Jeb Bush And Accountability And Support On Reading

Getting students reading well by 3rd-grade is again emerging as a policy priority in many states.  WaPo’s Lyndsey Layton took a look at the trend in March and Reading Partners’ Michael Lombardo responded.

What’s interesting is that a focus on early-learning was a key part of Florida’s success over the past decade (along with accountability, choice, and some other elements). Today, Jeb Bush’s advocacy on education is one reason states are adopting these reading policies. But while some states are now simply adopting the hard-edged policies around retention, the former Florida governor makes clear that the policies should be paired with support.  I’ve asked experts on reading policy why they think some states are ignoring the support side and while answers vary, “selective listening based on underlying ideology on spending,” as one person put it, is the consensus response.

When I interviewed Bush for TIME late last year, I asked him about what had worked in Florida and why? Here’s what he said about coupling hard-edged policies with supports for students:

There was no single magic bullet.  But up until Louisiana and Indiana in the last few years, Florida was far and away the most aggressive and broad-based [state for] reform: Robust accountability, higher standards, tying financial consequences and benefits, carrots and sticks, around accountability so there was a consequences 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.  And during my tenure the last element would be 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-childhood 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 for 10th graders – we funded it.  Before that because 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.  

And 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.

8 Replies to “Jeb Bush And Accountability And Support On Reading”

  1. It’s important to note a few things with the spread of 3rd-grade reading-test gates:

    – Florida’s spread of reading coaches was supported by both state revenues from the real-estate boom and also Reading First grants that the state won in the early-aughts.
    – Most of the public discourse over the reading-test gates skip the support issue. I think your interview with Bush is the only case I’ve seen where Bush talks about the reading coaches (as opposed to talking about a “Florida package” without discussing them or the FCRR). The extent to which states have the capacity or structure to support reading coaches is an open question.
    – We’re just coming up on the time when researchers can really see whether the retention policy in Florida has long-term benefits. (Previous research, such as Karl Alexander’s in Baltimore, suggest that there are some measurable short-term advantages from retention.) First, those who were in third grade in spring 2002 would have graduated on time in 2011 and a year late last year, so the data should now be available to compare the first wave (and possibly two) under the policy with the cohort or two before. Second, the natural experiment from test errors in 2006 meant the 2006 cohort of third-graders often were promoted with the reading achievement that would have meant retention in 2005 or 2007, and those three cohorts are now through their early teens, when we can look at important medium-term measures such as attendance and suspensions in middle school. That’s a natural experiment that needs someone (or preferably someone with enough funding to support doc students) to clean up the (often-messy) Florida data and look at it.

  2. Another element to consider here is cost. Many states are adopting retention policies thinking about them as ‘free’ when in fact over time that extra year of schooling can be tremendously expensive–especially considering research has shown that students retained once are more likely to be retained a second time. I’m interested in seeing policymakers consider not just whether retention is effective on the short, mid, and long term, but also whether it’s the most efficient use of resources. On average, a year of preschool costs about half as much as a year of third grade. Summer school is maybe a quarter, and quality in-school interventions even less still. Where are we getting the most bang for our buck?

  3. Thanks Andy for highlighting this. It’s good to see Jeb Bush’s call for not stopping with the “hard-edged” policies and ensuring that they are coupled with real support for improved teaching. Last summer Laura Bornfreund wrote an op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel that sheds more light on the level of support that Florida has put toward reading instruction, noting that in 2012 alone the state invested more than $100 million to ensure schools could deliver these services in kindergarten through 12th grade. More from Laura’s commentary, which points out that research is unclear about whether Florida’s gains are based on the impact of retention policies alone, the combination of retention+teacher support, or the support alone :

  4. Jeffrey,

    For what it’s worth, I think Bush has been clear about when his interests HAVE been at stake — for example in an op-ad he and Randy Best placed in Inside Higher Ed last month, they clearly stated they were out to sell services to universities. Unfortunately, no one (including In the Public Interest) has taken the extra step to go from the email chain you refer to above to asking some experts in tax and non-profit law whether there are any problems — see my comments at

    I disagree with Bush on a broad range of policy issues, but we have enough spurious claims of corruption floating around Washington. Until someone actually does some additional work, the emails are just emails rather than evidence of wrongdoing.

  5. Hi Sherman, like your blog. It’s not just about financial gain. My beef is really about policy. Policy influence peddling. That is a much more nuanced and difficult nut to crack, I admit. That is one reason I hang out here–to get a feel for what Bellwether and its allies are up to and how they think about education from a policy wonk perspective.

    Frankly, I could give a rat’s behind about how much Bush profits. He’s going to be just another patrician no matter his vehicle of wealth and power agglomeration. But now he’s on MY turf and I want him to be transparent about motive and procedure. Nothing in his background suggests he has done anything other than throw a dart at a board of special interests and thus chose education as his thing. As an adult, he endorsed Giuliani for President. I’m guessing it wasn’t about Rudy’s education policy which, come to think of it, has been a disaster. Come to think of it, Jeb’s edu policy is not all it seems, either.

    It doesn’t really matter that much Jeb profited from any one particular arrangement. His investments are constructed to avoid conflicts of interest–he went to private schools, eh? His agenda is to situate himself within the new GOP establishment on front-burner issues. Education is one of them.

  6. Accountability from Chiefs For Change:

    Barresi, you see, is one of Jeb! Bush’s Chiefs For Change. And there are two groups Jeb!’s Chiefs never, ever hold to account:


    State Superindentist* Janet Barresi, like all her fellow Chiefs, loves to tell local school districts how to run their schools. What she doesn’t enjoy nearly as much is taking the fall when her untested, unvetted, poorly planned ideas blow up in her face.

    This after Janet Barressi blamed the school districts on OK for the failure of online testing, rather than herself.

    – See more at:

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