Jeb Bush at the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit
Photo credit: Dave Davidson –
Jeb Bush at the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit  Photo credit: Dave Davidson -
Jeb Bush at the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit
Photo credit: Dave Davidson –

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in New Hampshire speaking to a group of business executives and business leaders stated that he has demonstrated “backbone” on Common Core State Standards.  He put forth a defense of the standards and encouraged the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.

Here are his remarks on education in full:

The effort of Common Core was forty-five state governors and state school officers voluntarily creating a set of standards for reading and math, not for science, not for social studies, not for history; reading and math. That would be fewer standards, higher standards, and if you assessed them faithfully, it would mean, at the end of the K-12 experience, a student would be college and/or career ready.

And we spend a ton of dough. I mean we’re spending more per student than any other country in the world other than two or three, and these are small countries, places like Luxembourg, you know. So the effort was a good one, and I support that effort because I think we’re fooling ourselves. Let’s say you just kept the standards you had and kids were getting high school diplomas, and you know you’re quite proud to get your high school diploma, but then you go to the community college, and you do the initial assessment and you’re told, “sorry, you’re going to have to redo high school math and high school reading before you start taking college level courses.” Who’s fooling who? We’re so focused, obsessed about self-esteem, at some point you’ve got to say, well, the best self-esteem is when you can read and calculate math and graduate from high school so you can get a job or go to college. And this effort to raise standards is why I support them. It was done after I was Governor, by the way.

Now, when the federal government uses Race to the Top money or the waiver process because of No Child Left Behind Act has expired, has ended, they’re using the waiver process to get what they want, so they’re—I don’t even think they have that power as it relates to these waivers for No Child Left Behind. The Race to the Top money, when they provided incentives for Common Core to be implemented, because that’s effectively what they did. That was wrong. But that doesn’t mean the standards are bad. And it doesn’t mean you can’t fix that by saying two things: one, the federal government in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act should expressly prohibit the federal government directly or indirectly being involved in standards, content, curriculum, data-privacy, all these things. Over and out. Put a big iron fence around it. Put it in the—you know, bury it. Never let it come up again. That’s one way to do it. The other way is for states to say it’s too poisonous, it doesn’t matter, I can’t—the facts don’t matter, just—we’ve got to get beyond this, so we’re going to create our own standards. And those standards, the only thing I would suggest, and humbly suggest, that they be high. As high as Common Core, or higher. Because that’s the world we’re moving towards. Why would we fool ourselves into thinking if you dumb all this down, it’s going to be a good result?

So, yeah it’s controversial. I’ve learned, though, that because something’s controversial or you have a view that’s the narrative, the so-called political narrative’s been built up, you don’t abandon your core beliefs. You go persuade people, as I’ve tried to do right now, about why I’m for higher standards. And those that have been implementing them and have had a hard time dealing with this, because there is political heat around it, they’ll have their chance to sort that out in their own way.

The way I’ve sorted it out is I think you need to be genuine. I think you need to have a backbone. I think you need to be able to persuade people. This is a national crisis, this is a national priority. Our country will not be as vibrant and as dynamic as it needs to be unless we dramatically improve education outcomes in this country. And by the way, the savings that will come at the community college level and the four year degree level and the technical school level by elevating outcomes for K-12 pays for all this.

There are a number of things I can agree with Bush on.  K-12 education needs to be improved, there is always room for improvement.  We spend far too much money for the outcomes we are getting in education.  I agree.  Also he and I agree would likely agree on principle at least when it comes to school choice.

That said, I think when it comes to TIMMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores there is a lot of apples to oranges comparisons going on.  I concur with what Martin Carnoy of the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute wrote in their 2013 report, “What Do International Tests Really Show About US Student Performance?”

We are most certain of this: To make judgments only on the basis of national average scores, on only one test, at only one point in time, without comparing trends on different tests that purport to measure the same thing, and without disaggregation by social class groups, is the worst possible choice. But, unfortunately, this is how most policymakers and analysts approach the field.

This is the drum that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Governor Bush keep beating.

Also let’s discuss how America measures up with other countries in terms of innovation and creativity?  As Carly Fiorina put it when I talked with her at the Iowa Freedom Summit – there’s a reason China tries to steal our technology.

I respect a candidate standing for core values.  It’s something that is rare in a candidate as we have seen with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie being all over the place on the subject of Common Core (depending on what state he’s in).  Tell us where you stand and let us then decide.  We are not looking for people who will tickle our ears and tell us what we want to hear.

However, there is a fine line between having a backbone and stubbornness.  Governor Bush seems to  have crossed that line when he ignores the concerns of teachers and parents.  We also want our leadership to be responsive, and it doesn’t appear that Governor Bush will be on this issue.  Also, what does it say about a candidate who claims top-down, flawed national standards are part of his “core values”?  Not to mention his misplaced support for the Student Success Act.  Even the New Hampshire Union-Leader‘s editorial board dinged him on this:

But the Student Success Act, which is the House reauthorization for NCLB, maintains many testing and other federal mandates on the states. It does not allow states to opt out of NCLB. It carries over most of the federal education infrastructure that prevents so much state experimentation (and that burns money on bureaucracy instead of classroom instruction).

Bush said Washington should not mandate that states adopt Common Core standards. “If some states don’t want to have them, fine. They should just have higher standards.”

Ah, but who decides that a state’s standards are high enough?

How much leeway should states have to set their own standards, create their own tests, and otherwise run their schools as they see fit? The NCLB reauthorization Bush supports leaves more federal intrusion than he indicated he would be comfortable having.

Also there’s the question of making standards the golden egg in the basket of education reform.  Christopher Tienken, an associate professor of education reform at Seton Hall University, wrote a paper about how the Common Core represents data-less decision making.  Tienken noted in a video he released in 2013, “It is utterly anti-intellectual to think that standardizing knowledge is going to lead to creativity and innovation.”

Another thing to note – Bush may be beating his chest in New Hampshire with a friendly group, but he’s been relatively silent on Common Core in Iowa.  Instead he’s hiding behind national Common Core advocates and has depended on Bill Bennett’s attempt (in vain) to reframe the Common Core as conservative.  So far Bush has avoided Iowa’s grassroots activists as well.

Having a backbone requires being honest and facing one’s critics. Maybe Bush doesn’t have as much backbone as he claims after all.

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