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Curmudgucation: Jebster on Education

Hats off to the folks at Fordham who have added a new feature to their site-- it's Eduwatch 2016, and it is a handy compendium of education quotes from each Presidential candidate. We'll be turning to that more than a few times, I'm quite certain.

They attracted my attention with what is actually the ninth installment in the series, featuring ten quotes from Jeb Bush. They don't entitle it "Ten Things That Jeb Gets Wrong About Education" or even "One More Attempt To Mitigate Jeb's Common Core Conservative Problem," but they might as well have. I'm going to call it "Ten Reasons People Who Care About Public Education Should Not Vote For Jeb Bush."

1) Common Core as a floor, not a ceiling. Here's a Jebby quote about how states should "aim even higher, be bolder" and just keep raising standards forever. It sounds pretty except for two problems. First, it's reinforces a childishly simple two-dimensional model of school, where education is like a flagpole and you can choose higher or lower and that's it. Education is more like a four-dimensional galaxy, expanding and growing in all directions through space and time. Second, it ignores the question of whether the Core even makes a decent floor (spoiler alert: it doesn't).

2) States are in charge. This quote oddly acknowledges that the Common Core brand has become a fuzzy meaningless mess, so that no two people using it may mean the same thing. But from there Jebby somehow gets to "The federal government should play no role in this, either in the creation of standards, content, or curriculum." Which-- well, first, that ship has sailed, and second, if that's the case, why is a Presidential candidate talking about it? Will some journalist please ask Jebby, "Knowing what we know now, would you have signed off on No Child Left Behind?"

3) School choice. “Consumer choice created the most innovative and powerful economy in the world....Choice rewards success and weeds out stagnation, inefficiency, and failure." Wrong, and wrong. The fact that people have been repeating this mantra for decades does not make it so. Coke and Pepsi. Microsoft. Standard Oil. Cable television.

4) Class size. He cites the Harvard study on class size. He should probably take a look at what we could loosely call "all the other research" on this subject. Class size matters. Do note, however, that he also says "We have spent billions of dollars on more buildings and for more teachers with no evidence this policy produced better results." I can only hope he plans to apply the Dollars Spent To No Results metric to charter schools, Common Core and Big Standardized Testing.

5) Teacher pay. There was a time I might have let this one go ("Pay our best, great teachers more") but I have come around to the way of thinking favored by Michael Fullan and many others-- the myth of the Hero Teacher is bad news. Believing that a great school is one with room after room captained by a Hero Teacher just leads us to the idea that we don't have to look at the system or the supports or the processes we've put in place to help each teacher grow and improve-- we just have to fire Bad Teachers and hire Hero Teachers. It's lazy, it's unrealistic, and guys like the Jebster like it because what they really imagine is a couple of well-paid Hero Teachers teaching 200 kids each, for a net payroll savings of big, big bucks.

6) Preschool. Here's my rule about pushing preschool-- preschool can be a great thing, but if you can't get anything else about education right, you're going to muck up preschool, too. Jeb thinks the magic formula is choice (marketing), early literacy focus (developmentally ignorant), measure and report (test test test), focus on outcomes not inputs (test test test test). This absolutely guarantees that Jeb is the worst person in the world to set up a preschool.

7) The achievement gap. Poor minority students should get better test scores. It is up to the school to fix all the problems of society; there is no obligation for society to address problems so that kids can more easily get a better education. Well, not an education-- just better test scores.

8) Course access. This is cutting edge reformster stuff. Choice on steroids-- you don't just choose a school, but you put your education program together course by course, from a wide variety of vendors who are peeing themselves with delight because they don't have to provide a full program, just whatever niche market material they're pushing. An almost-interesting idea until you spend even five seconds trying to think about how it would actually work. It really is choice on steroids-- misshapen, unhealthy, and prone to sudden fits of rage and/or heart failure.

9) Education and technology. "The main challenge facing the country is how to redesign education around what technology allows us to do." Man, that is so perfectly and utterly backwards. We do not need to redesign education to fit the tech; we need to design the tech to fit education.

10) Raising expectations in education. “Some in the education community complain that every time they achieve the results expected of them, we raise expectations, and school grades drop as a result. That was our goal. We have learned that students and teachers rise to the new challenge, and the school grades go back up because everyone rises to the challenge. This formula is how you drive success in any endeavor.” That's really inspiring, but it always raises the same question for me-- if expectations are so powerful, why aren't we unleashing their power everywhere? Instead of saying "Colleges have to give too many remedial courses," why don't we say, "Colleges, just expect more from your freshmen." Instead of saying "We need young people to be better prepared for the workplace," why don't we say, "Employers, if you just raise your expectations, you can hire anybody."

It tells us something about the political-educational landscape that Arne Duncan would be perfectly suited to serve as Jeb's Secretary of Education-- they don't disagree on anything (and they both have that lanky, slightly-confused look).  There are many things about a Jeb Presidency that would be uncertain, but one thing is clear-- we would get four more years just like the last sixteen years of anti-public education policy.

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Peter Greene

Peter Greene has been a high school English teacher in Northwest Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He blogs at Curmudgucation. ...