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Jeb Bush Addresses National Urban League; Touts Black, Hispanic Test Scores

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 31, 2015 3 min read
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Cross-posted from State EdWatch.

Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spent a good chunk of time on his education record during a July 31 speech to the National Urban League. What did he focus on? Let’s check in on his prepared remarks.

Accountability and Achievement

Bush notes that during his time as Florida governor, from 1999 to 2007, the state “insisted on testing and accountability.” Those were two big portions of his A+ Plan, a big package of changes to K-12 policy he signed into law his first year as governor. It included a requirement for schools to be given grades on an A-F scale. In subsequent years the state also ended social promotion for 3rd graders by requiring them to demonstrate literacy on a state test, and also expanded its suite of state tests.

Those and other features of the A+ Plan have been adopted by several states around the country, in part through the work of the foundation he started after his gubernatorial tenure, the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

But in the last few years, some of those policies, including A-F accountability and 3rd grade retention, have come in for more skepticism. Virginia, for example, abandoned its A-F accountability system before actually implementing, and Oklahoma backed away somewhat from its previously adopted 3rd-grade-retention law.

He also touted the achievement of black and Hispanic students in the state, noting that the number of such students passing Advanced Placement exams quadrupled during his time as Florida governor. And also made a very broad claim about their status: “Among minority children, Florida saw the greatest gains anywhere in the United States.” He doesn’t specify by what measure those children made “the greatest gains,” and he’s also in the past made debatable claims about the overall performance of Hispanic students in Florida.

In general, Florida students have put in a strong showing on AP exams in recent years (including those years after Bush left office), but haven’t shown the same kind of strength on the SAT.

Choice Should Be Everyone’s

Increased school choice was another long-term impact of Bush’s time as Florida governor. In his prepared remarks to the National Urban League, he contrasted Florida’s record of school choice, including its largest-in-the-nation tax-credit scholarship program, with the fight federal lawmakers have about the District of Columbia voucher program. He also criticized “unions and politicians” for wanting to shut down D.C.'s voucher program because, “they don’t like parental choice, period.”

“A couple thousand boys and girls, almost all of them black, have been given a chance to leave the worst schools and go to the best,” Bush said.

Last year, my coworker Arianna Prothero reported, however, that despite its high-profile status at the center of political fights in Washington, D.C.'s Opportunity Scholarships Program doesn’t always reach the neediest students. And the federal Government Accountability Office has also found fault with how the program works.

Roadmap for Common Core

Bush appears to have settled on a strategy for discussing the Common Core State Standards.

He and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are the only two GOP presidential hopefuls to support the standards. But in his prepared remarks, Bush said only this about content standards: “Every school should have high standards and high expectations, and the federal government should have nothing to do with setting them.”

That last phrase is a nod to many conservatives who fear that the federal government was too involved in the push for states to adopt the common core. Bush has shown no signs of actually repudiating the standards, but in upcoming debates and other public events he might get put on the spot about his support for them.

Bush’s remarks on common core, by the way, are similar in one key respect to those from one of his main rivals for the GOP nomination, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. In his July 13 campaign launch speech, Walker also called for the federal government to stay out of K-12, except he singled out common core for opposition: “We want high standards, but we want them set at the local level. No Common Core. No nation-wide school board.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush takes the stage as he formally joins the race for president with a speech at Miami Dade College, Monday, June 15, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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