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Jeb Bush on the “Common Core”

Wednesday, July 31, 2013  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

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HH: I’m pleased to welcome now former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to the program. Governor, welcome. Good to talk to you today.

JB: Great to talk to you.

HH: I have been spending a lot of yesterday and today talking with people about the Common Core and as I explained yesterday with Bill Bennett and Jay Mathews and others today, all of a sudden, a couple of months ago people started approaching me at forums and asking my opinion about this and voicing criticism and some support, as Bill Bennett explained yesterday, what’s your connection to it, what’s the origin of Common Core, Governor Bush?

JB: Common Core state standards were standards that were developed by Governors and state school officers, those folks that are either Commissioners of Education or Secretaries of Education in 2006-2007.  Forty-five states agreed to those standards.  The intent was to create standards so that when a young person reached 12th grade and graduated from 12th grade they would be college and/or career ready, because right now about a 1/3 of our kids are college or career ready, even if they get a diploma.  So, the idea was to benchmark these standards to the best in the world, make fewer of them, require critical thinking skills, make them higher standards and make it voluntary. And, from that effort; amazingly, really, if you think about it, 45 states have signed up.

HH: And so, was the genius of the idea yours? Where did it come from?

JB: No, the genius, the genius came, I think, really came from the National Governor’s Association business, military, a lot of people are concerned about higher standards, and I am as well.  I think our standards are way too low.  If you think about it, if we spend more per student than any country in the world other than Luxembourg apparently, and we did a third of our kids, even though a lot them get a piece of paper that say they’ve graduated, but they take, they take  remedial courses in college or they – they can’t, they don’t have the skills to get a job.  That’s a failed system. There’s a huge cap so raising the standards I’ve always been for them, but this effort was initiated after I left as Governor with the National Governor’s Association.

HH: Where does, does it impose curriculum?

JB: The curriculum, this is why people get all riled up and legitimately so. They are told that this, this will be a national curriculum. In fact, standards are different than curriculum, and that where I think the biggest misnomer is where people legitimately get concerned.  I would be concerned if we had a national curriculum influenced by the federal government. My God, I’d break out in a rash.

HH: [laughing]

JB: You know, these are standards that are common that have been embraced from the bottom up, not from the top down, and the curriculum will be created just as it always has been.  And by the way, the curriculum we have today for those that are concerned about Common Core state standards, I’m glad they are interested in the subject because the curriculum we have today is, in many places, is politically correct. It is horrendous. And so it’s totally how you teach to those standards is still something as it should be driven by state and local school districts and by policy makers at the state level.

HH: Now, I have been through, I’ve been through some of them. For example, the first grade core requires students to count to 100 and to count 10 in either direction from any given number. Very elementary obvious standards, but I wasn’t able to find online history standards and English standards. I actually think science and math standards are not going to be very controversial. Do you think the controversy comes out of what will be required to be known on history and on English?

JB: Well, there are history standards and there, the science standards has just come out. We don’t, the foundation that I had doesn’t have an opinion on the science standards. There are mixed feelings about that. The standards that are developed today at their fullest are, and the ones that will be driving its excellence, are language arts, reading in effect and math. And I think in both those cases, given the fact that curriculum is established, developed at the local level, um, that having these higher standards is really critical. If you can’t read intelligently and you can’t calculate math, it’s hard to take it to the next level and all the other courses.

HH: Okay. Now, let me run through some of off stated criticisms I’ve found in the really couple of weeks that I’ve been looking at this.  Number one, very facial but our friends on the left like to say that your friend, and some would say your protégé Senator Marco Rubio, is opposed to the Common Core, Jeb Bush is favoring the Common Core, that must mean great controversy. What’s the story there?

JB: [laughing] I’ve not talked to Marco about it. I read a letter that was partially published in the St Peat Times and in that he expressed concern about national curriculum. I have the exact same concern. I also have concern about the federal government coercing states to embrace this. Florida has embraced it ,and has a Florida Senator he should be happy with the fact that this has been vetted by the legislature, and may have been vetted when he was speaker of the house. The Governor of the state supports it and it’s a state driven initiative along with the other states. So, I don’t think there’s big differences. I’ve not talked to him about it, but a lot of people, as I said including President Obama for some odd reason, who should know better in his State of the Union address, brought the fact that this was a national curriculum. It isn’t. There will be all sorts of meetings by which teachers will be able to teach towards those standards.

HH: I just want to repeat because that is, I hear, you know, people like Bill Larkin will be in charge of our national curriculum and. . . .

JB: God forbid.

HH: God forbid [laughing]. Yes, so, we’re clear on that. Number two, Michelle Malkin and others, I think, I think it’s Michelle, worry about federal data mining, part of this giant accumulation of data on kids and parents and families. What’s your reaction to that criticism, Governor Bush?

JB: You know, it’s, I can see why people get riled up if opinion leaders like Michelle Malkin or, I don’t know if she said that, but other people like that, have made that case. The data that exists will continue to be where it exists right now in each state.  The State of Florida has a state data bank. Every state has one. Ours is pretty advanced and we have used it to be able to help teachers develop strategies to make sure that struggling readers learn how to read and kids understand, or don’t understand math concepts, get the remedial help they need. So, there’s not going to be any change in that. There’s no federal data base in the sky somewhere that we’re these people are going to be mining information that jeopardizes the American families.

HH: Alright, let me get to the core objection. Okay. Let me get to the core objection, the one that I think has the most meat to it. Yesterday, I had on Bill Bennett and Bill said, hey, trust but verify, probably could be a kind thing, it’s not the solution. Then Jay Mathews and I don’t know if you’re familiar with Jay’s work at the Washington Post, but he’s a very fine education writer and he does a lot of good work and following reform, says look there are more important things out there that, that especially in the area of teacher training and recruitment we have to emphasize. So, the concern becomes does the debate over Common Core drain away energy from Ed reform? Does it block pre-empt or in any way supplant other educational reform that is at least as important as is Common Core standards?

JB: That’s a very interesting question. I’ve not thought about that as maybe as much as I should be thinking about that, but the simple fact is, for example, I’m huge supporter of school choice, both public and private. There’s nothing in this that jeopardizes school choice programs in the country or jeopardizes, frankly, the advocacy which I’d love to see a lot of this energy be placed and further reformed. High expectations, high standards is only one step towards a significantly better system that is less monopolized, less politicized, less unionized, more focused, more student centered. You have to start with the basic facts which is that we’re dumbing down our expectations for young people and there is a complacency because of that. Everybody thinks their children are doing fine, and we’re getting our lunch eaten by global competitors that make education a higher, higher priority. So, yes, maybe it takes away some interestness but all the critics of Common Core states, they—I’ve not seen them show up in the education reform fight

HH: I, ah,

JB: maybe focus energy in a positive way to bring about those changes state by state.

HH: Let’s talk about Ed reform generally for a second.  By the way, I’m on the Great Hearts Arizona Public Charter Board so I know about public charter schools. I know what you did on public charters and you’re a big proponent of public charters. Bobby Jindal was on the program last week. I asked him about Detroit given his experience in help New Orleans rebuild. He said the most important thing was that they were able to post-Katrina start from scratch and rebuild a charter based public school system. Is that, is that what has to happen basically in every or in most urban education systems in America?

JB: I completely agree with that. I think this is a great opportunity for Detroit just as in post-Katrina it was in Louisiana. The Bush Administration liberated the schools and Bobby Jindal, to his credit, in the Louisiana legislature embraced that opportunity, and fully embraced it, and today new—kids in New Orleans have a far better chance of being successful in life because of it. Detroit has a similar kind of circumstance; declining student population, heavily unionized, all the focuses on the economic interests of the people inside the system. This is a great opportunity and they also have the model that was passed in the Michigan legislature to Governor Synder’s credit and the legislature there. So, this is a great opportunity. You are absolutely right.

HH: Now, I also don’t know if you’ve read the book, Word Hard. Be Nice. by Jay, but it’s about the KIPP program and where they get their teachers from. And it turns out, and Mitt Romney said this throughout the campaign, frequently on this show, when they studied it in Massachusetts, and maybe you found the same thing in Florida, it’s all about the teachers. If you get great teachers with energy and commitment to every student, who love being in the classroom, it works. What, what  did you discover about recruiting teachers in Florida that is part of the education reform movement?

JB: So we found that the old idea of certification, meaning that you go to 4-year education—become an ed major and you get your 4-year degree that that’s the means by which you’re going to find the best teachers wasn’t true. The best teachers in Florida and I think across the country come from every walk of life and so we opened up our system. The so-called alternative certified teachers that, I’m not quite sure why we used that term other than it was not the traditional name, there are more teachers certified in that method which is all sorts of means than it is the traditional schools of education which haven’t delivered enough teachers, certainly enough quality teachers into the classroom. So, good training, high expectations, a culture of—a culture of where kids—people believe that kids can learn. The KIPP model and many other models show that this can work. I think, rewarding teachers for serving in the underserved areas and for teaching in the classes and in the math and sciences classes where there are big shortages and having greater learning games for like-kind students, all those things when you’re rewarding high performance and you’re paying for that and rewarding it and holding it up high as a great example of the kind of things that can happen will yield more positive results. That’s the lesson across the country for sure.

HH: Let me wrap this up former Governor Jeb Bush by talking about education reform in the context of politics. It’s not a trick question about 2016, because I’m asking it about 2014 and 2016. How much should Republicans be talking about education reform and to what degree, sort of a percentage of importance on the issue set does ed reform seem to you to be in 2014 and 2016?

JB: Well, it’s, it’s not a federal government issue so on the one hand it’s a difficult issue because Republicans will legitimately, should be, for local control and state efforts driving this change, But, on the other hand, if we’re going to be successful becoming the majority party, we have to embrace the idea that a lot of people aspire to a better life. And, today in America, particularly for younger people that aspiration requires a quality education, and today in America, too many kids don’t get it. If we want to connect with the aspirational class irrespective of color of one’s skin, level of income, family structure, people that aspire to a better life, then we better be on the side of tearing down the walls of resistance that make it harder for those kids in those families to succeed. So, my mission –if I had a mission statement for our success going forward it is to get beyond being legitimately critically of the Obama Administration’s policies and have a positive agenda for sustained economic growth where everybody can benefit, which means they have t have the tools to do it and education is by far the most important thing that we should focus on in that regard.

HH: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, I know the new website is highercorestandards.org. Thanks for spending time with me and helping me unravel this. I appreciate it very much.

JB: I appreciate your interest in it.

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