Former Florida governor Jeb Bush recently gave an interview on school reform, which was a key part of his agenda as governor and which he continues to support in his role as chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. The interview is worth reading in full, but several points stand out.


George P. Bush, right, reacts as his father, Jeb Bush, gestures during an interview in Abilene, Tex. (LM Otero/Associated Press)

First, Bush’s education vision is more conservative than some might expect:

We need to end the government monopoly in education by transferring power from bureaucracies and unions to families. The era of defining public education as allegiance to centralized school districts must end.

Public education must be viewed from the lens of providing each child with the learning environment that best meets his or her needs. If we can send a low-income child to a parochial school, knowing that his odds of attending college will increase as a result, then that should be our mission.

I envision presenting parents with a marketplace of school choices—public, private, parochial, charter, virtual, blended, and home education. They then can choose the model that best equips their children for success.

And Bush has no problem shooting down liberal myths. (“So please do not confuse Florida’s class-size amendment with reform. Reform is about creating a more efficient, more effective education system that meets the needs of children. The class-size amendment has been a hugely expensive diversion from that goal.”) It is a reminder that while Bush’s tone may be less strident, his policies are every bit as conservative as many of the self-appointed conservative purists.

Second, reforms he supports have worked and especially benefited minority students. Bush noted that “in the 1990s, [National Assessment of Educational Progress] results revealed almost half our 4th graders read below a basic level. For our low-income kids, the number was more than 60 percent. In the 2013 NAEP results, Florida’s low-income 4th graders were tops in the nation for reading achievement.”

And finally, the Common Core fuss is less about education and Jeb Bush than an anti-Washington crusade. Bush seeks to defuse the issue:

I support high academic standards. Period.

High academic standards are a basic element of reform. Yet, across the country, state standards have been abysmally low for too long, evidenced by the fact that 75 percent of high school graduates are not fully prepared for college or a good paying job. A recent study by the American Institutes for Research compared state standards with international assessments and found the difference between states with the highest and lowest standards was the equivalent of three to four grade levels.

Low standards are a tactic that takes pressure off teachers unions by accepting mediocrity and failure for kids. Our children can achieve great things when we set high expectations for them.

The Common Core State Standards are more rigorous standards than the great majority of states had in place previously. . . . States are free to modify the Common Core State Standards or adopt their own individual standards, because academic standards are the prerogative of the states.

Rather than attack critics, Bush puts the blame on the Obama administration: “The opposition to the common core has been mostly fueled by President Obama and his administration attempting to take credit for and co-opt a state-led initiative.”

In short, there is little for conservatives legitimately to grumble about, unless they are for standards-free education and no accountability. (“If state leaders don’t like common core, they should embrace the challenge of raising their standards even higher. I’ll be the first person in line to support them. Most importantly, the best, highest standards in the world won’t matter if we don’t accurately measure whether students are truly learning, and hold schools accountable for the results.”) Right-wing critics may find that supposed liabilities are actually advantages for him. It would be interesting to see him debate against pols who have never run anything or whose schools are worse than Florida’s.