Jeb Bush Doubles Down on Support for Common Core

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush participated in an Askwith Forum at the Harvard Graduate School of Education yesterday. The moderator,  Martin West is an associate professor of education at HGSE, and the deputy director, Program on Education Policy and Governance, at Harvard Kennedy School.

Bush had, what seemed to me, to be an uncomfortable discussion about Common Core.  You can watch below starting at 37:30.

Below is the transcript of that exchange.

Martin West: How about the Common Core? As a Republican candidate you were distinguished not by your initial support for the Common Core, but by  the fact you stayed supportive even as the initiative lost support among the Republican base.

Jeb Bush: So you want politicians…. Is this the new reality that whenever you have had a view and you thought it through whether you are right or wrong you are supposed to abandon your view because it’s unpopular? 

If that is what we want then we are going to get the bread and circuses…

West: Why was this an important issue for you?

Bush: I am for higher standards. High standards assessed faithfully will yield college and/or career readiness after 12 grade. We spend more per student than any country in the world other than Belgium and Luxembourg… that’s it.

We spend a ton of dough and have miserable outcomes – miserable – that now matter a lot more. It really does define whether someone will live a life full of purpose and meaning compared to 30 or 50 years ago. What is a huge challenge if you don’t have the power of knowledge, of acquiring knowledge in the world. We are moving toward where McKinsey’s study here where it suggested half the jobs of here today could be automated in the next 20 years.

We have to dramatically change the path we are on if we are going to allow for this country to continue for people to have a chance to live a life full of purpose and meaning. 

So it matters, it matters a lot. This should be a national priority driven locally with states driving different approaches to how we can achieve college and/or career readiness. 

West: So the education reform movement by which I….

Bush: Common Core is, just to make it clear, started after I was governor and was voluntarily embraced by 45 states. They are all but a handful of places. You can make a case, I think with Massachusetts standards they were nigher or as high as Common Core. I’m not sure why Massachusetts had to change. That was there decision. 

Florida’s weren’t and 45 states, most of those states, were significantly lower. Fewer standards and higher standards assessed accurately allow for stopping this hiding of the fact that we have… you know… Florida – 40 percent of the kids are college and career ready and we have an 80 percent graduation rate. 

West: So did the Obama administration make a mistake by incentivizing participation in the Common Core? Did that make your life more difficult?

Bush: You are damn right it did…. (Laughs…) Trust me.

I am not going to abandon my belief in higher standards because four or five candidates did. They didn’t make the case for a chance of course because well Race to the Top was used. They just said “no I’m not for it anymore.”

Well look, there were a few issues where it is important to believe… to be who you are. Running for president is actually quite easy compared to being President. If you are going to bend with the wind and go into witness protection program ever moment what would you do with the first great challenge you would face as president? 

I never felt like this was a necessary thing for me to do, to abandon the belief that higher standards and higher expectations and how we assess is really an important part of getting to this college and/or career readiness goal which should be our aspiration.

Some observations:

  • I do admire politicians who stay the course with their beliefs and not change on a whim. I just think he picked the wrong thing to get behind.
  • I also don’t have a problem with higher standards provided they respect local control.
  • There is no evidence higher standards that are “faithfully assessed” will do anything to help students be more college and career ready. I think since 2010 we’ve been able to show that Common Core does not do that. Common Core advocates promoted a “faith-based” initiative of sorts as it was a totally dateless reform. It’s not something I would want to hang my hat on.
  • People can have and do have lives filled with meaning and purpose regardless of their level of education.
  • He has said this before, but he does give tacit acknowledgement that Race to the Top was problematic for the assertion that Common Core was a state-based initiative. Let’s not forget the fact however that the National Governor’s Association and Council of Chief State School Officers asked for the money a year or two before it was earmarked in the stimulus package in 2009.
  • Finally an admission that Massachusetts should not have changed their standards. He is absolutely wrong that Common Core was higher than the rest of the state standards. The Fordham Institute’s grading showed that wasn’t the case there were a number of states that had high ELA and/or math standards than Common Core.

HT: Jamie Gass