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!

Jeb Kicks Off the New Year Right

January 3, 2011

Jeb Bush has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that gets the new year off to the right start.  Here’s a taste:

For the last decade, Florida has graded schools on a scale of A to F, based solely on standardized test scores. When we started, many complained that “labeling” a school with an F would demoralize students and do more harm than good. Instead, it energized parents and the community to demand change from the adults running the system. School leadership responded with innovation and a sense of urgency. The number of F schools has since plummeted while the number of A and B schools has quadrupled.

Another reform: Florida ended automatic, “social” promotion for third-grade students who couldn’t read. Again, the opposition to this hard-edged policy was fierce. Holding back illiterate students seemed to generate a far greater outcry than did the disturbing reality that more than 25% of students couldn’t read by the time they entered fourth grade. But today? According to Florida state reading tests, illiteracy in the third grade is down to 16%.

Rewards and consequences work. Florida schools that earn an A or improve by a letter grade are rewarded with cash—up to $100 per pupil annually. If a public school doesn’t measure up, families have an unprecedented array of other options: public school choice, charter schools, vouchers for pre-K students, virtual schools, tax-credit scholarships, and vouchers for students with disabilities.

Choice is the catalytic converter here, accelerating the benefits of other education reforms. Almost 300,000 students opt for one of these alternatives, and research from the Manhattan Institute, Cornell and Harvard shows that Florida’s public schools have improved in the face of competition provided by the many school-choice programs.

Florida’s experience busts the myth that poverty, language barriers, absent parents and broken homes explain failure in school. It is simply not true. Our experience also proves that leadership, courage and an unwavering commitment to reform—not demographics or demagoguery—will determine our destiny as a nation.

Ed Week on Jeb’s K-12 Influence

December 30, 2010

 (Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Education Week on Jeb Bush’s growing K-12 influence. Over on the Gradebook blog, Jeff Solochek previews the year ahead in Florida K-12 reform.

The Way of the Future: Digital Learning Now!

December 1, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Digital Learning Council, led by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, released a blueprint on online learning today at Jebfest the Foundation for Excellence in Education summit in DC. The summit was a smashing success more than doubled the attendance from last year, with lawmakers, educators, activists and state superintendents from 34 states.

I have read the blueprint and think lays out a great vision for the transformation of learning. My only suggestion is that digital learning enthusiasts need to put greater emphasis on transforming private school models though technology.

If organizations were able to proliferate a number of high-quality/low-cost private schools based, with technology helping to keep costs down, I’m guessing we would see a more rapid pace of change in the public sector as well. To be sure, there are plenty of other things that already make this urgent, such as state bankruptcy and enormous educational deficits, but some healthy competition can only help matters.