July 27, 2010
Education Reform an Ongoing Process
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush spoke to state lawmakers at NCSL's annual meeting.
LOUISVILLE, KY. — Education reform is not a policy goal to achieve as much as it is a continual process with no end.
That’s the message Jeb Bush delivered to state legislators today at the National Conference of State Legislature’s 2010 Legislative Summit in Louisville. The former Florida governor spoke of his experience with education reform in Florida while encouraging lawmakers to pursue rigorous reforms in their own states.
“As I’ve long said, success is never final and reform is never complete,” Bush said. “If you are into the game of education reform, you need to stick to it over the long haul. It is a process, not an event.”
Florida’s education reforms, which included school accountability measures, higher standards and greater school choice, created a dramatic turnaround of an education system that previously ranked near the bottom nationally, Bush said.
Education reform starts with higher standards of learning that must not be too complex or numerous, Bush said.
“That’s important because moms and dads need to understand them and fight for them when the efforts begin to dilute them or abandon them altogether, which will happen,” he said.
Assessments that give an accurate picture of how students are faring are also crucial. An ideal school system would provide student assessments intermittently throughout the school year, with a final assessment at the end of the school year to measure whether students have gained a year’s worth of knowledge, Bush said.
“Successful institutions of all type embrace accountability and schools should be no exception. Simply put, accountability puts an end to excuses and it works.”
Bush also encouraged legislators to provide grants, vouchers or scholarships so that families have more choices when deciding where children should go school.
“In this world, we have unprecedented choices in nearly every area of our lives—where we work, where we shop, where we drive, in nearly every area except the one that could be the most important, which is education,” he said. “Knowing that quality education is the proven path to prosperity, how can we deny a child that lifeline to better living and a more secure financial future? How can we doom a child to a school that we know will not prepare them for success in life?”
Education reform efforts over the next decade also are likely to focus on teacher effectiveness, Bush said. The challenge will be to reward the best teachers while weeding out the worst ones, he said.
“Poverty, broken families, disabilities and language barriers are all challenges to learning, but all of these challenges can be overcome by an effective teacher,” Bush said. “That is one area where there’s broad consensus among Democrats and Republicans in Washington and across the country. It is hard to find a researcher that doesn’t believe that teachers make a huge difference.”
Better teachers deserve better pay. So do teachers in high poverty areas, and in high-demand subjects like math and science, Bush said.
The element of school reform that may offer the greatest promise for transformation is the smart use of technology, Bush said. “We know now … that students learn differently and they learn at different paces. Yet most schools teach students roughly the same as they did 50 years ago. … This is all the more extraordinary when compared to all the other changes that have occurred outside of school during the past ten years.”
Today’s technology could allow schools to custom-design lessons for each child’s learning style and ability, Bush said.
“We have the ability to create the iTunes of the education world where teachers and students can access the rigorous content from difference courses to create a learning experience that meets the individual needs of each student,” he said. “Students would learn at their own pace, spending more or less time in particular areas depending on their abilities. Imagine a repository of rich and rigorous content from multiple sources that could be accessed by teachers and students and parents to build a personalized education plan. The potential of such a system is endless.”
As lawmakers pursue education reforms in their own states, the stakes are high, Bush said.“The quality of education in classrooms across America will define our destiny as a nation. More than any one thing, how we respond to the challenge of assuring that more people gain the power of knowledge will determine our future economic prospects. We will be able to compete, we will be able to maintain and improve our standard of living and we will not be in decline if we transform our education system.
NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.