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Jeb Bush's education reforms bomb (rough draft)

A few months back I asked then education commissioner Gerard Robinson why higher standards (i.e. Jeb Bush reforms) got so much credit for Florida’s improvement and not the people enacted class size amendment. What he said really caught me off guard.

He replied, to me it is a combination of both.

This was remarkable because for a while our state government tried to do away with the amendment and when they couldn’t do that they seriously watered it down. The chair of the state board of education Gary Chartrand, who went from top 50 in grocery store news to running our schools, is even on record saying that there is no evidence that says smaller classes work. Strange, because smaller classes, not vouchers, not charter schools and not merit pay, is the only reform being used in Florida with evidence that says it really does work.

A few months later Robinson is out of a job, Jeb Bush is touring the nation saying look at me and my reforms and never once mentions that the class size amendment may have played a role..

He might have continued to do so unchecked had the federal government not dropped a bomb on Florida.

In case you missed it the fed announced Florida’s graduation rate and it was abysmal. We were behind academic powerhouses such as Mississippi and Alabama and came in at a less than stellar 45th place. Coincidently enough the National Center for Education Statistics puts us at 42nd in per pupil spending. I bet Jeb Bush doesn’t mention those things as he sells his Florida miracle.

If you ask me the only real miracle going on is why anybody gives him the time of day. After over a decade of Jeb Bush’s blame the teacher, close the school, privatize education, reforms, Florida graduates just 70 percent of its kids. Why are people still listening to him? How does he have any credibility?

This man is so disconnected from reality he recently compared education to buying milk. At the National Republican Presidential Conference he said, Everywhere in our lives, we get the chance to choose. Go down any supermarket aisle - you’ll find an incredible selection of milk. You can get whole milk, 2% milk, low-fat milk or skim milk. Organic milk, and milk with extra Vitamin D. There’s flavored milk — chocolate, strawberry or vanilla — and it doesn’t even taste like milk. They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk. Shouldn’t parents have that kind of choice in schools?

Gary Chartrand who as I previously noted, knows something about grocery stores probably loved this but for people who know something about education and who care about public education this was horrifying. The problem is he is not really talking about choice. He is talking about privatization. He is talking about replacing public schools with private schools that avoid accountability like Gary Chartrad avoids facts and charter schools most of which are run by for profit companies that siphon money out of public schools and who are more interested in their bottom lines than educating children and who fail at a rate seven times greater than public schools.

Some people might point to the fact our graduation rate has gone up since Bush was elected back in 1998 and enacted his education reforms which is true, though I hope these aren’t the same people who discount the class size amendment. I would also like to point out that our graduation rate has leveled off in recent years and this coincides with the Florida legislature gutting the class size amendment. Furthermore ask yourself do schools seem better now than they were 15 years ago? The truth is that when schools don’t have to worry about being closed they are a little more discriminating with who they graduate. The rate might be up but the quality of a high school education is way down.

Jeb Bush also likes to say if it wasn’t for the interference of teacher’s unions Florida would be doing even better. Teachers unions by the way supported the class size amendment, again the only reform with evidence that says it works while Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature sought to first cancel and then undermine it. I also want to remind everybody that teachers unions don’t create budgets, hire or fire teachers or set policy, no Jeb Bush and the republican dominated legislature have done that here in Florida for the last 14 years and it is them that has led us to where we are now.

We live in a state that threatens to close low performing schools, rather than fix them and replace them with publically funded private schools (charters) that don’t have the same accountability and who for the most part are staffed with an ever rotating roster of novice teachers or what people in education call the opposite of best practices.

We live in a state that is test obsessed, that sees hundreds of millions of dollars annually taken out of the classroom and given to testing giant Pearson. That has seen us gut the teaching of the arts, skills and trades in favor of remedial math and English (while cutting money for summer school) and put every child into a one size, regardless of ability, aptitude or desire, curriculum.

We live in a state that is okay with sucking the joy of learning out of students and the joy of teaching out of teachers and where teachers have gone from valued and respected members of the community to easily replaceable money hungry cogs whose only concern is to protect their jobs; where their experience, education and opinions don’t matter.

We live in a state where the high standards has produced more graduates that have to take remedial classes in college (60% of them) or who have graduated ill prepared for anything.

And finally after 14 years of Jeb Bush’s reforms we live in a state our graduation rate is a disheartening 70%, though if you are a black male then subtract 12 from that number.

Closed schools, broken neighborhoods, a demoralized and disrespected teacher workforce, cookie cutter fly by night charter schools and too many kids wrecked lives are what Jeb Bush and his reforms have created and to think otherwise is to be okay with having more bombs dropped on Florida and if Jeb Bush has his way across the nation too!

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

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