Friday, September 30, 2011

Jeb Bush and Florida's Education Success

Speaking of Jeb Bush, here's an excellent article about his remarkable accomplishments in education while governor of Florida.  Boy, I wish he'd run for President!  I'm not saying I'd support him (or any Republican) over Obama, but I think it's healthy for our country if the Republicans offer a strong, credible candidate (I feel the same way about Chris Christie):

It's probably too late for Jeb Bush to reconsider his 2012 options, but it's certainly not too late to give his record in Tallahassee a second look. And in no area did Bush have more of an impact than in education policy.

"Governor Bush has been at the forefront of education reform," said Michael W. Grebe, president of the Bradley Foundation, which has donated generously to education reform projects, while honoring Jeb Bush earlier this year. "During his administration and since, Florida students have made incredible gains."

Today, improving America's public schools is a cause ostensibly embraced by both political parties. Twelve years ago, however, when Jeb Bush became governor of the Sunshine State, it was a partisan minefield -- and there was little reason to believe that government could turn things around quickly or decisively. That's what seems to have happened in Florida, however, with ripple effects that have spilled out across the country.

Jeb Bush never criticizes George W. Bush publicly -- or, as far as anyone knows, privately -- on education reform or anything else. But it is a matter of public record that Jeb Bush was vowing to create a public school system in Florida "to ensure that no child is left behind" before that became the inspiration for federal legislation. In addition, Jeb Bush has long been on record as believing that the most effective place for school reform is the states, not the federal government.

"By federalizing education policy you create resistance at the classroom, school, school district -- and even the state level," he told the Harvard Political Review earlier this year. "I think you're getting more dynamic results by having the states play the policy role and holding local school districts accountable for actual learning."

This is what happened in Florida, with eye-opening results. It didn't happen in a day, it didn't even happen in a decade, and the difficulty in sustaining the gains made in lower grades through high school in Florida shows that no one in Tallahassee should be resting on their laurels. But the educational successes there were tangible, and measurable, and they have been copied by several other states.

…Since 1994, the reading scores of fourth-graders in this country, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, have risen steadily. "Simply stated, poor and minority students are achieving at dramatically higher levels today than they were two decades ago -- in some cases two or three grade levels higher," writes education reformer Michael J. Petrilli. And Florida, as noted, helped lead the way.

The highlights include:

-- In 1998, Florida's fourth-graders scored at the bottom nationally in NAEP scores in reading and math. By 2009, they had scored above the national average in both categories.

-- Florida's fourth-grade Hispanic students equaled or surpassed the performance of all students in 31 states.

-- Fourth-grade African American students in Florida outperform African American students in all but three states in NAEP math tests.

-- Low-income Florida elementary school students of all races rank near the top nationally in math.

-- High school graduation rates increased 21 percent, even as the requirements got tougher.

-- Some 38,000 Florida high school students were taking Advanced Placement exams for college credit a decade ago. Offering merit pay of up to $2,000 for teachers who get students to take -- and pass -- AP exams helped boost this number to 157,000.

-- The number of African American and Latino students passing AP tests increased 365 percent.

For skeptics who believe that standardized testing sucks the creativity out of the learning process, Jeb Bush always had a stock answer: "What gets measured, gets done."

In the early years, things did not always go swimmingly. The teacher unions made opposing Bush a crusade, even mortgaging their own building to raise money to support his 2002 opponent in his re-election bid. Bush weathered that challenge, but gains at the middle school level didn't really kick in until his last two years in office, leading to some testy press conferences, as his top education adviser, Patricia Levesque, recalled.

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