(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Nick Anderson of the Washington Post ran a very nice story on Governor Jeb Bush’s education reform efforts. A couple of quotes, first from our friend Mike Petrilli:
“He is the standard-bearer,” said Michael J. Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education think tank. “Those governors who are going to have religion on education reform are looking to him to be their mentor.”
and from Paul G. Pastorek, Louisiana’s superintendent of education:
“Arne and Jeb are really the most influential people at the national level right now pushing college and career readiness for our kids and improvement for our schools,” said Paul G. Pastorek, Louisiana’s superintendent of education and a Republican. “Jeb is working with statehouses and state leaders to directly impact the agenda. He is above all others on the issue among Republicans.”
Of course, journalistic ethics require “balance” and this is where it gets fun:
Many Democrats and labor leaders denounce the Bush agenda. They say that vouchers drain funding from public education and that grades of D and F stigmatize schools that need help. Critics also say other policies he espouses — including merit pay — are unfair to teachers and rely too much on standardized tests.
Florida’s academic gains, critics say, could have been much larger if Bush had sought more collaboration.
“He doesn’t believe in bringing people along with him,” said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, the state teachers union. “He just forces his will on everybody.”
Ford said many teachers were irate that Obama shared a platform in Miami with a former governor who fought the union almost nonstop for eight years. “The White House is on the wrong track by associating with Jeb Bush,” he said.
Don’t worry Andy, Governor Bush is bringing plenty of people along with him. Someday even you reactionary types may come around, but no one has time to wait for that. As for “the gains would have been much larger if Governor Bush had sought more collaboration” claim, strangely enough, Florida has had the largest NAEP score gains in the country. Try again. As for the President associating with Governor Bush, well, who wouldn’t want to associate with results like these:
Not to be outdone by Ford, Valerie Strauss over at the WaPo Answer Sheet Blog grasps at some additional straws:
The first is Bush’s own creation of the Florida Reading Research Center, a state technical assistance agency solely focused on providing reading assistance — complete with reading coaches — in elementary schools so that kids could read by the time they graduate third grade.
It would be hard to argue that this wasn’t a big reason for the rise in Florida’s fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress, the grade and area where the state saw the highest gains under Bush.
The former governor also never mentions any possible effects from a class-size reduction referendum in the state which he opposed but was approved anyway by voters early in his tenure.
Dorn, in a Q & A I did with him late last year, also noted that Bush was governor during a real-estate boom that allowed per-pupil expenditures in Florida to rise 19 percent. That allowed schools to hire hundreds of reading coaches. But, said Dorn: “That kind of money is not available in any state right now, and I suspect a number of states will be in for a rude shock when they try the symbolic step of assigning letter grades to schools without supporting instruction.”
Let’s take these one at a time:
1. Governor Bush happily acknowledges that the reading improvement effort strongly contributed to the overall effort to improve literacy. No one necessarily needs to create the State X Reading Research Center. If they want to hit the ground running they can use the Florida Reading Research Center’s research.
2. The class size initiative wasn’t implemented until last year and a Harvard study found it had nothing to do with the improvement in Florida, a result consistent with the vast majority of decades of empirical research.
3. The Digest of Education Statistics shows Florida’s increase in per pupil spending as smaller than the national average during Governor Bush’s term in office, and below the national average in absolute terms.
Bless their hearts, the edu-reactionaries come across as a bit desperate to spin their way to a story that will justify what seems to be their goal: a yet more expensive version of today’s failed status-quo. No one should take this the least bit seriously, as we cannot afford it, and it wouldn’t work anyway. States around the country are drawing inspiration from the Florida reforms for a reason, and Governor Bush is the first one to emphasize that the Florida cocktail was state of the art, cutting edge reform in 1999. Today’s reformers can take Florida’s reforms as their floor, rather than their ceiling.