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Jeb Bush bashes traditional public schools (again)

You can say this about Jeb Bush: When it comes to promoting charter schools and vouchers at the expense of traditional public schools, the former Florida governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate has long been consistent. He just did it again. Let’s look at what he said — and didn’t say.

As governor from 1999-2007, Bush introduced school reforms that have become common across the country — including high-stakes standardized testing for “accountability” purposes and school “choice” — and since then has been a leading voice in spreading his education gospel nationwide. That includes calling public schools “politicized, unionized monopolies” or “government-run monopolies run by unions,” all the while talking up charter schools and voucher programs that give public money to students to pay for private school tuition. His critics call him not a “reformer” but a “privatizer” of public education.

In an opinion piece published by the Miami Herald on May 17, the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling that deemed unconstitutional the “separate but equal” doctrine in American public education, Bush declares that charter and private schools that accept students with publicly funded “vouchers” are achieving “results that traditional public schools haven’t achieved in decades.”

What exactly is he talking about?

Bush touted the Success Academy network of charter schools in New York, saying

… it achieves remarkable results. Statewide, their students far outperformed students in traditional public schools last year in reading and math. At the Success Academy Bronx 2 school, with an 86 percent poverty rate, 97 percent of students scored proficient in math, more than triple the statewide average.

He didn’t, of course, mention that schools in the network have a reputation for higher suspension and attrition rates than traditional schools in their districts. The Success Academy network of 22 schools — which educate about 6,700 students in New York — is run by Eva Moskowitz, who earns $475,000 a year, with some of her salary paid for by Wall Street honchos who support charter schools. (She actually closed all of the schools for a day earlier this year to bus students and parents to Albany to rally against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. You can read about that here.)

Charter schools in general don’t educate the same number of English Language Learners and students with severe disabilities as traditional schools, making many comparisons unfair.

Bush went on:

The Success Academy is not an isolated example. We also see strong results in the celebrated KIPP network of charter schools, in the Aspire network of charter schools in California, in the Noble network of charter schools in Chicago and schools in Florida such as the Latin Builders Association Construction & Business Management Academy Charter High School.

He didn’t mention the recent analysis by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Medill Data Project at Northwestern University that concluded that students at charter schools in Chicago actually don’t perform any better on state-mandated standardized tests than students in traditional public schools. (Any reader of this blog knows I don’t think standardized test scores are a good metric to determine the quality of a school, but school reformers like Bush do.)

As for his mention of Florida charters, he cited only one by name. What he didn’t mention was a big charter school study last year that concluded that Florida charter schools had math and reading test scores that were either no better or worse than traditional public schools. And he didn’t note that a disproportionate number of charters get failing academic letter grades from the state (an accountability measure that Bush pioneered). Nor did he note that the charter scene in Florida has been marred in the past decade by numerous closures of charters — some even during the school year — and a number of scandals about financial mismanagement. Among all the states, Florida, incidentally, has the second-highest number of for-profit charter schools.

And he continued:

In addition to charter schools, we see children excel when provided vouchers or tax-credit scholarships or education savings accounts. Choice is providing education options more befitting the most diverse student population in our history.
In a relatively short period of time, we are seeing these alternatives achieve results that traditional public schools haven’t achieved in decades.

But he didn’t mention that research showed private and public schools don’t educate the same populations of students and that many private schools that accept vouchers have high attrition rates and don’t have the same “accountability” measures involving high-stakes standardized testing that is required in public schools.

(He also didn’t mention a recent report by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas, funded by pro-voucher groups, that concluded that Milwaukee’s voucher program, the oldest and largest in the country, didn’t affect student test scores but did improve graduation rates. But it should be noted that more than half of the students who enrolled in the voucher program dropped out, which, one would be reasonable to assume, affected the graduation rates.)

The way Bush tells it, charter and voucher schools are doing things traditional public schools “haven’t achieved in decades.” His comparisons aren’t valid. He’s wrong.

Stay tuned. Bush is bound to do this again soon.