It has been rewarding to watch education reform grow from a small movement in a handful of states to a national priority that takes in all states. I am particularly proud of the role played by the Foundation for Excellence in Education in promoting student-driven policy reforms.
One of my favorite conferences begins tomorrow, when the Foundation will host the 5thAnnual National Summit on Education Reform in Washington, DC. I look forward to spending the next day and a half with leaders from across the country, on both sides of the political aisle, discussing an issue of national importance – the education of our students. The best and brightest in the reform movement will gather to discuss strategies, learn from each other and plan where to go from here to ensure every student is gaining the power of knowledge.
In a nation that has been divided by partisan politics, we have seen a remarkable bi-partisan convergence of opinion when it comes to preparing our kids for the 21st Century.
We have a Democratic President who embraces most of the reform agenda, including school choice, accountability and teacher assessments that take student performance into account.
Democrats and Republicans from Red states and Blue states alike are refocusing schools on the needs of students instead of adults.
- In Washington, for example, voters approved a ballot measure to allow charter schools in the Evergreen State for the first time.
- In Georgia, voters trumped an adverse ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court by passing a measure to protect and expand charter schools.
- Recent years saw Maine adopt their first charter school law, and Michigan policymakers remove an onerous cap on the number of charters allowed.
- Louisiana now has the most expansive school choice options in the nation both public and private.
The voices of parents are being heard loud and clear. They don’t want bureaucracies dictating where their children go to school. They want to decide.
A large number of states have also adopted laws to stop the harmful practice of laying teachers off based solely upon seniority. Does it serve the interest of students when a school district dismisses an outstanding teacher and keeps an ineffective one in the classroom just because the latter has been on the job a few more years?
A broad, bi-partisan coalition of Michigan voters just rejected a ballot measure that would have undone such crucial teacher quality reforms.
States are drawing their inspiration from early reform work done in Florida and the resulting student achievement. Grading schools with A-F letter grades is a clear and simple tool that recognizes excellence and exposes failure, forcing school districts to act. Last year policymakers in Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi and North Carolina joined Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, New Mexico, New York City, Oklahoma and Utah in embracing school grades.
Whether a student gains early literacy skills will determine their future educational success. In 2012, seven states passed legislation geared toward improving 3rd-grade literacy through identification, intervention, and/or retention initiatives.
The task of reforming the nation’s schools represents an ultra-marathon event but one that we have to run at sprint speed for the sake of our children.
Students have enjoyed a number of victories but still face opposition from entrenched special interests that have deep pockets and a strong self-interest in maintaining the old status quo. And so there is much work to be done and many more campaigns to wage.
More than half of students entering two-year colleges and nearly twenty percent entering four-year universities are placed in remedial classes. Thirty percent of high school graduates lack the basic math and reading skills to pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test. Today’s academic standards do not teach students the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in college and their careers.
But, by working together, we can change that. We can transform education and equip every child to achieve their God-given potential. We must.
These next two days are designed to encourage and equip state leaders from both sides of the political aisle, from all backgrounds, representing diverse communities to improve the quality of education in their states.
That is why I look forward to these two days all year long.
About the author
Governor Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush was governor of Florida from 1999-2007 and is chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.