Jeb Bush Drops School Choice – I Wonder Why

(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.

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26 Responses to Jeb Bush Drops School Choice – I Wonder Why

  1. matthewladner says:

    Greg-

    Just on August 9th Governor Bush gave an address to ALEC where he (yet again) gave a complete endorsement of school choice:

    I think that someone who founded a charter school and signed three private choice programs into law has enough credibility on the subject not to be assumed that he had dropped his support based upon a single column.

    I’d venture to guess is that we are in for a never ending debate about the academic standards that should apply to public schools and a steady increase in the amount of choice that parents have in schooling. The last two decades saw states develop academic standards and tests (some under very direct federal compulsion btw) but also the legalization of home-schooling, 6,000 and counting charter schools and a couple of dozen private choice programs, including the biggest and the best of them in the few years.

    A twighlight struggle between standards and choice seems to be going on primarily in your and Sol Stern’s imagination to me. We could ask Checker to serve as Dungeon Master and the two of you could settle this war once and for all. Sol can have Hirsch on his team, and you can recruit Jay. I can dig up my 20 sided dice and will even buy the pizza.

    Roll for initiative!

    • Patrick says:

      Watch out, we all know how badly that game ended for Tom Hanks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfxXug5ZMdk

    • Greg Forster says:

      The fact that Jeb has now dropped school choice from his list of key reforms is not my imagination; I take it as empirical validation of my position. I notice you haven’t answered my two questions.

      Checker would slant the game to Sol’s team. The only DM who would actually be trusted by both sides would be yourself. What say you?

      • matthewladner says:

        On your two questions, it would be easy for me to google around and find education columns that I have written that did not contain a section on school choice. This does not however mean that I have dropped school choice. Governor Bush’s Foundation has an agenda that is broader than choice but includes choice, which is clear if you watch the link to his most recent speech or visit the website.

        On the Dungeon Master matter, I’m a little rusty but I am willing. My only requirement is NO miniatures.

      • Greg Forster says:

        These days I think miniatures are required. So we’d have to agree on a past ruleset to use.

    • I agree with Matt that Jeb has done a lot to advance the cause of school choice and so deserves a fair amount of slack before he’s accused of abandoning the idea. But Greg also has a point that there is a real tension between a reform philosophy based on accountability to the government versus one based on accountability to parents in the form of school choice. Yes, both theories have existed and will continue to exist side by side. But it matters which one reformers are emphasizing since that shapes the types and extent of choices we will have.

      Greg is correct in detecting a shift in the rhetoric among the most powerful and well-financed reformers, even if he may be too sensitive in detecting it in Jeb’s article. And if this shift is not checked it will have negative consequences for the range and quality of choices (and education) down the road.

      • Greg Forster says:

        Jeb’s future conduct is the only meaningful test of whether I’m overreading this.

        Matt, care to join Jay Mathews as a member of America’s most exclusive club – people who have lost bets to me?

      • Matthew Ladner says:

        Jaygreene the Barbarian’s forces suffer heavy initial losses as their general plays straight into Solstern the Grey’s argument that choice supporters are a hammer that see everything as a nail. Ironcially, Jaygreene falls into this trap by emulating Solstern the Grey’s failed 2008 argument of “X is paying too much attention to Y so it is time for me to attack in order to lead these people back to the one true way!”

        Losses are sufficiently large that Lord Rick of Hess may no longer feel obligated to dig up a 23 year old argument from a book when he is in the mood to ridicule choice supporters.

        The Powers that Be deduct 10,000 experience points from Jaygreene the Barbarian and await the next round of combat.

      • Matthew Ladner says:

        Greg-

        You have read “dropping school choice” into a column in which the author clearly calls for expanded charter schools, tax credit, vouchers and digital learning. I’m not confident that we are going to agree on something far more nebulous.

      • Well played, Matt. Except… Where exactly do I initiate an “attack”?

      • matthewladner says:

        The point that I am trying to make is that if you want to adopt a “Carthage must be destroyed” attitude that you ought not to do so under any misapprehension that it you are doing so to make the world safe for parental choice. As the tent of the movement grows so too do disagreements over side issues and the challenge in managing them. Since they must however in fact be managed unrealistically shrill arguments regarding tensions are a path away from the big tent and back to the phone booth.

      • Saying that I agree with you that Jeb deserves a lot of deference given his school choice accomplishments and that choice and accountability have and will continue to exist side-by-side does not sound shrill to me.

        Yes, big tents require compromises and I have been very clear about my willingness to make compromises (see for example http://www.uark.edu/ua/der/People/Greene/Big_Rock_Candy_Mountain.pdf).

        But it is neither shrill nor destructive to be concerned about whether everyone in our big tent is treating my priorities for choice well. Sometimes the Gates-backed folks act like they bought the tent and the rest of us should get out or learn to serve the new owners.

      • Matthew Ladner says:

        When I lived in Houston some silly group of people would sponsor some sort of city initiative to institute zoning. Houston of course sprang up without zoning and thus is either a nightmare or libertarian paradise depending upon your point of view.

        Given that everything was spread across everywhere in what was already the nation’s fourth largest city, these things were routinely and sensibly shot down by the voters. If they ever were unwise enough to really try it, I’d bet that they would quickly change their minds when the realites of the situation set in.

        Likewise it is a little late to try to impose a purity test on tangential issues on the parental choice tent. The only reasonable course it seems to me is to make an effort to pursuade people regarding the tangible areas where agendas create actual tensions.

  2. Duncan Frissell says:

    I think the Classical Christian School my grandsons attend provides even higher standards than the CC. I don’t think the CC requires 1st graders to know who and what Athena and the Parthenon are.

    • Minnesota Kid says:

      Duncan,

      The CC also neglects to include critical vocabulary, like “Dungeon Master”, “plate mail”, and “Hydra”. The next generation is doomed to ignorance regarding the purpose of 20-sided dice. What have we done?

  3. Phil Handy says:

    Jeb Bush has no lack of commitment to choice
    His bona fides on the subject are second to none
    Florida under his leadership has established nationally recognized programs (e.g. McKay Scholarships)
    Not emphasizing “choice”in one speech does not deserve this kind of response
    Phil Handy

    • I agree. Jeb has an excellent record on choice.

      • Matthew Ladner says:

        Fever swamp vapors can induce hallucinogenic episodes. Their power is not to be underestimated-even the most hardy of adventurers will eventually miss their saving throw if they splash about for an extended period of time.

  4. Phil Handy says:

    The headline of your blog still says “Jen”

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