Friday, May 13, 2011

Jeb Bush, the Education Governor

From: American Thinker

Jeb Bush, Florida's last governor, is known as the "Education Governor." This became evident when he emphatically told American Thinker that "no, I am absolutely not running for President," because he wanted to concentrate all his efforts on this important issue. The Governor discussed with American Thinker his desires and thoughts on the education system in America.

According to Governor Bush, education is a major reason why America is not rebounding economically. Bush noted that "besides the economic policy of the current administration, workers cannot get jobs because they are under educated. They are not equipped to take on the jobs of value." The unemployment numbers seem to support his views since high school graduates have double digit unemployment rates compared to college graduates whose rate is less than 5%.

Bush wants high school and college graduates to be career ready since "we spend $150,000 on average per student K-12. We have to ask are they career or college ready? Right now only one-third are, because the skills required to get these same jobs of a generation ago now require a higher level math, an understanding of science, and a higher level course work."

Education needs broad based reforms such as the ones implemented in Florida. As Governor he encouraged higher education, higher standards, school choice which includes private schools, embracing the digital revolution, and an attitude that "greatness and improvement is better than mediocrity and failure."

One of the reasons he became chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education was to present nationally his ideas on how to overhaul the American education system. The Foundation was involved in getting the Florida legislature to pass a bill which eliminated tenure for new incoming teachers as of July 1, 2011, replacing it with one year contracts. Teacher performance would be based on student progress, peer review, how well the school was ranked, and principal evaluations. Bush sees this as the fairest way to rate teachers since "it is done through a student's learning gains. Many states have adopted this accountability system that grades schools based on how well a student learns. They are graded A - F based on a student's learning gains. For example, one-third of our children in the US have low basic reading skills; yet, 99% of the teachers are evaluated as exemplary and effective. I would argue something is seriously wrong." He went on to explain a student's learning is measured by tests given in the beginning of the year and the end of the year.

Current teachers under this new Florida law will still maintain their multi-year contracts. However, whether a tenured or new teacher, both must not receive a negative evaluation in two out of three years or they could be fired. This bill also eliminates the "last in, first out" method of terminating teachers since school districts would be required to base their hiring decisions on teacher evaluations, not seniority. Governor Bush wants teachers who will be "in charge of managing the learning process through rich, robust content."

There are those who argue that a student's self esteem must be the most important component in education, as discussed at the Global Conference. Governor Bush does not quite agree and believes that "self esteem comes from mastering the challenges of life. I am all for self esteem. However, it must be based on students gaining the power of knowledge. True self esteem comes from hard work and being challenged. There is too much focus on how children feel and not enough sense of urgency on what they don't know."

Does the Governor think that today many parents are constantly making excuses for their children and are looking for the bottom line, the A grade? The Governor replied that "there are a lot of parents that are not doing right by their children which puts a huge burden on the public school system. On the surface, at least, it doesn't appear there is the kind of commitment that they have in supporting their children's ability to be successful through a quality education."

Governor Bush would like to see the Federal Government play a smaller role in education, not a dominant one. The Federal Government could be more positive by "using the money sent to school districts and states to reward reforms. Title One is the biggest funder without much reform attached to that money. Millions of dollars come to schools without any accountability."

Looking at some statistics regarding Florida schools it appears the Governor is on the right track. This year Education Week ranked the Florida education system fifth in the country, up from eighth last year and eleventh the year before. As Governor Bush stated, "This is not theory anymore since there have been gains, although there is a lot more to do. The idea of paying teachers more when students learn and having less tolerance when students do not learn will move the relationship with teachers from collective to professional." Let's hope that more states will follow the Governor's agenda, putting student learning as the number one priority.

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