Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bush: Nuanced and Wrong

As Jeb Bush's Reformapalooza gets under way, Bush himself is tap-dancing carefully to stick with his beloved Common Core without letting it actually stomp on the toes of his Presidential hopes.

At the Washington Post, Lyndsey Layton gives us a look at his opening speech and gives him credit for slathering on the nuance. Perhaps. Let's look.

Bush includes a comparison to the Chinese, because when it comes to cultures we want to emulate, you can't beat the Chinese. This is one of the wonders of modern education reform-- that we've come to a place where some conservatives idolize the world's largest repressive Communist regime. Anyway, he compares this to his mischaracterization of the Florida district that imposed a 50% floor for grades (I'll tackle that subject another day). Shanghai gets higher scores than we do, says Jeb, "So let's get real." If we're talking about ways to emulate the production of high test scores, Bush may be suffering from a little reality disconnect himself.

“We have built a nationwide reform movement based on a set of proven principles,” Bush told the gathering of several hundred state policy leaders, charter school managers and executives from education companies.

 “Of course, choice is at the center of our reform efforts. But there are others: High standards. Rigorous, high-quality assessments. Accountability for school leaders. Early childhood literacy and ending social promotion. Digital and distance learning. Transparency for parents to see whether their schools are getting better or getting worse.”

Speaking of getting real, Bush might want to reconsider calling anything on his wish list a "proven principle." None of those have been proven to be effective.

“If we were designing our school system from scratch, what would it look like? I know one thing: We wouldn’t start with more than 13,000 government-run, unionized and politicized monopolies who trap good teachers, administrators and struggling students in a system nobody can escape. We would be insane if we recreated what we have today.”

That's an interesting way to approach it. It would be interesting to see him finish the thought. Would we be insane to try to create a system that provides a free education for every single child in the United States as long as the country exists? Does he imagine that a free market choice approach could do that? Because if he does, I believe he's nuts. A free market will gladly provide an education for the students who can be profitably served, for as long as it pleases the vendor to do so. A free market will gladly discard any children it doesn't think it can make a buck educating. That would be an insane system.

“In my view, every education dollar should depend on what the child needs, not what the federal bureaucrat wants,” he said. “Where the child goes, the dollars should go as well. When that happens, we’ll see major reforms and major gains for America’s children and the federal government will go back to playing the supportive and completely secondary role it should be playing.”

A talking point straight from the charter school marketing bible. It makes two hugely incorrect assumptions:

1) It costs no more to educate 100 students in 100 schools than it does to educate 100 students in a single school. This is self-evidently bunk.

2) That the only two parties with a stake in education are the child and the federal government. School tax money is not a stipend paid to each individual child. It is an investment by the community in the community. I agree-- the feds should play a secondary, or even quaduciary role, in education. Particularly when federal ed policy is being dictated by the kind of anti-public-ed amateurs we've been subjected to for at least two administrations (and probably the next one, too). But local communities and, to a lesser extent, states should be hugely involved.

Choice and charters are, of course, all about cutting local control and community investment out of the picture. That is simply wrong, and bad for education as well.

Bush may be nuancing himself from CCSS cheerleading back to charter champion, but he's still bad for education.


  1. Reading this kind of talk actually makes me sick to my stomach. And I have a very strong stomach.

  2. At first blush, I would say that Bush has no shot at the nomination, given his pro-CCSS stand. Unfortunately, that's not the way things always work out. In 2008 when the GOP was running against Obamacare, the party ended up nominating the guy who created the model for it at the state level. The primary voters tried on every other candidate for size, but ended up settling for the only guy who was minimally qualified for the job.

    On education, Bush is wrong, wrong, wrong... but he's also a two-term governor with all the connections and political polish required to run a successful national campaign. If our choices in 2016 are between two pro-CCSS major party candidates, God help us.

  3. I had to chuckle (in an "if I don't laugh I'll cry" sort of way) at WaPo's use of the word "nuanced" in the headline. There's nothing nuanced about pretty much wanting to nuke the entire US public education system and have politicians rebuild it based on their views of how children in countries where test prep and tutoring steal childhoods build theirs.