Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was a keynote speaker at the 10th Annual ExcelinEd Summit in Nashville, TN late last month where he told the audience gathered that education reform is encouraging, but moving too slowly.
After highlighting the changes in technology that have happened rapidly – i.e., smart phones and apps, Bush pivoted to education.
“We’ve seen dramatic, dramatic changes, and yet sadly, our education system in spite of the success we’ve made (he mentioned a list of reforms states had adopted earlier in his speech) has made incremental change,” Bush said.
He then compared education to the evolution of the “global economy.”
The global economy is developing at warp speed and at a rapid pace of change that is far, far outpacing the adoption and implementation of education reform.
In the ten years since our last summit, Apple has released 13 versions of the iPhone…13 versions in 10 years. By comparison, our education system, and even with the progress that you all have made, virtually remains the same as it did fifty years ago and even a hundred years ago in some ways.
By comparison, this gap and this growing gap is what we need to deal with. The fact is that the economy isn’t waiting for education to catch up. If we really care about student success we need to significantly accelerate the pace of reform. Frankly, good policy doesn’t need a pilot program anymore. It needs relentless leaders with the courage to advance bold and transformational reform now.
Look, this is probably the place in the speech where it is important to say that the political arguments we have… What we need to do is get beyond that and recognize whether you think our schools are great, and some people do, and whether you think our schools are failing our kids, we need to put that aside and recognize they have to get better and they have to change to the world we are moving toward.
It’s like a quarterback throwing into the end zone. You don’t throw it to where the receiver is, you throw it to where the receiver will be. And that is exactly what we have to do in education. Perhaps rebuild the coalition of the willing to make transformational change happen.
Here are some thoughts I had as I listened to his speech.
- Education will never keep up with technology because policymaking is not nimble. It will never be nimble. It is not supposed to be nimble. We have a deliberative process in our legislative bodies, and that is a good thing. One has to make a compelling argument for a policy and persuade people. When there is a bug with an updated version of iOS on our iPhones, they can release another update with the fix. When there is a bug within an education policy implemented in a rush, we won’t recognize it for years. Since public schools are funded with taxpayer money, the taxpayers through their elected representatives must have a say.
- Attempts at accelerating “reform” have failed. I was told by a friend who attended the conference that Common Core was barely mentioned if at all. The silence isn’t a surprise since Common Core has been an absolute failure and ExcelinEd and Jeb Bush were some of the top cheerleaders for it. That was an accelerated reform pushed onto the states through Race to the Top, bypassing most state legislatures and the deliberative process they have, and we suddenly had dataless reform in our schools.
- “Progress” is not always good. The fact Bush said schools have not changed much in the last 50-100 years (I’m not sure what schools are supposed to look like in his mind because learning styles haven’t changed that much) is ludicrous. We’ve seen countless fads come through our public schools at the expense of tried and true methods that work.
- Pilot programs are always needed. Back to this deliberative process. How do you convince a group of people who may be skeptical about a particular education reform? Let them see it work in a controlled environment. Instead of launching widespread change, make sure that said reform works before unleashing it upon the entire K-12 education system. That wasn’t done with Common Core, and we’re paying the price for it now.
- We can agree schools need to improve, but what does that improvement look like? I think most people understand that schools need improvement, but we disagree on how, this goes back to my first point – the deliberative process – circumvent it at your peril.
- Want change? Think local. Our schools are tied up with so much state and federal red tape that real innovation and change in education is difficult. Unfortunately Bush and his allies have pushed nationalization of education policy which ironically slows down the very process he wants to speed up.