SOUTH BEND - In order to improve the nation’s struggling schools, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is urging Indiana and other states to be bold, think big and create a climate of sustained reform.
There are plenty of excuses for why American schools don’t produce results, including blaming poverty, students’ home life and self-esteem issues, according to Bush.
“In Florida, we tried to close this culture of excuses, of pessimism. We tried to create a culture of high achievement for all students,” he said Monday during an address at the University of Notre Dame.
Bush’s presentation focused on his Florida Formula for Student Achievement, a series of steps he said have worked to dramatically improve public schools in that state and are workable for other states. Some of those reforms now are serving as models for other states.
He spoke as part of the 2011-2012 Notre Dame Forum, a series of events focusing on ways to improve K-12 education.
America’s students are about evenly split among three groups, Bush said: a third graduate and smoothly transition to college, a third need significant remediation to move on and a third drop out of high school.
Bush’s education reform as governor, known as the A+ Plan, required standardized testing in Florida’s public schools, eliminated social promotion and awarded letter grades A through F to every school based on performance.
If a school earned an “F” two years in a row, parents could choose to send their children to a better public school or to a private school. The net result of expanded school choice was higher student achievement, he said.
Bush urged efforts to modernize the teaching profession.
“Move it away from a union-driven collective-bargaining process that is focused on the economic interest of the teacher. Don’t get me wrong. That’s what unions are for,” he said.
Fifteen to 20 states have adopted some aspects of Florida’s reform, including Indiana, Bush said. He praised Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ school reform efforts, which include grading schools and a voucher system.
The former governor urged Notre Dame leaders toward three goals: to become the largest online provider of rigorous college preparatory courses for students around the world; become the leading university in training educators to teach digitally; and tapping into the talent of alumni to advance education reform and digital learning in their home communities.
Bush said he is most passionate about the future of digital education - using computer technology to allow students to learn at their own pace, take subjects that aren’t available at their own school and reduce the need for costly textbooks.
He believes digital schooling will become a huge part of the education landscape in the next decade, although he said it won’t replace traditional schools.
Bush, 58, is now president of a consulting firm and serves a chair of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.
Staff writer Margaret Fosmoe: