Monday, October 3, 2016

Jeb! Still Doesn't Understand

Jeb Bush sat down with Matt Barnum for an interview that ran at Campbell Brown's pro-reform website, the 74, And in the course of the interview. Bush showed that he doesn't understand education any better than he ever did. (He also discussed the Presidential election, though he didn't explain how his oppo guys did such a lousy job fending off Donald "Dumpster Fire" Trump.)

So what are the things that Jeb! still doesn't understand?

Jeb doesn't understand the true value of the Big Standardized Test (or lack thereof).

Bush still has an almost-childlike belief in the uber-importance of BS Testing. Early in the interview, he actually said this:

Rising student achievement is the only thing that matters; everything else is an input.

And later:

The delivery system is not relevant. That’s an input. The outcomes are what matters.

So not only do we not need public schools, but we don't need any type of school at all. Bush touts the awesomeness of "virtual" schools, but come on-- "student achievement" as always just means "BS Test scores," so if the results of a badly-written narrow test of just reading and math are all that matters, then we might as well hook students up to some test prep software and just let them plug away until they output a sufficiently high test score.

The students and their humanity don't matter. Other subject areas don't matter. The schools and the communities they serve don't matter. Just get those test score up. That's all that matters.

Jeb doesn't understand the value of schools to a community. 

Jeb wants to see any schools that "don't work" just shut down. Charter, public, cyber-- any schools that "don't work" should just be put out of business right away. Of course, what on earth "don't work" actually means is a mystery (I suppose it means "get low test scores") but the notion that you can just close down a school and not deliver a serious blow to the students, families and communities involved is just--well, it's the kind of thing that would make sense to a prep school bro.

Jeb doesn't understand the calls for charter accountability.

Jeb thinks that the folks criticizing charter and cyber schools, both for-profit and non-profit, are just a bunch of hypocrites, and that public schools should face accountability, too.

This is an odd sort of complaint, since the most common complaint about charter accountability is that they don't face the same level of accountability as public schools. They don't answer to elected boards, they don't have to follow the same rules for employment or even student treatment, and they have vigorously resisted any real transparency in how they spend taxpayer money.

I do not know of a single charter critic who has called for any rules for charters that public schools do not already follow.

Jeb doesn't know that cyber charters are a failed experiment.

Barnum: Now that many studies show that cyber charters are widely sucking hugely--

Bush: Not all of them. There might be one non-sucky one. So shut up. Just check the test scores.

Jeb doesn't know where Common Core came from. Still.

Bush still wants to argue that Common Core wasn't a federal program. Their involvement was indirect, Jab says. Like indirectly financing the creation and indirectly financing the tests that would give the Core teeth and indirectly blackmailing states into adopting them by leveraging the threat of NCLB penalties. Kind of like Trump pushed Bush out of the Presidential race by indirectly taking all the votes.

Jeb doesn't know how life in cities on this planet goes.

This is Jeb describing how he thinks, if we could start from scratch, we'd fix a whole lot of issues like segregation:

Here’s the accountability that we’re going to have. We’re going to make sure that we have rising student achievement, and when it doesn’t happen, we call it out. Moms and dads will know how schools are working, that they have a menu from which they can choose private option, public option, a hybrid, a competency-based model, a magnet school, schools that focus on a thematic kind of learning — whatever it is, if you’d have a menu, and you choose, I don’t think you’d have the same segregation. I’m almost positive.

Where to begin? I'm not sure this matches the vision of anybody on any side of the school debates. Nor does it seem that Bush understands any of the forces that create segregation, nor how market-based reform has itself emerged as a huge driver of segregation, nor how free-market ed reform no more promotes a discussion of the true merits of schools any more than the free market promotes a discussion of the relative nutritional and dietary benefits of McDonald's versus Burger King.

He's actually pretty sure that reforms in Florida have fixed things, which leads me to believe that Bush hasn't actually visited Florida in a while. Googling turns up multiple examples of studies over the past few years showing how segregation-- and re-segregation-- is alive and thriving in Florida (here's one, and here's another one).

Jeb doesn't know what political correctness is

I just don’t think we have the luxury of being politically correct right now. There’s a thousand kinds of alternatives that ought to exist, but the monopoly and the politics and the bureaucracy stifle the kind of innovation that occurs each and every day in every aspect of our life that is unregulated

I don't even know how to parse this, how political correctness (generally defined as "I don't feel like I'm allowed to express my racist thoughts, wah") is an impediment to the spread of free market education, unless Bush is referring to ideas like "Disenfranchising black and brown people so that some folks can make a buck by pretending to educate them" which is, I guess, an example of political correctness?

Jeb doesn't know what he said a few paragraphs ago

Remember a few paragraphs ago when Bush said that a free market education system would naturally de-segregate everyone? He's had a new thought-- desegregation helped raise black student achievement because they were then "accessing information that they never had before"so if we just hook every student up to their own Personalized Education computer, they'll all get great test scores and we will have achieved the results of de-segregation without actually having to de-segregate anything. So, problem solved! What, did you think there were benefits to de-segregation other than higher test scores? I'm sure they weren't important.

Jeb doesn't know how money functions in the education world

Barnum brings up the recent study published in Education Next that suggests that if you give schools more money, test scores go up. Bush is pretty sure that can't be right.

I don’t know what the research was that you just said, but if you’re spending $25,000 a student in Newark and you’re getting worse results for like-kind students than you do spending $8,000 in an urban core Florida public school, I can’t imagine that the research wouldn’t suggest that by itself that money is the answer. 

Because Newark and Florida are pretty much exactly the same. I get the impression reading Bush that his vision of America is a place that is as homogeneous as a slab of tofu, with some sprinkles of food coloring, but no actual differences of substance that mean anything. I will also note that he gets all the way through this interview without ever mentioning poverty or any sorts of cultural differences that might effect how education works. No, it's just a delivery system for getting high test scores out of students.

Barnum asks a pretty cool follow-up; if New Jersey funding goes down as it would under Christie's hare-brained proposal, does Bush think test scores will go down? Bush dodges the question. Well, no, actually he swats it down like an errant squash ball.

I don’t think it’s relevant in the overall objective. If you created an open system that I envision, you would have rising student achievement at far less because the scalability of success would become natural.

Which leads me to...

Jeb doesn't know we've tried all his pet ideas and they have failed

Bush remains convinced that all his good stuff has been thwarted by... well, you know who.

A successful school that is spending $8,000 a student, in the system we have today, all across this country, with 13,000-plus government-run, unionized, politicized monopolies, doesn’t take kindly to that success; it doesn’t say, Let me try to steal the ideas that created that success. In fact, those successful schools many times are marginalized. 

That's it. All the successful market-based schools getting great test scores for mere peanuts-- they've been marginalized and are hiding in some dark corner, huddled up with the Loch Ness Monster and a brace of Yeti, bemoaning their socially outcast state. Or maybe in that other corner with failed Presidential candidates listening to Mom tell them, "That's all right. They just don't like you because you are so smart and awesome and better than they are."

Jeb doesn't know that his old state is busy abusing nine-year-olds

Bush makes the point that money needs to be spent on reform programs, not schools. What works? "Funding your programs first rather than funding the beast," because public schools are just slavering evil union-soaked monopolies that live to suck the blood of small children, I guess. But then he offers an extraordinary example:

If you want to eliminate social promotion in third grade, you gotta have interventions, so that in second and first and kindergarten and pre-K and in third grade, so that there’s a strategy to make sure that kids aren’t held back. 

Um. That's not quite what they're trying these days in the Sunshine State, where a bunch of third graders had to go to court to be promoted to fourth grade because even though their grades are solid, they didn't take the state's beloved test. So apparently you also need to feed the lawyers, because another tool of fighting social or even academic promotion is the courts.

Jeb just doesn't know so many things

Bush is pretty sure that merit rewards for schools that get high scores out of students is just awesome, and he proudly references the $150 school recognition bonuses to teachers, which of course explains why so many teachers in Florida are driving brand new Lexuses (Lexi?). And here's another thing he apparently actually said

If you want to pay good teachers, great teachers, more, it’s going to work better than not paying them.

Well, I can't argue with that. This is undoubtedly the sort of educational insight that Harvard hired Bush to impart. 

Bush also seems certain that research would show that spending money over the last fifty years has gotten us a worse result. Because in Bush's tofu America, nothing else of significance has changed over the last fifty years. Oh, and the research that exists says he's wrong, too.

Are we sure George is the "dumb" one?

It's kind of amazing that Jeb! has made education his policy specialty for years, because he shows an oversimplified nuance-free evidence-deficient view of education that usually is best mastered by dilettantes who diligently avoid any sort of educated input. It has to be hard to be involved in a an area for so long and yet absorb so little real understanding. It's almost as if he entered the education world already committed to free-market business-friendly money-making policies and made sure to ignore any information that would get in the way of his already-chosen policies.

Bush believes devoutly in the BS Test and in the power of the marketplace. Reality and the world of facts have nothing else to offer him; he'll continue to sit comfortably in the warm embrace of his tofu throne.


  1. I like the question you raise at the end about the relative intelligence of George and Jeb. I was shocked during the primaries when I realized that George might very well be smarter than Jeb. I didn't think it was possible before I started to hear more and more from Jeb. He is both stupid and ignorant.

    His idea of using computers to deal with the consequences of segregation are completely absurd. "We don't have to worry about racism is schooling any more because computers." Huh?

    My local school board eliminated busing for integration purposes and went to neighborhood schools. The various test scores for white students stayed the same, but the test scores for black students went down. This was predictable. Computers aren't going to fix this problem.

    I recently read an article about schools and integration in my community. A African-American gentleman quoted in the article talked about how he was motivated to go to college because two of his white friends from high school were going and kept telling him to apply. He said that he might not have gone at all if he hadn't been friends with them. They were bused to his school.

  2. Scathing, Peter. Scathing. And rightly so. :)