Indiana News

Jeb Bush Speaks for Education Reform

9/2/2009

Governor Daniels is trying to kick-start an education reform push with a high-profile guest: former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

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In eight years as governor, President George W. Bush's brother pushed through a slew of education reforms, including state-funded preschool, performance bonuses for teachers, alternative licensing for teachers without education degrees, and school choice for students in failing schools.

But Bush told Indiana's Education Roundtable the first change that had to be made was a letter-grade report card for schools based on students' performance.

"There was no emphasis on the creation of a database, a bank to be able to mine data to help teachers assure that students could learn," Bush recalls.

Bush half-jokingly says his brother's national school-accountability law, No Child Left Behind, borrowed Florida's plan of annual testing linked to consequences for schools.

Bush says No Child Left Behind has been effective, but says Congress should make one significant change when it reauthorizes the law: giving schools credit for improvement in students' test scores, not solely their passing rates. Under the current law, Bush says there's no reward to schools for encouraging students who are already passing basic-skills tests to excel, nor for making strides with students who still fall short of passing grades.

Bush says it's clear the law's goal of getting every ethnic and economic subgroup of students to pass a basic skills test by 2014 can't be met.

Daniels and state school superintendent Tony Bennett are enthusiastically embracing the full Florida package, though Daniels isn't tipping his hand on what specific changes he might propose to next year's legislature.

Bennett is already moving toward teacher licensing changes, with plans to publish proposed new rules on Thursday. And he says he'd like to issue a Florida-style report card on schools next spring.

Indiana already has school accountability requirements, but the State Board of Education balked at assigning schools letter grades. Bennett says the result is inadequate.

"Can anybody in this room tell me what an 'academic watch school' means?" he asked.

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