There are probably a handful of people who know who a President Mitt Romney would have named as Secretary of Education. Whomever it was, you can be sure that they would be a disciple of former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Romney would certainly have acquiesced to Bush on policy, if not named him outright to succeed Arne Duncan. It really would have been pointless to name anyone else, as Bush’s voice has become the only one that matters on education to republicans across the nation.
So we come to the most high-profile speech that Bush has made since the election. As a potential GOP nominee in 2016, he covered numerous topics in his CPAC appearance this week. Curiously using, Watson, the name of a super computer as a virtual strawman child, he conveyed this vision for America’s system of education:
…..we need to equip every child with the best tools to rise. Each child in America deserves the best education on the planet. Why not? We’re already paying for it. We spend more per pupil than any other country in the world. And yet, our kids frequently rank in the bottom quartile on math and science scores. I could stand here all night and tell you about the details of a system that will get us there –don’t worry, I remember I’ve got only 25 minutes—but we need to have the leaders and the authority to put that system in place.
Somewhere in America a child is being born who will design and build the next and better version of Watson. His or her creation may save your life or the lives of your children and grandchildren. It may save the lives of millions. The tragedy is that for every child who reaches their full abilities, who builds that Watson, there are a hundred who could have done the same thing but are stuck in failing and indifferent schools. We are squandering America’s greatest resource, and I believe only reform-minded conservatives have the resolve to confront and end the single greatest waste of human potential in the history of the world.
We need a transformation of education based on standards benchmarked to the best of the world; A system of no-excuses accountability that refuses to accept failure and that rewards improvement and excellence; a culture based on empowering parents with an abundance of choices for their children’s education and a deep understanding of the transformative power of digital learning.
Opponents of Bush’s education ministry could have written this for him, but probably wouldn’t have gone as far to create some sort of person-computer to use as a prop that reminds of Clint Eastwood’s empty chair.
Opponents also would have known to use test score data to bash the nation’s “failing and indifferent schools,” knowing full well he’ll use the same data in his next speech to brag about his Florida model.
Opponents would also have known that Bush would want to pitch the “transformative power of digital learning,” even though such programs are still in their infancy and have already proven to have flaws.
Opponents know that Bush wouldn’t have offered specifics and would have focused on themes, mantras and platitudes. Details of implementing these have already proved messy, controversial and divisive.
No republican dares challenge Bush’s education vision lest they suffer permanent ostracism. One only need to see what happened to Charlie Crist when he vetoed Bush’s teacher evaluation bill in 2010. Is such a fear-devotion dynamic a good thing for an entire political party? No republican can hazard to utter an unspeakable, “what if Jeb has been wrong?”