Jeb Bush Drops School Choice – I Wonder Why

August 19, 2013

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Jeb Bush’s big speech about education reform has made it onto NRO this morning. He does not include school choice as one of the four key components of education reform. I can’t imagine why Jeb would no longer view school choice as having been an important part of the Florida formula for success. Oh, wait, yes I totally can.

I am for standards. But choice must succeed before standards can succeed. By dropping school choice from his list of must-have reforms, Jeb is undermining the necessary path to success for standards.

Granted, he does turn aside at one point, under his section on digital learning, to tangentially mention school choice. But then, weirdly, he immediately feels the need to insist that “accountability is the cornerstone of reform.” Why is he suddenly going back to the subject of accountability when he’s already discussed that in a previous section? It’s a total non sequitur for him to bring it back up here – unless, that is, he shares my view that school choice is ultimately at odds with the technocratic, “trust us, we’re experts” spirit of Common Core.

He also asserts CC won’t hurt school choice – but his own defensive rush to demand that “accountability is the cornerstone of reform” after merely mentioning school choice undermines confidence in that assertion.

If anyone wants to contest my read of this speech I would request their responses to two questions: Why isn’t school choice one of Jeb’s four must-have reforms? And why does he suddenly rush to insist that “accountability is the cornerstone of reform” right after working in an anodyne mention of school choice?

One last point: We who prioritize school choice did not pick this fight. It was the CC crowd who came out with guns blazing, demanding that all schools must be judged on their yardstick (not parents’ yardsticks) and spitting on anyone who questioned their orthodoxy. We did not pick this fight. But we will not roll over just because the CC folks have all the money and power. A decade ago, the unions had all the money and power. We survived them, and we’ll survive Common Core as well, because we’re right.


Common Core Hurts School Choice

May 31, 2013

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In his post yesterday, Jay mentioned that the imperatives behind Common Core are hostile to school choice:

Pushing it forward requires frightening reductions in parental control over education and expansions of federal power.  These are not the unnecessary by-products of a misguided Obama Administration over-reach.  Constraining parental choice and increasing federal power were entirely necessary to advance Common Core.  And they were perfectly foreseeable (we certainly foresaw these dangers here at JPGB).

But back in the day, Jay and I were both supporters of Jeb Bush’s A+ program, which combined standards and choice. So why is Common Core anti-choice where Florida’s standards were choice-friendly?

The answer lies in the imperative to expand standards. As Jay and I have both pointed out, the whole CC project is centrally built on the assumption that there is a positive relationship between the geographic scope of standards and their academic quality. Consistently, CC advocates have used adjectives like “national” and “common” as if they were synonyms for “better.”

Why would we expect standards to be better if they are set at a higher geographic level? The implicit educational worldview behind this is a technocratic scientific progressivism: there is one best way to educate children, and an elite class of technocrats can be trusted to know what it is and get the bureaucracy to carry it out successfully (and without corruption). Consequently, we should want more uniformity across schools. If parents have diverse opinions about what is best for their children and wish to choose diverse schools, we must not permit ourselves to think that this may be because 1) there is no “one best way” because every child is unique; 2) the technocrats’ knowledge of the one best way is fallible; 3) the technocrats’ ability to get the bureaucracy to do its will is severely limited; or 4) power corrupts, and the technocrats and the bureaucracy alike are not to be trusted with monopoly power. Diverse parental desires are to be interpreted as a sign that parents can’t be trusted.

By contrast, A+ did not seek to expand standards; it only sought to impose them on one school system. The implicit logic of A+ ran as follows: if the state is going to run a school system, it ought to set standards for what that system should be doing. However, we have no illusions that the standards we are setting for our own system represent the “one best way,” so parents ought to be free to choose whether our school or some other school is best for their child. With this logic, as Jay used to say, standards and choice are like chocolate and peanut butter – two great tastes that taste great together.

(Of course, it is a comparatively recent development that all the public schools in a state are effectively one school system. Over the past half century or so, America has dramatically shifted from having many thousands of local school systems to having just fifty state systems. And that has been a bad development because it has reduced choice and thereby reduced pressure for improvement. But that’s a discussion for another day; it doesn’t change the fact that the logic behind A+ was non-expansionary.)

Now, it is logically possible for a person to favor both CC and school choice. But the arguments in favor of CC that you have to construct in order to get to that result are the intellectual equivalent of a Rube Goldberg machine. It’s like that court case a few years ago over teaching intelligent design in public schools, where the expert called to testify in favor of ID said that you don’t need to believe in God to believe in ID. That is true, at the level of logical possibilities; you can construct an argument that simultaneously affirms ID and atheism. But there is no one who actually believes that, because the intellectual contortions necessary to get there are absurd. In fact, ID is intuitively theistic even though it does not logically require theism. That fact is not an argument against its truth (unless you begin by begging the question and assuming atheism is true) but it is relevant to the consideration of how students encounter ID in public schools.

In the same way, CC is intuitively anti-choice even though it does not logically require opposition to choice.


Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick on Immigration in the WSJ

January 25, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick are teaming up for a book on immigration that will come out in March, and previewed their thinking today in the Wall Street Journal. Read the article here. Basic thesis:

In some conservative circles, the word “comprehensive” in the context of immigration reform is an epithet—a code word for amnesty. People who oppose such reform declare that securing the United States border must come before moving toward broader reform.

Such an approach is shortsighted and self-defeating. Border security is inextricably intertwined with other aspects of immigration policy. The best way to prevent illegal immigration is to make sure that we have a fair and workable system of legal immigration. The current immigration system is neither.

The immigration system is like a jigsaw puzzle. If one or more pieces are out of whack, the puzzle makes no sense. To fix the system, Congress must make sure all of the pieces fit together, logically and snugly.

Juan Williams: Fixing Our Schools

August 20, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

If you missed Juan Williams’ news special Fixing Our Schools last night on Fox News (shame on you!) you can catch some of it on the web here. Great feature on Carpe Diem, School of One, digital learning and interviews with Jeb Bush and Joel Klein.


Governor Bush on NH Tax Credits: A Good Deal for Poor Students

June 26, 2012

 (Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

New Hampshire lawmakers will convene tomorrow in special session, with one of the items on the agenda being an attempt to override Governor Lynch’s veto of a scholarship tax credit. Governor Bush explains in the Concord Monitor today why the program deserves support.

Money quote:

Americans of all philosophical backgrounds desire schools designed to give all children – even those who start with the least – the best possible chance at success. The American dream of equality of opportunity will not be nearly fulfilled unless those less advantaged are given more power over where their children go to school.

New Hampshire will be a better and stronger state if the Legislature overrides the governor’s veto.

 


Ladner Celebrates Lifetime Achievement Award!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

May 31, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I feared that my career had peaked upon receiving a Bunkum Award from the NEA’s rent-a-reactionary academic shop, but today I learned that I can now die happy as the first recipient of a Lifetime Bunkum Award. The prestigious award reads as follows:

 NEPC has never bestowed an individual with a Bunkum Award. But we’ve never before had someone campaign for one, and we’ve never before found someone with an individual record of Bunkum-worthy accomplishments that cries out for recognition. This year, however, we are honoring Matthew Ladner, an advisor to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s advocacy organization, the “Foundation for Excellence in Education.”Dr. Ladner’s body of Bunk-work is focused on his shameless hawking of what he and the Governor call the “Florida Formula” for educational success.  As our reviews have explained, they’d be less deceptive if they were selling prime Florida swampland. One cannot, however, deny Dr. Ladner’s salesmanship: gullible lawmakers throughout the nation have been pulling out their wallets and buying into his evidence-less pitch for flunking of low-scoring third graders and other policies likely to harm many more students than they help.  See here and here for more analysis of Dr. Ladner’s body of bunk and its unfortunate reach.Our judges were particularly impressed recently, when Ladner attributed Florida’s “hitting the wall” drop in NAEP scores to a collapse in the housing bubble and other “impossible to say” factors. Bunkums have been awarded for far less impressive an accomplishment than this sort of “heads I win, tails you lose” use of evidence. So Matt Ladner – this Bunkum’s for you.You can watch NEPC’s award ceremony youtube here:

My reaction:

Honestly I can’t take credit for this great honor. It was Governor Bush and his team of fearless reformers who ignored the wailing howls of K-12 reactionaries and forced through a set of reforms that improved Florida education steadily over time. It is they who deserve credit for moving Florida from one of the worst performing states by ignoring the “expertise” of NEPC’s ideological tribe and drove their low-income literacy scores above statewide averages for all students.

My role in all of this has simply been to help document the progress, all of which happened over the howling objections of NEPC’s soul mates. NEPC has mounted a series of feeble attempts to muddy the water. Their first effort completely ignored a peer-reviewed article in the nation’s most influential education policy journal that fell directly on point to concerns raised in the article. Oh and it also contained an appendix that refuted its own central thesis. Undeterred, the next effort a “review” of a Powerpoint presentation that the critic didn’t see. All of this climaxed with sending out one of their scholars to claim that Harry Potter books may have caused the improvement in Florida reading scores. This is, you see, because Harry Potter books are seldom read outside of Florida, and no, I am not making this up. An audience of hundreds witnessed it with their own eyes.

I am thrilled to receive this Lifetime Achievement award. Reformers around the country have begun the process of making K-12 policy based upon things other than the political preferences of the special interests organized around the K-12 status-quo. If this grand undertaking were a play, I would have but a small role in it-this is far, far, far bigger than me and bigger than Florida. Notice for instance that both the Progressive Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress earned NEPC Bunkum Awards this year (congratulations!) which is a probable sign that those groups are doing good work and a certain sign of the political and intellectual isolation of the teacher union left.

I want to thank my family, my teachers and professors, my mentors and all the other people who helped me to win this unique and prestigious award. You know who you are and you hold my deepest appreciation. I want to thank those who fought so hard to produce the gains which NEPC is so desperate to obscure. Most of all I want to thank NEPC for revealing what they fear most, which we can infer from this year’s Bunkum ritual seems to be the success of reformers and their own isolation from their former allies in the morally and intellectually serious left, apparently in that order.

I will now redouble my efforts in the hope of becoming the first winner of a second lifetime Bunkum Award. Otherwise, I will have no worlds yet to conquer.


Questions for Jeb and Joel

June 28, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today’s Wall Street Journal carries my letter to the editor responding to last week’s op-ed by Jeb Bush and Joel Klein advocating national (“common”) education standards.

In my letter, I ask a few questions:

I greatly respect Jeb Bush and Joel Klein. But if Common Core is voluntary and state-driven, how do they explain the federal government repeatedly threatening states to join it or lose federal funds? Why are the testing consortia associated with this effort federally funded and controlled?

Confusingly, Messrs. Bush and Klein praise decentralization and local control for pedagogy while urging states to submit to a centralized command-and-control system for content standards. If nationalization is bad for pedagogy, why is it good for standards? Is it even possible to nationalize standards without nationalizing pedagogy?

Common Core’s standards are so mediocre that they set a “college readiness” level that is below what students need even to apply to most colleges. And they’ll get worse over time, since centralization facilitates teacher union control. What about the perpetual culture war national content standards would create? What is the upside?

Greg Forster

Foundation for Educational Choice


Confusion over National Standards

June 24, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I greatly admire both Jeb Bush and Joel Klein, so I have mixed feelings saying that I’m confused about their op-ed this morning.

The article is entitled “The Case for Common Educational Standards.” But the article does not contain any case for common educational standards.

Quite the contrary, the article emphasizes the case against common standards. As in:

And, while education is a national priority, the answer here does not appear to be a new federal program mandating national standards. States have historically had the primary responsibility for public education, and they should continue to take the lead.

So that would be an argument against common standards.

It is the states’ responsibility to foster an education system that leads to rising student achievement. State leaders, educators, teachers and parents are empowered to ensure every student has access to the best curriculum and learning environment. Governors and lawmakers across the country are acting to adopt bold education reform policies. This is the beauty of our federal system. It provides 50 testing sites for reform and innovation.

Again, a great argument against common standards.

Bush and Klein depict the Common Core standards and the two testing consortia as products of state, not federal, initiative. As regular readers of JPGB know, there’s another reality behind that superficial appearance. If Common Core and the testing consortia are really state-driven, why has the federal government spent more than a year pushing states into them, openly and explicitly threatening loss of Title I funds to states that fail to kowtow? Why are the consortia federally funded (and therefore federally controlled)? Is it even possible for these efforts to be genuinely state-driven when the federal behemoth is openly using its funding club to threaten everyone to get on board? Bush and Klein fail to mention these issues.

However, let’s leave all that to one side. Let’s pretend – even though we know it’s false – that these efforts are really state driven. Why is it valuable for states to do these things together in a single group? If states should lead the way, if what we want is a decentralized 50-state laboratory of democracy, why not actually do that instead of rounding up all the states to all do it one way?

Bush and Klein argue that standards are being set nationally (in “common”) but pedagogy isn’t. Once again, let’s leave aside the reality that you can’t have national (common) standards while preserving freedom and diversity of pedagogy. Let’s pretend you can set national standards and then let a thousand flowers bloom on pedagogy. Why do it? Why is it valuable to set a single national (common) standard? The article’s title promises an answer to that question, but the article doesn’t deliver.

If, as Bush and Klein argue, most states have woefully inadequate standards, isn’t it likely that the central bureaucracy you’re creating will gravitate to mediocrity rather than excellence? And isn’t that just what Common Core represents, given that its standards for what count as “college ready” are actually set below what you need to even apply to, much less succeed at, most colleges?

So color me confused.


NYT on Governor Bush

April 26, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

New York Times on Governor Bush’s visit to Minnesota.  Someone needs to write some new material for the “skeptics” these newspapers put in for “balance” in their stories. It’s the same stuff every time and it is still weak.

Nice cocktail reference Jay!

Also- Oklahoma passed their tax credit bill, and Wisconsin lawmakers have introduced a special needs scholarship.


Jeb Bush wins Bradley Prize

April 10, 2011

 

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The good news just keeps rolling in: The Bradley Foundation has awarded former Florida Governor Jeb Bush a prestigious Bradley Prize.

“Governor Bush has been at the forefront of education reform,” said Michael W. Grebe, president and chief executive officer of the Bradley Foundation.  “During his administration and since, Florida students have made incredible gains.  He has also been a vocal advocate for school choice.”

Congratulations to Governor Bush and to the entire Florida reform team!


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