Rested from his presidential bid, Jeb Bush is back in the saddle and ready to ride. But he’s apparently headed back into the canyon where his troops were destroyed the first time around. He doesn’t seem to have learned much from painful experience.
What led to his previous ambush was his support for the noxious Common Core national standards. He pushed Common Core as founder of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), a think tank generously funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which underwrote much of the marketing of Common Core. Having left ExcelinEd to run for President, he’s now back as chairman – peddling the same ideas, although with more discreet terminology.
Bush explains his preferred policies in a recent essay in National Review Online. After reciting the usual statistics about American students’ mediocre performance on certain international tests, he expresses concern about whether they will “have the skills to compete in the 21st-century job market.” Everyone is in favor of job skills, but Bush’s statements illustrate his continued adherence to the education-as-workforce-development model embodied in Common Core. If there is another point to education (such as teaching students to value truth, goodness, and beauty, and to cultivate academic knowledge rather than empty “skills” – with the side effect that they will become good employees), we don’t hear it from Mr. Bush.
What about Common Core? Bush has learned enough to avoid that toxic phrase, but he continues to push the concept through code language. He insists on “standards aligned with college expectations,” i.e., the “college- and career-ready” Common Core. Apparently he missed the recent ACT report showing that college professors say Common Core doesn’t prepare students for college, and reports of declining college-readiness scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Common Core promoters seem to suffer from unfortunate timing, publishing their paeans to the standards immediately after the latest wave of bad news.
The rest of Bush’s description of the ideal model of 21st-century education confirms he’s still besotted with Common Core. Bear in mind that Common Core is merely Outcome-Based Education (OBE) 2.0, which means the focus of the standards is teaching less academic content knowledge and more “mastery” of “skills.” OBE has been renamed “competency-based education” (CBE), and Bush’s foundation is a huge proponent. A key part of Common Core/CBE is use of invasive personalized technology to continually “assess student mastery of coursework throughout the year,” which is exactly what Bush argues for in his essay.
This brings us to another aspect of his education prescription that should trouble parents. Bush’s ExcelinEd is a true believer in the transformative effect of so-called digital learning. This concept extends far beyond the example he gives (accessing an online AP course that’s unavailable at a particular school) and enters the realm of recording extraordinarily sensitive psychological data about a student’s attitudes, dispositions, and mindsets. Given that federal student-privacy law has been gutted, and that the corporations benefitting from this data employ platoons of lobbyists to make sure states don’t restrict their access to it, parents are rightly alarmed by this casual approach to measuring and exploiting the workings of their children’s brains. If Bush understands this concern, he doesn’t mention it (perhaps because ExcelinEd’s donors include the aforementioned technology corporations).
Bush also pushes for a wide array of school choice, with “portability” of tax dollars so that the money follows the child. One could argue for or against this idea, but Bush doesn’t acknowledge the most dangerous drawback that must be addressed before any such plan is launched: that when tax money follows a child, it’s inevitable that government regulations will follow as well.
The imposition of government regulation on private schools or even homeschools that receive taxpayer funding would be accomplished in the name of “accountability.” How can we give the taxpayers’ money to private schools, the argument goes, without requiring those schools to do things our way and report the data we want reported? Anything else would be irresponsible.
We see how this has worked in states such as Indiana, whose voucher program requires private schools that accept voucher students to administer the state Common Core-aligned assessment – and therefore to teach Common Core. In this regard some choice programs are less dangerous than others, but to advocate all of them with no mention of the creeping-regulation problem is . . . irresponsible.
So Bush is back in his natural environment of education foundations pushing the agendas of wealthy donors. Based on his first missive since his return, parents will likely ignore him now as they did during his campaign.