you think of it?

Not well handled. It appeared like they were saying they were okay with having a lower percentage of African Americans [pass the state’s test in the long run]. Turns out that’s not the case. Clumsy in its presentation.

(MORE: Read an interview with George W. Bush on the 10th anniversary of No Child Left Behind.)

I don’t think there needs to be a [school accountability] requirement based on race. If you’re going to pick anything, pick poverty. [Florida’s] system is better in that it has an extra focus on the lowest[-performing] 25 percent.

I get tired of hearing people, well-meaning people, talking about African-American kids or Hispanic kids as if they’re all the same. Which isn’t true. There is a very diverse group of people in both groups in terms of income, objectives in life, aspirations, cultural wants, habits, all the things that make us unique Americans. This identity politics is unhealthy in education policy. It started under our previous president.

What’s the role of poverty in education?

I would reverse the question: education impacts poverty, not the other way around. If we don’t empower families to be able to have a quality education, then their children for the first time in American history, truly the first time, will not have the same economic opportunities. That’s not speculation. The evidence is in.

There are other reasons why people are poor. There are cultural reasons, economic competitiveness reasons. There are a lot of reasons why people are in poverty. The difference today is that increasingly they are in perpetual poverty. That is so un-American and such a tragedy.

(MORE: Rotherham: Can Obama Really Lower the Cost of College?)

To me there are several ways to get out of this. One is to have a spiritual revival. I’m not an expert on that, way above my pay grade, but that’s one path historically we’ve seen, where wholesome, loving family life changes the course and direction of children’s plight and their future. Or building a high-growth economy where there are opportunities across the economic ladder, changing job training programs and things like that.

But without transforming the education system, where there’s access to high quality education, it doesn’t matter the zip code in which you live — I think we’re trapping a whole generation, not just kids at the poverty level. That is so dangerous for a country like ours that is based on the exact opposite premise.

Your father tried to put states on a path toward adopting national standards for schools. He couldn’t pull it off and neither could Clinton. Your brother managed to increase accountability, but even that was watered down. Every time there’s been a push to improve school standards, a left-right coalition against reform emerged. Is there a center? And if so, can it hold?

Yeah, there is a center. We’re a part of it if you call it a center.  I’m getting nervous to be called a centrist. Breaking out in a rash. I’ve been accused of that now three or four times today. I’m pretty damn conservative to be honest with you.

(MORE: 6 Common Misconceptions About Financial Aid)

There are people on the right who are fearful of federal encroachment. That fear, I don’t think is justified, although there is enough history behind federal encroachment for everybody to be diligent. On the left, they see these higher standards being implemented in a way that shows that children are not learning and the unions are fearful that that exposure, which is real and truthful, will put them in a vulnerable position politically.

So do alliances of mutual convenience based on powerful emotions and economic interests trump a perhaps broader but more passive [movement] to date? That’s the question. I don’t know the answer, but I know where I stand.

24 comments
frharry
frharry

America, do yourself a favor and do not let Jeb Bush do to your nation what he did to Florida schools. Bush's administration destroyed the statewide board of regents which had successfully guided our universities for many decades and replaced it with local boards over which the governor had major control in appointments and policies. The result was a politicization of university governance, corporatization of university operations and a slow but steady defunding of public universities that is now in its second decade here in Florida. Jeb Bush was a disaster here in Florida when it came to education. And we have the low rankings to show for it.  

KimS
KimS

Boo hiss on the Common Core!  I completely disagree with you that the Common Core offer any sort of promise for real change within our public schools.  Perhaps you can answer this simple question for me, Mr Rotherham.  Why do you believe one set of national standards that will improve public education when state standards were unable to do so?

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

Another idiotic ex-governor named Bush?  Too soon.

LenSimpson
LenSimpson

Don't blame the parents , they weren't taught either

LenSimpson
LenSimpson

Our k12 system is to blame for overfull prisons & unemployment  because it doesn't teach the basics of survival, how to think for themselves, how to work for a living , how not to make babies. Remove union protection of deadbeats, devise a std, national DIGITAL  program , end social advancement.Use History class to show how human nature repeats itself daily, forget the useless dates. 

brianc2221
brianc2221

The U.S. spends more money on K-12 public education than any other country in the world except Switzerland. Yet, countries like Poland and Ireland (which spend 1/3 of what we do) consistently outperform ours on standardized tests. Until our schools place greater emphasis on math and science and less emphasis on creating the next generation of liberals, our public schools will continue to fail.

bbouton
bbouton

yup...the Education Gov...now look at the charter schools in Florida that close their doors in the middle of the year owing counties hundreds of thousands of dollars...the charter schools that have students in rooms divided up by partitions and are shown movies all day...the charter schools in Orange County that pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to a principal and her morally bankrupt husband while paying teachers at the school a mere pittance...

BUT if you watch Bloomberg, you can find that Charter Schools are the BEST investment for a high return on the dollar...with Charter Schools USA getting over 50 million in loans in the last 90 days...didn't we learn when speculation and profits destroyed the housing industry and now we allow Jeb to spew the bile about school choice that solely enriches testing companies and for profit charter school companies...yup, it's a road we need to travel, let's destroy a generation of Floridians and head towards destroying a generation of Americans...

scullymjs
scullymjs

"Education? We doan need no stinkin' education talk." We need talk about liberty, freedom, personal responsibility. One more establishment Republican and we are done as a Republic.

“The difference between Democrats and Republicans is: Democrats have accepted some ideas of Socialism cheerfully, while Republicans have accepted them reluctantly”. ~ Norman Thomas, American Socialist

doctorfixit
doctorfixit

Now Jeb Bush is the liberals' favorite Republican, just like Mitt Romney was, just like John McCain was, until they got nominated, then they became Hitler overnight.  

StephenCorbo
StephenCorbo

wow all those people and no teacher were involved. Education reform is pretty simple its called parenting

JimSedberry
JimSedberry

Thats' all we ever hear about, education, that's where we spend too much money, educationg kids that spend too much time tweeting and not paying attention. That's also where teachers, have no control over classrooms, where thsy are constantly chatised by interferring parents, who don't know diddle about anything because they were raised in the same system, and are just about as ignorant as their kids!

So lets' talk about education, another "black hole" where trillions of dollars are pumped into with no return no investment, in fact every year reqirements for passing are lowered so that little demtreius, or chantilla can pass, and go out the door with enough information stored in their puny brain to fill out paperwork to get their "entitlements".

The education system in this country is a complete and utter waste of money and resources, and until we get the federal government out of it, we will continue to get the dame dismal results. 

So why talk about it until everyone realizes that it is a sham, and a place where "educational leeches" reside in complete and utter enjoyment, taking your money and doing nothing to educate the peas brains that are in this generation!!! 

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

In countries that have money , pupils either want to learn or not . In other corrupt countries that don't allow schools , children WANT to learn .

AHick
AHick

The American people are not interested in anything Jeb Bush has to say, or his sons, or any Bush.  He is running for President, running for the elites and the speculator class, and most importantly, running for his family's personal fortunes.  He should be ignored, and if he won't shut up and go away, the GOP should find some way to marginalize him.  They won't of course.  They consider him their next best hope, which proves how out of touch with reality they really are, and how losing the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton with him as their nominee should be the election that forces an existential crisis in the GOP.

drudown
drudown

"There is now increasing, irrefutable evidence linking our country’s prosperity to education outcomes." - Jeb Bush

Tell me, wasn't it George W. Bush that advocated for the most flawed system to date, i.e., No Child Left Behind? Taken to its illogical conclusion, the schools that need the help the most (students with the lowest scores) do NOT receive funding. Then again, I guess that is what the People should expect from a political party that says "let's cut taxes to increase federal revenue!" Talk about non sequitur. 

FrankYouell
FrankYouell

If anyone really cared about education... We would deport the illegals we have and stop unskilled immigration from South of the Border and everywhere else. Immigration is, by far, the greatest threat to public education in the United States and the greatest burden on it. The fact that Jeb supports Open Borders shows that education is not a priority for him. Cheap labor is his only god and he will sacrifice public education (and American) at the altar.

If anyone doubts that immigration is undermining American education, see below.

1. John Judis “End State Is California finished?” (http://bit.ly/2x2P6P)

“At the gathering, held in a plush conference room, one of the experts projected tables and graphs comparing various states. It was there that I had my own “AHA!” moment. The states with thriving educational systems were generally northern, predominately white, and with relatively few immigrants: the New England states, North Dakota, and Minnesota. That bore out the late Senator Patrick Moynihan’s quip that the strongest factor in predicting SAT scores was proximity to the Canadian border. The states grouped with California on the lower end of the bar graph were Deep South states like Mississippi and Alabama with a legacy of racism and with a relative absence of new-economy jobs; states like West Virginia that have relatively few jobs for college grads; and states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Hawaii that have huge numbers of non-English-speaking, downscale immigrants whose children are entering the schools. California clearly falls into the last group, suggesting that California’s poor performance since the 1960s may not have been due to an influx of bad teachers, or the rise of teachers’ unions, but to the growth of the state’s immigrant population after the 1965 federal legislation on immigration opened the gates.”

2. Michael Lind “Innovation and education won’t save our economy” (http://bit.ly/gtmx2r)

“The overall PISA scores of American students are lowered by the poor results for blacks and Latinos, who make up 35 percent of America’s K-12 student population. Asian-American students have an average score of 541, similar to those of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. The non-Hispanic white American student average of 525 is comparable to the averages of Canada (524), New Zealand (521), and Australia (515). In contrast, the average PISA readings score of Latino students is 446 and black students is 441.”

3. “In the Golden state, leaden school scores” (http://bit.ly/nxFMXw). Useful quote

“”If you ask why California schools have gone from the nation’s best to among its worst, I would say the influx of non-English speaking immigrants tops the list of reasons,” says Ms. Augustine, a 30-year teaching veteran.”

4. “US Educational Achievement on International Assessments: The Role of Race and Ethnicity” (http://bit.ly/pnRSd4)

“The debate about the performance of US students on international assessments of educational achievement routinely fails to account for one consistently stark result: US achievement is bifurcated between a group of high-performing Asian and white students and an exceptionally low-performing group of black and Hispanic students. By summarizing results across 20 major international tests conducted since 1995, this research paper shows that when US racial and ethnic groups are separately compared with other countries, Asian and white students regularly perform at or near the top of international rankings, while black and Hispanic students typically rank at or near the bottom. Furthermore, the United States has a substantially larger minority population than all other developed countries, and minority status is not synonymous with internationally comparable factors such as socioeconomic level or immigrant status.”

5. “The amazing truth about PISA scores: USA beats Western Europe, ties with Asia” (http://bit.ly/e1BN6o)

“What I have learned recently and want to share with you is that once we correct (even crudely) for demography in the 2009 PISA scores, American students outperform Western Europe by significant margins and tie with Asian students. Jump to the graphs if you don’t want to read my boring set-up and methodology.”

6. “The Hispanic Challenge” by Samuel Huntington (http://bit.ly/5ETHzJ)

The author shows little improvement in education attainment across generations of Mexican immigrants.

“The education of people of Mexican origin in the United States lags well behind the U.S. norm. In 2000, 86.6 percent of native-born Americans had graduated from high school. The rates for the foreign-born population in the United States varied from 94.9 percent for Africans, 83.8 percent for Asians, 49.6 percent for Latin Americans overall, and down to 33.8 percent for Mexicans, who ranked lowest.”

7. “Honesty from the Left on Hispanic Immigration A provocative new book doesn’t flinch from delivering the bad news” (http://bit.ly/4CBWWT)

“Hispanics are underachieving academically at an alarming rate, the authors report. Though second- and third-generation Hispanics make some progress over their first-generation parents, that progress starts from an extremely low base and stalls out at high school completion. High school drop-out rates—around 50 percent—remain steady across generations. Latinos’ grades and test scores are at the bottom of the bell curve. The very low share of college degrees earned by Latinos has not changed for more than two decades. Currently only one in ten Latinos has a college degree.”

BruceWilliamSmith
BruceWilliamSmith

Governor Bush is very persuasive here. While some of his newer interests, such as those related to for-profit online schooling, should arouse real skepticism, he is well informed, and many of his reform-oriented positions are creditable. In particular, Florida was (with Virginia) one of the first two states to start a relationship with Cambridge International, and Miami-Dade is now at the center of the important AP/Cambridge Capstone initiative. While Florida's current ranking of 41st in high school completion is evidence that not everything down there has gone well, the policies and analyses discussed in this article are worth paying close attention to.

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

Don't get Bushed again....

frharry
frharry

@scullymjs I'd say the difference is that Democrats recognize that the common good always involves some socialistic tendencies as required for a healthy democracy. Republicans get caught up on ideological labels and vacuous maxims which are good for sound bites and bad for actual implementation. The writer of the Proverbs observed that "Without a vision, the people perish." The state of Florida is a case study in the wisdom of that maxim. 

adnan7631
adnan7631

@AHick 

I am interested in what Jeb Bush has to say and I am an American citizen, one who voted for Democrats. 

Ignorance of one side leads to bias and bigotry. 

Besides, Bush has some interesting things to say here. 

brianc2221
brianc2221

Ted Kennedy played a major role in No Child Left Behind.

brianc2221
brianc2221

Very true. Fifty years ago California had the best public schools in the country. Today they rank down with Mississippi and Arkansas. What is the greatest difference between California schools 50 years ago and today?

FrankYouell
FrankYouell

@Fla4Me  

 Bush (anyone of them, all of them) automatically become saints when they can be used to promote the liberal-left agenda. Don't fall for it. Jesse Jackson was dead right when he said "Stay Out of the Bushes". The Bushes have a unsurpassed talent for getting things wrong. 

If a Bush favors something, be afraid, be very afraid.

AHick
AHick

@adnan7631 @AHick 

You may be, but I guarantee you most people are not, and most Americans are repelled by the idea of another Bush contemplating seizing the Presidency for their own benefit.  A majority of Americans will not again buy the phony "compassionate" BS that Jeb or any of his ruthless, self absorbed relatives sling for votes.

If a majority of American turn out to be that gullible, and Jeb is elected cleanly (he can steal the election, and that is the greatest danger he posed if nominated), then the American people would deserve the damnation they get.