Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) has made a national name for himself in education reform over the past several years. He pushes states to adopt the corporate-based reforms he implemented in the Sunshine State — including standardized test-based accountability, vouchers and online charter schools — without mentioning that the accountability system he pioneered is in shambles. Recently a nonprofit group released thousands of e-mails showing how his Foundation for Excellence in Education has been working with public officials in states to write education laws that could benefit some of its corporate funders.
Now Bush is talking to Florida legislators about school reform, and some people there don’t like it. Here is an editorial about Bush and his real education record that appeared in the The Palm Beach Post, written by editorial writer Jac Wilder VerSteeg:
Former Gov. Jeb Bush has an undeserved reputation as an education reformer. Florida’s recent education progress has come not from implementing Mr. Bush’s policies but from cleaning up after them.
Mr. Bush has been visiting legislators in Tallahassee to talk about education policy. Get out the mops and buckets. Taxpayers also should reach for their wallets, since the former governor’s new big ideas involve transferring more public dollars to the for-profit companies behind him.
Mr. Bush’s biggest idea, enacted immediately after taking office in 1999, was to give each school an A-to-F grade based on student scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. That misuse of the the FCAT continues. The test’s many shortcomings were even more serious when Gov. Bush initiated FCAT tyranny. The test covered only a few subjects, students took it long before the end of the school year, and half of elementary and high-school students didn’t even take it. Yet the entire school received a grade, on which parents, students and Realtors fixated.
Gov. Bush also instituted one voucher program the courts ruled unconstitutional and another “corporate voucher” program that, ironically, lets low-income students avoid taking the FCAT.
The Legislature gradually is replacing the FCAT with end-of-course exams. In yet another revision to the grading formula Gov. Bush perversely and prematurely treated as infallible, Florida made FCAT scores count less in some school grades. Still, Florida in 2011 also required teachers to be evaluated based on FCAT scores, even if a teacher had no students who took the FCAT.
This is not “creative destruction.” It’s harassment, and it has created enormous ill will. Gov. Rick Scott’s frantic reversals in preparation for a reelection run — he has called for teacher raises not linked to the FCAT — show how unpopular Mr. Bush’s education legacy is.
With the FCAT writing test looming this week, a Palm Beach County school board member spoke for many educators when she lamented that “this is one test on one day that means more than it should.” But urging students and parents not to stress out is futile. Failing the FCAT still has out-sized consequences — such as no diploma.
Mr. Bush’s fans note that Florida’s education rankings and results have improved. The dubious rankings give Florida credit simply for having “accountability,” systems even if those systems are bogus. Improving test results and graduation rates are incremental and could have been achieved — and surpassed — more quickly without the turmoil Mr. Bush inflicted.
Now Mr. Bush heads several foundations pushing for a rapid expansion of charter schools and virtual schools. His Foundation for Excellence in Education accepts donations from private companies that would profit from lax new laws that Florida and other states are rushing to enact. The sort of careless “reform” Jeb Bush advocates will end up with taxpayers fleeced and students and parents cheated. He has a reputation for reform. He has a record of making messes.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg
for The Post Editorial Board