Jeb Bush at the Ed Summit: Urgent Defense of Higher Standards, Firm Views on State Control
K-12 education in America is in a crisis, Bush said.
“If you focus on outcomes, we’re in a heap of trouble,” he said at the event at Londonderry High School in Manchester, New Hampshire. (See Bush's full conversation below, starting at 11:30)
Only a third of students graduate from high school prepared to enter the workforce or begin college without remedial courses. “Who in their right mind would consider that a successful outcome?” he asked.
The federal government, he said, can be a “catalyst for meaningful reform” and should put a greater focus on outcomes, but should otherwise generally stay out of education, Bush said.
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Bush, one of only two of the 17 GOP candidates to back the Common Core State Standards, emphasized that he’s for high standards, but they don’t necessarily have to be common. “Kids are smarter than we give them credit for,” he said.
Again, he said, states should be in charge. “States ought to drive this. There should be no federal involvement in curriculum, content or standards for sure, directly or indirectly,” he said to applause from the audience.
New Hampshire state lawmakers passed a bill — quickly vetoed by Gov. Maggie Hassan — that would have prohibited the state from requiring any district to adopt the Common Core.
Improving education “has got to be the highest priority of the next president of the United States,” said Bush, the former governor of Florida who is perhaps the candidate most steeped in the issue. He was in the forefront as governor bringing public school choice to Florida and was founder of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. (Check out The Seventy Four’s presidential candidate baseball cards and a preview on Bush’s education record.)
As the economy becomes more automated and competitive, entry-level workers need more and more skills, he said, standing up from his chair to emphasize the increasingly high knowledge barriers to entering the job market.
“I’m on fire on this stuff, because I believe this is the way you create a right to rise society more than any other thing, and for our country to succeed we cannot just cast away huge numbers of kids without them having the chance to achieve earned success,” Bush said.
Tests – which Bush said should be required at the federal level but left to states to figure out specifics – are essential to measure those gains.
“There should be a test to measure how a child is doing and it should be based on learning gains. The whole focus here is a year’s worth of knowledge in a year’s time,” he said. “We should be all in on that subject. When we neglect that, the kids that are left behind are the kids in poverty, African-American kids, Hispanic kids, and then we blame it on the social circumstances of their life. And that is what a former president [Bush’s brother, George W. Bush] called the soft bigotry of low expectations, and we should reject that out of hand.”
Title I funds, which help low-income students, and grants given under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires schools to provide appropriate educations to students with disabilities, should be more flexible for states, he said.
Bush said he backs a provision in the House’s No Child Left Behind rewrite that would allow Title I funds to follow children as they move among schools. Now the money flows to the schools based on the total number of poor children. President Obama and congressional Democrats have said the provision, which only allows funds to travel to other public or charter schools, is a non-starter. Republicans in Congress have said the funds should go to private and religious schools, too.
Efforts to expand preschool programs, too, should happen at the state not federal level, Bush said. Federal early learning funds, including Head Start, should be given to states in block grants to do with as they please, he said.
When asked about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s endorsement by the American Federation of Teachers, Bush said it was because she told the union, “Don’t worry about me.” He contrasted that with his own dealings with the teachers union in Florida, saying he had "tire marks on my forehead.”
He asked “Can we give a little space to kids to be able to learn?” as opposed to being crowded out by the economic interests involved in education. He championed merit pay and fostering teacher effectiveness.
“To make sure the teachers are rewarded for a job well done but this shouldn’t be lifetime employment, we ought to be paying teachers more when they get successful learning gains consistently and incompetent teachers shouldn’t be in the classrooms,” Bush said.
Photo by Brian Jodice