Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush defended the Common Core State Standards in his keynote speech at the Foundation for Educational Excellence’s National Summit on Education Reform yesterday. He’s the only prospective Republican presidential candidate to do so. He are a few things he said about Common Core.
This is why the debate over the Common Core State Standards has been troubling. I respect those who have weighed in on all sides of this issue. Nobody in this debate has a bad motive. But let’s take a step back from this debate for a second. This morning over 213 million Chinese students went to school, and nobody debated whether academic expectations should be lowered in order to protect the students’ self-esteem. Yet in Orange County, Florida, that exact debate did occur. And so the school board voted to make it impossible for a student to receive a grade below a 50. You get 50 out of 100 just for showing up and signing your name. This was done, and I quote here from a local official, so the students “do not lose all hope.”
He respects those who have weighed in on all sides of the issue? He and I must define respect differently. He said in the past and doubles down again that Common Core opponents care too much about our kids self-esteem.
Then he cites an example of a local board making it impossible for a student to get less than 50% as though that is a typical response from Common Core opponents. It is not. I can’t think of a single activist I know who would support something like that.
We do care about standards being developmentally appropriate and that the math we teach students makes sense and will be used in the real world.
Perhaps I should ask him if he wants the U.S. education system to reflect a Communist nation’s schools since he references China. Is this really the model he wants? Where students are placed on career tracks early, thrown into a system that stifles creativity, and have their heads filled propaganda? But hey they can do math really well, who cares if they are not free!
But in an international report card on education performance, students from Shanghai ranked number one. Students from the US ranked 21st in reading and 31st in math. The point is this: an over-riding concern for self-esteem instead of high expectations doesn’t help you get to number 1. It gets you to 21. So let’s get real. Only a quarter of our high school graduates who took the ACT are fully prepared for college. More than half who attend community college need to take some kind of remedial course. 600,000 skilled manufacturing jobs remain unfilled because we haven’t trained enough people with those skills. And almost a third of high school graduates fail the military entrance exam.
Yes our education system needs work, but honestly can he tell me with a straight face that China has the same tradition of testing all of their students like the U.S. does? How many countries do that? Until they all do comparing nations’ PISA scores is like comparing apples to oranges. We agree much work needs to be done, but honestly drop the rankings. What is happening with ACT, community college and the ASVAB test is more relevant.
Given this reality, there is no question we need higher academic standards and – at the local level – diverse high-quality content and curricula. And in my view, the rigor of the Common Core State Standards must be the new minimum in classrooms. For those states choosing a path other than Common Core, I say this: Aim even higher…be bolder…raise standards and ask more of our students and the system. Because I know they have the potential to deliver it. Even if we don’t all agree on Common Core, there are more important principles for us to agree on. We need to pull together whenever we can.
So while I agree our public education system needs help, Common Core is not the solution. It merely doubles down on failed educational fads from the past. It won’t improve our math standing in the world, actually, it will put us further behind as Pioneer Institute noted in their statement about his speech today:
In his speech today, Governor Bush argued that the Common Core is a high standard and that “the rigor of the Common Core State Standards must be the new minimum in classrooms.” With the Core aiming to instruct and test Algebra I in grades 9 and 10, and with a substantial reduction in the high-quality literature in the standards, the Core is hardly a set of standards that will cause fear in high-performing countries or economic competitors like China, India, and Japan.
Moreover, the Core is not a “minimum” or, as Governor Bush has suggested in other venues, a “floor.” The PARCC and SBAC tests clearly determine when content will be taught. The establishment of teacher evaluations tied to these tests only underscores how the Core is both a floor and a ceiling on student learning.
Also what evidence does he have to back up his assertion that Common Core will work?
Aim higher doesn’t mean a Common Core rebrand. It doesn’t mean bending over backwards to make sure your state’s standards “align” with the Common Core in order to keep that precious NCLB waiver. Quality standards look much more like Massachusetts’ former English language arts standards and California’s past math standards.
Finally something we can agree on…
The states and local communities are where the best ideas come from. They have the capability to make reform happen, and they are ultimately accountable. So if the federal government wants to play a role in reform, it should stop tying every education dollar to a rule written in Washington D.C. They should make more programs – IDEA, Title One, early childhood programs – into block grants that the states can deploy as they see fit, including vouchers to enhance state programs. In my view, every education dollar should depend on what the child needs, not what the federal bureaucrat wants. Where the child goes, the dollars should go as well. When that happens, we’ll see major reforms and major gains for America’s children and the federal government will go back to playing the supportive and completely secondary role it should be playing.
Here Bush does a 180. He used to downplay Federal involvement in Common Core, and now he seems to acknowledge it. Block funding with full state discretion is certainly preferable than the carrot and stick approach the Feds have used to push reform.
It looks like that Governor Bush will run on Common Core should he decide to run for President. He said that he would decide before the end of the year. He’s going to go down swinging and I assure you he will go down. This issue will be a litmus test in Republican primary contests and he is on the wrong side of it.