Anybody who follows education policy knows how influential Jeb Bush has been in states well beyond Florida, where, as governor from 1999-2007, he launched school reforms —
including standardized test-based accountability for students and schools, the expansion of charter schools and vouchers, and a letter-grade (A-F) rating system for schools that has served as a model around the country. Nowhere has the Bush influence been as strong as in Indiana, where the superintendent of public instruction, Tony Bennett, has looked on Bush as his guru.
“Jeb Bush has a big, a big mind and a big heart for education reform,” Bennett said in an interview with StateImpact Florida’s John O’Connor. “I believed in my heart that he had a great blueprint.” The lovefest was mutual; Bush made Bennett the 2012 head of his Chief for Changes group of state education leaders who all support the Bush education reform agenda.
Bennett followed it in Indiana, where, with the help of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Republican-dominated legislature, he pushed through a state-wide voucher program, a school grading system, test-based accountability, etc.
Indiana voters had their say on this package of reforms earlier this month when they tossed out Bennett in favor of a veteran teacher, Glenda Ritz, who opposes this brand of school reform because, she says, it doesn’t work.
And now that Bennett is out, Bush told StateImpact Florida’s Sarah Gonzalez about Indiana: “Well it’s not my education agenda. It’s the education agenda of the Indiana governor, the Indiana state school officer, the Indiana legislature, the Indiana business community, that Tony Bennett didn’t get elected.”
The irony is that Bennett may actually wind up in Florida, where state officials are looking for a new education commissioner and have expressed interest in Bennett because they like his brand of school reform, the one he got from Bush.
Meanwhile, Bush on Tuesday will launch his fifth annual education reform summit in Washington, in an effort to to further that brand, which is his except in places where supporters were tossed out of office. Daniels, who said that Bennett’s ouster will not affect the school reform program a bit despite the voters’ verdict, will be speaking. And, because plenty of Democrats sign on to key Bush-inspired school reforms, the summit also will hear from Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Who won’t the attendees hear from? The people who implement reform: classroom teachers.