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Jeb Bush Talks School Choice, Federal Flexibility, Steers Clear of Common Core

By Andrew Ujifusa — February 10, 2015 3 min read
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Crossposted from State Ed Watch.

Declaring that improving education for students “should not be a political issue” and that parent’s power to choose how their children learn, should trump bureaucracies, Jeb Bush gave a possible preview of how he would discuss K-12 during a 2016 presidential campaign at a Feb. 10 event in Florida, where he served two terms of governor.

Bush also defended holding 3rd graders back if they can’t demonstrate literacy, acknowledged that some districts “just go nuts” with too many tests, and called on Washington to exercise restraint in education policy. His speech came at an event called “Keeping the Promise” in Tallahassee, which was hosted by the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a K-12 policy group Bush founded after his time as governor ended in 2007.

But, in his remarks on stage and a subsequent question-and-answer session, he didn’t directly mention the Common Core State Standards, which Bush has continued to champion even as support for the English/language arts and math standards has eroded among other potential GOP candidates for the presidency.

And Bush also downplayed the standards when asked about a meeting with current Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who was slated to speak at the event:

Late last year, Bush announced that he was actively considering a run for the presidency, and he subsequently stepped away from the Florida foundation as well as the national K-12 policy group he founded, the Foundation for Excellence in Education (former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has taken over as chairwoman of the national group). Also on Feb. 10, Bush released his email correspondence during his time as the Sunshine State’s governor, as well as the first chapter of a e-book he is writing.

The Threat of ‘Obsolescence’

In his remarks at the “Keeping the Promise” event, Bush said that the national economy and the world at large are threatening to leave many students behind, particularly students born into poverty.

“They may never get a job, because the world we’re moving towards with massive innovation and automation and globalization is changing the world at warp speed,” Bush said, adding that students who don’t receive a good education will “live a life of obsolescence.”

He staunchly defended a policy that he and his education foundations have strongly lobbied for in Florida and elsewhere: holding back 3rd graders who can’t demonstrate literacy. Sarcastically dismissing those who say that such students may struggle emotionally to deal with being held back, Bush told his Tallahassee audience, “God forbid if little Johnny is stressed out. How horrible it is for their self esteem if they’re held back.”

However, Bush was a little more flexible regarding the role of standardized assessments in education. He stressed assessment’s role in measuring where students truly stand, but acknowledge that “we can have better tests, we can have fewer tests.”

And even though Bush didn’t directly mention the common core, he did address standards in a general way when discussing his view of the federal government’s proper role in K-12. Like most other Republicans, he thinks Uncle Sam should exercise restraint when it comes to dictating policy requirements to states.

The feds “shouldn’t mandate or require a certain type of content or standards,” Bush said of federal officials.

But he advocated in favor of flexibility when it comes to tying federal Title I dollars to school choice programs—Florida has the largest tax-credit scholarship program in the country.

Finally, if you’re looking for a bit of humor, at one point Bush acknowledged that his comments about dismantling the “monopoly” of education bureaucracies would cause a storm on Twitter: “There’s some heads exploding right now, I can feel it.” StateImpact reporter John O’Connor subsequently captured the sound effects Bush made to accompany his remark, which you can listen to below:

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