Fossils and 8-tracks
ORLANDO - Speaking to a supportive crowd today, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings portrayed their often-unpopular visions of reform as the best path to modernizing schools that aren't preparing students for an increasingly competitive world.
"Our mission is to ... question these fossilized traditions," said Spellings, a leading architect of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. "Our education system is in many ways trapped in the industrial age. We are still stuck in a rut of six hours a day, 180 days a year."
Said Bush: "The world is much more interconnected, much more technologically advanced, and it is much more inter-dependent. And yet our education system is an 8-track system living in an IPOD world."
The duo delivered their remarks during brief, keynote addresses at a summit organized by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an outfit Bush formed last year to attract a national spotlight to his efforts in Florida. Guests include dozens of influential policy wonks who believe more school choice and more high-stakes testing can help deliver a higher quality education to more students.
Bush spoke for only seven minutes before turning over the podium to Spellings, who mounted a vigorous, 16-minute defense of No Child Left Behind. The sweeping federal law - which includes heavy consequences for schools that don't meet federal standards - initially attracted broad, bipartisan support but has since come under withering, bipartisan fire.
Said Spellings: "No Child has clearly been a game changer. It has peeled the onion. It has brought transparency to our system ... We know a lot more today than we did six years ago. We're seeing hopeful improvements, but we're also exposing a dysfunctional system that often stifles talent instead of nurturing it and often reward ineffective teachers but offers few incentives for improvement."
After their remarks, Bush and Spellings briefly took questions from the audience, with former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, a Democrat, serving as moderator. When asked what she wanted to see in the next president of the United States, Spellings said "a president who will guard against benign neglect" and won't "go back to the ostrich approach."
"The president has to be the chief truth teller about the stakes, and the status" in education, she said.
The summit continues tomorrow. Bush is expected to speak again, along with his mother, Barbara Bush, and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
To see Spellings' full prepared remarks, click here.
- Ron Matus, state education reporter