Mean PIRLS! Jeb Bush On Florida’s School Reforms (And Affirmative Action)

New PIRLS (reading) and TIMSS (math and science) international test score data out.  Florida’s performance on PIRLS is getting a lot of attention – the state participated as if it were a country and scored basically at the top and performed well across multiple dimensions.  It’s an interesting outcome given that Florida has done many of the things you’re “not” (in the educationally politically correct sense) supposed to do – labeling low-performing schools, tough accountability, expanding choice, and so forth. Other states popped up as well.

I recently interviewed former two-term Florida governor Jeb Bush about education (you can read much of the interview via TIME here) and asked him about Florida specifically and here’s what he said:

Federal data and independent analyses credit your Florida reforms with improvements, what worked? Why?

There was no single magic bullet. Robust accountability, higher standards, tying financial consequences and benefits, carrots and sticks, around accountability so there was a consequence between failure, mediocrity, improvement and excellence. Elimination of social promotion and strategies to deal with the crisis that could have existed if we’d done nothing [else].  Ambitious school choice, not just public but including private school choice. Expanding higher quality coursework to larger numbers of kids. So it wasn’t just accountability it was a lot of other things including a partnership with the College Board where we had stratospheric increases in the number of kids who took AP courses and passed them.  And the early learning component of what we did will prove to be pretty effective.  You put these hard-edged measures, we tried to make them really tough, but we didn’t stop there.

If you go back to the affirmative action debate, we eliminated affirmative action when I was governor, and we have more African-Americans attending college today, why would that be? What’s the difference between Florida and California?  The difference is that a hard-edged policy may be a correct one morally in California but it’s the only thing they did.  They just eliminated affirmative action. OK, great. Then you had this massive drop-off in access to higher education by Hispanics and African-Americans.  We created a strategy that said affirmative action defined as lowering standards for one group at the expense of the other is wrong.  But we also said that you need to be race conscious so we created a “talented 20 percent,” we created the very ambitious AP program in the urban core high schools that never had AP.  We made practice SAT [available] for 10th graders – we funded it.  Before that no one ever cared or even noticed 15 percent D and F schools had practice SAT for 10th graders and 85 percent of A and B schools [did].   That’s what you call the soft bigotry of low-expectations.  So we funded all of them.

My point is that all of this hard-edged accountability forced strong policies to rectify the consequences and the system responded, and it responded pretty significantly.  So you eliminate social promotion we probably would have had a third of our kids stay back had we done nothing.  But we required a different approach. We put reading coaches in every school to teach teachers how to teach reading because our schools of education don’t do that. We launched the universal pre-K efforts. We changed how schools operated and they were compelled to do it.

7 Replies to “Mean PIRLS! Jeb Bush On Florida’s School Reforms (And Affirmative Action)”

  1. Scott-

    On NAEP, 8th grade reading gains have been far harder to come by for everyone than 4th grade gains. Since 1998, Florida has more than doubled the national rate of progress on 8th grade reading, but there is a lot more work to do. The 12th grade numbers come from a single test so unfortunately we don’t have trend data for them.

  2. Jeb,

    The UC system is far superior to anything you have in your state. Your only improvement was in fourth grade scores.

    A majority of the students attending the presitgious UC system are RESIDENTS OF THE STATE.

    Our older students, frankly, do not care to cooperate with your national education goals. They demand autonomy, freedom, and choice.

    California is the 8th largest economy in the world, with world trade levels that are ten times as high as your state.

    California is genuinely a global state and facing the global challenges of the real world. Enforced, uniform testing is passé. It is big government at its worst. It kills innovation.

    Finally Jeb, to use circular reasoning is simply unacceptable. To say that 4th grade scores are high therefore eight grade scores must be high is risible: My student is an A student, therefore they are an A student. Risible.

    If this kind of logic appeals to you, then perhaps we could ask the SSIC why they include this statement at the bottom of EVERY SINGLE INVESTMENT REPORT IN THIS COUNTRY:


    Jeb, you are out of touch. This country has run ahead of you. Standardized testing has failed to keep pace with private sector innovation. It is now just another government albatross.

    If demography is NOT destiny, then why is every one in your family a high paid politician? Where is the access for the common man?

  3. Jeb,

    Of course our government, where Jeb hangs out, remains entirely secretive in terms of pay, benefits, and accountability.

    The brutal reality is this: Someone has to be accountable, and someone has to hold them accountable.

    Rather than RTT, we ought to have RTBTB: Race to be the boss.

    Or better yet: RNTBAT: Race not to be a teacher.

    Jeb, you cannot increase punishment without increasing the potential for gain.

    Teacher quality overall in this nation is DECLINING. And with good reason. The risk is much too high. The reward is much too low.

    And that is why charters and TFA have fought tooth and nail to prevent their teachers from being held accountable for student performance to the same extent as their public school counterparts.

  4. The Professional Education Reform crowd certainly know how to look after one another.
    Tony Bennett, recently defeated Indiana superintendent of education (to the cries of “shit, shit, shit” from Michael Petrilli) is heading southeast to feather his nest in Florida.
    Bennett, in case you forgot, was defeated by an opponent who received more vote than the governor.

    Insatnt Kama’s gonna get you
    Gonna knock you right in the head

  5. Reformers mover in precious circles. They scoot off to the Florida Keys to bonefish. Having done this myself, of course I have reitirement pay and a really decent UC lab paycheck, I can tell you it is EXPENSIVE AND TIME CONSUMING.

    But teachers. They are expected to work at all times, AND accept low pay and low recognition.

    And on top of that, they are expected to engage in irrational acts of self sacrifice with ALMOST NO PRAISE.

    So, this debate has lost ALL LOGICAL UNDERPINNINGS. This is a pro-life war now.

    A culture and class war in which some see the publics as dens of evil, and the education reform elite make their careers enforcing a blue collar mentality in teachers.

    To Mr. Hanushek, how will your VAM models account for the BLACK SWAN of school mass murders?

    Or will you, as Naseem Taleb asserts, continue the persistent and consistent failure of a discipline to predict the future or explain the past.

    Why have you and Michelle Rhee fallen silent.

    Will the TFA sign an oath of self sacrifice? Using a reasonable approach, why would any Ivey eduated TFA’r, headed in one more year to Ivey law school, step into the path of a bullet.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.