Jeb Bush offers a ‘road map of reform for Michigan’

Today, in a joint meeting of the Senate and House Education committees, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush claimed great success for his education reform plan in Florida—taking it from 50 out of 50 states in terms of student achievement to a 21 percent improvement in student test scores.

He assured legislators that Michigan students and educators can create a system of reforms where they “can chew gum and ride a bike at the same time” just as they do in Florida.

Bush, founder, chairman of the board and president of Foundation for Excellence in Education, along with the Foundation’s Executive Director Patricia Levesque, outlined the plan that he claims has made Florida “the leader in education reforms.”

The reforms include giving schools grades ranging from A to F, rewarding schools and teachers for positive improvements on test scores, and emphasizing school choice, like charters and virtual schools.  

“What gets measured is what gets done,” the cornerstone of Bush’s reforms, means student learning is measured by their performance on standardized tests—especially in reading and math. Under Bush’s plan, students are kept back in third grade until their reading scores improve, thus ending the idea of “social promotion”—and artificially inflating fourth grade scores.

In terms of teacher quality, Florida offers multiple routes to alternative teacher certification, pay raises for teachers based on improved test scores, and the elimination of seniority.

Starting July 1, new teachers will receive an annual contract and will never be granted tenure. Current tenured teachers retain their tenure but there is now an expedited process for discharging ineffective teachers. Fifty percent of teacher and principal performance evaluations are based on student progress over a three year timeline. Parents are also notified when their child is in the classroom of an ineffective teacher.

“It’s common sense in education that people respond to incentives and disincentives,” Bush answered when asked about funding for his plan.

Bush explained that existing funds have been repurposed so schools receive incentives for improving their letter grades and more than 85 percent of funds are used for teacher and staff bonuses. While “opportunity scholarships” or vouchers were ruled unconstitutional in 2006, Bush contends that just the threat of vouchers fueled achievement in public schools.