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Jeb Bush lectures on education at Forum

Emily Schrank | Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Public education in America must maintain the same standards of learning for all children, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said at the first Notre Dame Forum event of the year Monday evening.

Bush outlined the sweeping reforms he implemented in K-12 education during his time as governor in a presentation titled, “The Architect: Radical Education Reform for the 21st Century.”

Bush said the college attendance rate is a testament to the shortcomings of the current system.

“Sadly, today, one-third of our young people get to their senior year [of high school] ready to be in college, one-third take remedial courses at community colleges and one-third don’t graduate at all,” he said. “The Florida story has begun to reverse that trend.”

As governor, Bush said he found a number of excuses being used in the public education realm, including a lack of funding and the effects of poverty on students’ achievement.

“The fact is, the United States spends more per student than any other country in the world,” he said. “And because we have kids in poverty, it isn’t their fault. Their life circumstances shouldn’t define who they are.”

According to Bush, these excuses were allowing the perpetuation of substandard educating.

“We tried to change this culture of excuses and pessimism about whether children can learn,” he said. “Every child would be held to the same standard.”

Bush implemented a wide range of reforms, including higher expectations for all students, greater academic standards for teachers and more accountability for school administrators.

Florida was the first state to create a statewide voucher program, expanding the accessibility to alternatives for underachieving public schools, according to Bush.

“We expanded school choice in our state to include the greatest number of options for parents,” he said. “We have voucher programs that create choice for people who otherwise wouldn’t have it and, along the way, public education has improved.”

Bush said he also focused on expanding the Advanced Placement (AP) program to urban-poor and rural areas. The AP program is offered through College Board, the same nonprofit that publishes the SAT. The program offers accelerated classes for college credit.

“We created the first College Board partnership and generated significant improvement in places that never would have seen an AP teacher of any kind,” he said.

The mix of reforms, often referred to as “the Florida cocktail,” has led to a rise in graduation rates within the state, according to Bush.

“These are results are now being emulated around the country,” he said.

Despite the successes of the “cocktail,” Bush said the reform of public education in Florida and across the United States is not finished.

“The lesson of policymaking is that success is never final and reform is never complete,” he said. “I found in Florida’s education story that you constantly have to be rebuilding on the reform that you have.”

Bush said the future of public education lies in regulating the teaching profession and increasing the use of digital learning, and that Notre Dame can play a role.

He suggested that Notre Dame graduates could advance the mantle of reform and digital learning throughout the world.

“The brand of Notre Dame is world-class,” he said. “Why not take this incredible brand … and take it to many places where many other people wouldn’t experience it?”