In the tumultuous Common Core debate, the full conversation about education reform is being clouded. How we educate our children is vital to keeping America competitive. While the GOP has an extremely talented bench, no one has a more successful education track record than Jeb Bush.
In fact, one of the key advantages Jeb Bush will have in the race for the Republican nomination is his solid track record of upgrading and modernizing education, improving student performance on the basics of reading, writing, math, and science.
Parents are more worried than ever about their children’s future competitiveness in a ruthlessly globalized economy. Most Republicans agree with Bush on the importance of parental choice, high standards, and accountability. But unlike his rivals, Bush has more to offer than rhetoric: He has a proven track record, forged in the crucible of the Florida statehouse, of lasting, effective structural improvements.
I know, because I was there — watching Bush roll out one fundamental reform after another, facing a firestorm of resistance from entrenched status quo interests — teachers’ unions, powerful administrators, and hard-core secularists who distrusted religious schools. I saw how Bush responded to his critics, went “wide” and appealed to a public that shared his vision, and won.
That is my view from Florida and the view of the many thought leaders on both sides of the aisle. And yesterday in the Daily Signal (“True or False? Jeb Bush’s Education Reforms Boosted Florida’s Schoolchildren”), Ken McIntyre cites objective studies and disinterested experts to demonstrate that Bush transformed education for the better in Florida — with the greatest impact among the neediest.
When Jeb Bush took office, he made a long list of decisions laser-focusing schools on the single goal of promoting learning, instead of acting as social engineering centers and hiring halls for education majors. He set high expectations, and held educators accountable — rewarding excellence, and offering incentives for teachers whose students performed. To light a fire under everyone involved, he worked to give parents a real choice about which schools their kids would attend.
And Bush’s reforms had results:
In 1998, before Jeb Bush’s reforms, nearly half of fourth-graders in Florida were functionally illiterate. By 2011, in an international reading assessment, Florida fourth-graders finished second in the world. Florida schools made significant gains in almost every educational category. The state’s public schools are now ranked in the top 10 in the nation. Even with the higher standards Bush imposed, the statewide graduation rate improved by 25 percent.
Nor were these improvements confined to elite, well-financed school districts. Governor Bush made strides toward narrowing the achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent counterparts. He believes, like most of us, that the size of your parents’ bank account shouldn’t disqualify you as a student from a solid education.
When Jeb Bush took office in Florida, he was appalled at the fact that millions of poor, mostly non-white children were consigned by their parents’ zip codes to failing public schools. These were the students who gained the most from the parental school choice programs that Bush fought for, including tax credits for religious and other private schools. Our free market system teaches us that competition is the best incentive to excellence, and schools are no exception. Empowering poor people to choose the best schools for their own children makes them agents in their kids’ education, not passive victims of bureaucrats’ decisions. No child should be abandoned to a dysfunctional school because of the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Forbes magazine has noted (“The Unappreciated Success Of Charter Schools” 1/11/15) that the students who benefit the most from charter public schools are those in poverty, especially minority students. Forbes cited a study showing, “Black students in poverty who attend charter schools gain an additional 29 days of learning in reading and 36 days in math per year.”
By burning considerable political capital to drive a vast improvement for poor, mostly non-white students, Jeb Bush proved that he’s a conservative who cares. The Daily Signal cites Prof. Marcus Winters, of the University of Colorado’s College of Education, who studied the Florida reforms and concluded, “If minority children nationwide had made the same improvement as their counterparts in Florida, we would have closed the achievement gap nationally.”
Our country’s future depends on unlocking all the potential of its citizens, and challenging schools with solid standards make that possible. With global competitors like China and India radically upgrading their educational systems, America cannot afford to write off a single child.
As Governor Jeb Bush was confident that anyone can learn, if a school gives a student a chance. And he reformed the Florida school system to make that possible. Bush proved that conservative values can make a profound difference in a key public policy area where too many conservatives throw up their hands. By pointing in detail to his record on this mission-critical area of government, Bush can distinguish himself as the principled conservative candidate who actually knows how to govern.
Ed J. Pozzuoli is the president of Florida-based law firm Tripp Scott. He was the co-chairman of Jeb Bush for Governor (Broward). He also served as an integral member of the Bush/Cheney legal team in the 2000 presidential recount litigation. He is an active member of the Republican Party and served as the chairman of the Republican Party in Broward County.