On Monday, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush came to Nashville for a press event with Gov. Bill Haslam.
“This is a time of great importance for our country, and this is the single most important thing we can be doing,” Bush stated at one point.
What was this matter of such urgency? Did it involve national security? A fiscal crisis? The battle over gun control?
None of the above. Bush was referring to school vouchers (and, by default, education reform in general). In a brief media avail after the event, Haslam announced that he would indeed be introducing legislation to enact a limited voucher system in Tennessee.
Like most republican governors, its clear that Haslam has fallen under the spell of education reform’s Rasputin. Are some of these man-crushes political posturing? Bush after all is being touted by the media as a presidential candidate – and Bush has done nothing to dispel such speculation - so guys like Haslam might be looking to kiss the ring. Besides, the biggest stack of education corporation poker chips sits in front of him at the table.
Gervin points out that Bush’s Florida model isn’t all that.
While Bush was governor, from 1999 to 2007, the state instituted a series of educational reforms like a statewide voucher system, distance learning, and a universal pre-K program (for which vouchers could be used to send one’s children to church-run preschools).
On Monday Bush said the state had made the “greatest learning gains in the country” thanks to his reforms, which have now become the basis for his non-profit work. But several reports have called those gains into question. A Reuters investigation last fall pointed out that the test scores, which dramatically increased while Bush was in office, have dropped in recent years, and high-school graduation rates still lag behind other large, diverse states such as California and Ohio. Critics also note that studies commissioned by the state have not shown low-income students who use vouchers to attend private schools to have higher test scores than their peers.
Despite that, Bush stated confidently on Monday, “All schools do better when there’s competition.” He compared the use of vouchers to a grocery store with multiple kinds of milk. “World better because of choices [sic]. Radical idea,” Bush said.
Bush knows recent news hasn’t been good from Florida. A close political ally said late last week that Bush’s multiple test-based accountability measures were said to be “in danger of imploding.” It is these he so desperately needs to call public schools failing for his voucher and charter school schemes to gain traction. Bush’s switch to irresponsible hyperbole and flippant metaphors instead of evidence smells like desperation.