Years ago I met Jeb Bush under rather unusual circumstances. It was before he was governor and during the time his father was running for President. When I met him I liked him. He struck me as a genuine person. Unfortunately, today, like he grades public schools, I’d give him an F in education. There are other concerns I would have with him being President, but I will stick with education.
At the time, my husband and I were looking for a place to live in Tallahassee. We spotted a modest house for sale in a quiet section of a nice neighborhood. We met the realtor and began our walk through the house. Everything seemed normal, until we entered the living room. There were many lovely pictures of the Bush family, and I said, “These folks must really like the Bushes.” The realtor replied, “The house belongs to Jeb Bush.”
This struck me as unique. The house was nice but not fancy. I felt like I was trespassing. My husband was not fazed and proceeded to turn faucets on and off and look for leaks et cetera. Unlike other houses we’d looked at, I didn’t peek in closets. I didn’t think it polite.
After going through the house, the realtor guided us into a homey family room. Jeb was watching, golf, I think, and he jumped up and shook our hands. He wasn’t at all pretentious. I remember telling him my grandmother was Republican and would be voting for his father. He laughed and said “GOOD!” Then my husband talked with him more about the house, and Jeb said that he’d include a rider lawn mower. I thought that was nice of him.
Well, we didn’t buy the house, not that it wasn’t nice or that we didn’t appreciate the possibility of a rider lawn mower. It didn’t have the right floorplan for us and it was a bit too expensive.
A few years later, Jeb became Governor. I would have liked to cheer him on, but little by little I realized I didn’t like his education ideas. By then, as a teacher, I had pretty good insight into school problems. And I had developed research skills as a graduate student in education at FSU.
Why would I give him an F? Well first and foremost, Mr. Bush and his Foundation of Education Excellence and Chiefs for Change base reforms on ideology and not legitimate research.
For everything from Common Core State Standards, to grading schools, to retention, to vouchers and charters, like so many education reformers, Jeb Bush gets it wrong. Either he doesn’t read education research, or he doesn’t like the research, or he just has an awful agenda to eliminate public schools.
Still, everyone should pay attention to Jeb Bush. I think he has a good chance of becoming President. If that happens, the strategies he has peddled in Florida will be what we see throughout the country. This already is the case in many places because school reformers incorrectly see Jeb Bush as an education innovator.
I could write pages on these awful policies, but I will pick one. It involves Mr. Bush’s stance against lowering class size.
The Class Size Amendment
The class size amendment was a prime opportunity for then Gov. Bush to negotiate in good faith and become a friend to teachers concerning one of the most important issues in education. But it was not to be.
In 2002, after years of stuffing students into overcrowded classrooms, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek launched an initiative to reduce class sizes in the increasingly populated Sunshine State. It wasn’t an unreasonable plan.
· 18 students in prekindergarten through grade 3
· 22 students in grades 4 through 8
· 25 students in grades 9 through 12
From the start, if Mr. Bush had been savvy, he might have said, you know, I’ve looked at the research and when it comes to across-the-board lowering of class size in all grades—it hasn’t worked well in California. California lowered all their class sizes. They even lowered class sizes in P.E., leaving classes so small there weren’t enough students to play relay games!
Jeb Bush could have used that excuse and said, however, there is a study called STAR out of Tennessee, and the research indicates that lowering class size in K-3rd grade has long-term benefits. It would be less costly than lowering classes in every grade level.
And it would eliminate the need to use harmful retention. It costs money to hold students back when there is no supportive research in regard to retention. And how can we call it No Child Left Behind when we would leave hundreds behind every year?
And, to be extra kind, Mr. Bush could have said, lets also encourage local school districts, including teachers, to keep other grade level class sizes manageable. Maybe we could give grants to schools who creatively adjust their schedules to lower class sizes in grades 4-12. We could bring in a few instructional designers to consult with schools. Republicans like consultants.
But as for the State, we will focus on K-3rd grade and getting students off to a good start.
This wouldn’t have made everyone happy, but I think it would have reflected the research and had a positive impact on schools. My guess is we would be looking at a much different Florida school system today.
Mr. Bush would have appeared like a smart negotiator…like he’d done his homework. And, as a leader, he would have sent a positive message to school districts in Florida to look at innovative, alternative ways to set up classes in schools to assist all teachers. Such group collaboration brings people together.
Instead, Jeb Bush fought against the class size amendment. He was caught saying he had a “devious plan” to destroy any means of lowering class size. He came off looking like a bully—not like the nice man my husband and I met in the family room of his modest home.
Some lawmakers have supported the K-3rd grade plan, but they haven’t pushed it hard enough.
The class size amendment passed, but many politicians and school districts followed Bush’s lead to try not to deal with it. They threatened the loss of other programs and relabeled subjects as extracurricular classes so as not to have to lower those class sizes. The school administrators have scoffed at minor fines which sounded punitive, but never were enough to have a serious impact.
Mr. Bush along with other lawmakers also supported the “65% solution” to force school districts to channel school funding into the classroom. This plan starved critical student services outside of the classroom, including school libraries. The plan was meant to ease the funding directed to the class size amendment. Fortunately, the 65% solution fizzled.
More recently, Florida newspapers reported that the class size amendment was being pushed back again with even fewer penalties on school districts that don’t comply. So there is no incentive to do the right thing or follow the desire of the voters! It looks like the class size amendment will soon be nothing but a memory.
Mr. Bush, like so many other ed. reformers, has made himself look like an enemy of teachers. This is ridiculous when it comes to making changes that involve teachers!
So Jeb Bush gets no good report card from me.
I have to also say, I am not sure now if Mr. Bush would have given us the rider lawn mower if we’d purchased the house. If he becomes President, maybe we will see him out mowing the White House lawn. Maybe he likes to cut grass like President G.W. Bush liked to haul brush. We’ll see. Or we won’t see. I’m guessing probably not.
Coming soon: My grade for Hillary Clinton’s ideas about public schools, even though I never looked at her house.