Dan Gelber, a former state senator in Florida, offers a devastating overview of Jeb Bush’s education policies while he was governor of Florida.
Gelber says that Bush was indeed passionate about education, but his passion was tied to ideas that dumbed down the quality of education.
“He force-fed unprecedented testing into public schools, did all he could to neuter the teaching unions and unapologetically pushed private-school alternatives to public education. As he runs for higher office, Bush now relies on his “education revolution” to make his case….
“In 1998 when a newly elected Gov. Bush and a compliant Legislature started Florida’s “education revolution,” our graduation rate was among the lowest in the nation. After Bush’s two terms in office, Florida’s graduation rate was dead last and remains near the bottom.”
With so much emphasis on testing and test prep, the scores went up in the early grades, but the gains were short-lived. The gains might have been the result of a constitutional amendment forcing class-size reduction on the early grades, which Bush opposed.
Gelber says Florida should not be a national model. It is “an example of the perils of combining excessive testing with inadequate funding….
“As schools began teaching to the test and neglecting anything not measured, Florida’s floor of minimal competence became our ceiling. This distortion became especially acute because, while money alone isn’t a solution, money does matter. Under Bush, Florida had one of the lowest per-pupil funding levels in the nation, so principals and administrators did what any overwhelmed emergency-room doctor does. The state began to triage its curriculum and programs in order to devote scarce resources to what was tested.
“Art “carts” replaced art classrooms, physical education was deemed nonessential. Foreign languages, gifted programs, music, higher-level math and English, civics and science all were among courses that were deemphasized or sometimes even abandoned because they were not measured by the FCAT.
“My eldest daughter’s accelerated algebra class didn’t complete its course work one year because the school stopped teaching it to devote time to relearning FCAT math from years earlier. My youngest daughter’s school cut its exciting science lab program. Not taught on the FCAT!
“Talk about a mad dash to mediocrity….
Florida’s incredibly low education spending is, sadly, in sync with its dismal graduation rate, and nearly last in the nation SAT and ACT scores….
“The debate of accountability vs. funding marginalizes the importance of both. Money has to be adequate, and testing has to be thoughtful or you end up with a dumbed-down and narrow curriculum that fails too many kids.”