Bush Speaks on Education Policy and Common Core in NH

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made his first New Hampshire appearance on March 13th. Bush participated in a round table discussion and was asked for his thoughts about the federal government’s role in education policy:

You know, the federal government could play a role in the following way: The two big funding programs, I guess there’s three you could—Head Start’s not part of the Department of Education, but early learning, you know, the federal government has its own program. There should be flexibility if states have a better program to take the federal monies and expand these programs and expand these programs for four year olds, that would be one way. Title I, which is a big part of the relationship with the federal government and the states is the monies that go to schools that have a certain percentage of kids that are near or at the poverty level. If Florida wanted to have, or New Hampshire wanted to have that money go with the child to other schools, you need to change the law to make that happen, but that flexibility would be, similarly with the IDEA money, which is supposed to be 100 percent of all the funding needs for kids with learning disabilities, it’s probably 10 percent even so, it’s still a large amount. You could do the same thing for that.

So, instead of telling the states what to do and having a bunch of people that end up filling out forms to comply with a small amount of money. The federal government, I think, gives 10 percent of the total spent for K-12 education, somewhere around there, but the Departments of Education probably have 90 percent of their employees complying with the rules that go with the 10 percent. It’s just—shift that back to the states and giving them more power to do things would accelerate this.

Bush also responded to a question about Common Core:

So, pre-Common Core, six years ago, standards by and large, maybe Massachusetts had—I mean, most people concur that the standards movement was created in Massachusetts. That they, they got this early, they implemented high standards, some places have math standards, that could be higher than Common Core, but generally the folks that follow that stuff, and this is not an ideological battle, basically believe our standards were too low.

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. I mean effectively that can be reinvested in job training programs and as degree programs and expanding labs, and all the things you want to do. The savings comes from this double cost we have with remediation.

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