January 22, 2016
On Monday former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush unveiled his plan for reforming America’s education system. There is a lot to like in his proposal, which is good, because he has much to atone for given his past support of Common Core.
His proposal to create education savings accounts by consolidating the various and disjointed federal programs is a good idea. The funds in the accounts could be used for early childhood or K-12 education as well as college, job training, and tutoring, providing tremendous flexibility for a lifetime of learning. Bush deserves high marks for proposing to combine federal dollars into education savings accounts so parents can exercise choice in schools. His plan to allow tax-free contributions from parents, relatives, businesses, or anybody else to these accounts would also increase their usefulness and expand choice.
Perhaps the most innovative idea in Bush’s plan is to eliminate the federal student loan program as it currently exists and replace it with a $50,000 line of credit attached to each student’s education savings account, which would be repaid over 25 years as a percentage of income and would eliminate most of the cumbersome federal financial aid process.
One of his most important reforms would require colleges and universities to share in the risk of students defaulting, which should help to curb skyrocketing higher education costs and provide an incentive for schools to ensure students graduate ready for work.
His plan would also increase choice by making federal Title I dollars portable, an idea that many education reform proponents have advocated for years. Increasing transparency regarding student achievement, progress and school finances is also commendable.
All in all, there is a lot to like in Bush’s current education reform agenda. But looking back raises troubling questions. He says that he wants to “ensure that the federal government does not interfere in academic standards, curriculum or content,” but Bush was one of the principal Republican supporters of the Common Core national standards, which have spawned a national curriculum and national testing. The federal government played a key role in pushing the states to adopt the Common Core. For him to say now that he opposes federal interference in standards, curriculum and content is to close the barn door after the horse has fled. It's too late, and he, as a prominent Republican proponent of Common Core, was instrumental in this nationalization of education in this country.
Bush also argues, “We need to give states the flexibility to reform and innovate to meet the needs of their students.” Well, that flexibility was greatly restricted by the one-size-fits-all Common Core model that he supported.
How can states innovate when publishers are now pushing a single Common Core-aligned curriculum and associated textbooks? How can states innovate when every state now must administer a federally supported national Common Core test (the federal government spent hundreds of millions of dollars to fund the creation of these national Common Core tests)? And how can states innovate when the College Board is now aligning the SAT to the Common Core national standards? The result of Common Core is the opposite of innovation: a homogenized monolithic model that brooks no deviation.
If Bush is elected, there is little doubt that his agenda of educational choice for parents and simplification of higher education financing would be a major step forward. But his advocacy of Common Core and derision toward those of us who were opposed to it (he once called opponents “conspiracy theorists”) should cause people to ask which Bush education agenda they will be getting – the bold and innovative one described earlier this week, or the troubling top-down, Washington-knows-best agenda that his Common Core advocacy represents.