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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Jeb, vouchers, Martians and food fights



Jebbush So where does former Gov. Jeb Bush stand on universal vouchers – the idea that all students should get vouchers? Ultimately, is that the best way to get more kids the education they need? We don't know.

The Gradebook asked the former governor at the Orlando summit yesterday, but Bush didn't say yes or no. Maybe Bush has answered this question before, but if so, we haven't seen his response.

We weren't gunning for a gotcha. The question was intended as a starting point: Will more vouchers mean more competition and more improvement? Does Florida have enough vouchers to maximize competition and improvement? Should it wait to see what more research shows before it offers more? (Are these reasonable questions?)

We also thought it relevant given that voucher opponents routinely bring up the Trojan Horse argument about Florida's current voucher programs, which are targeted to poor, minority and disabled kids. How in the world could anyone be against them? Because, opponents say, it's step one towards the vouchers-for-everyone that some folks do see as a solution.

Read on for Bush's response in its entirety.

- Ron Matus, state education reporter

Do you think every kid should be able to get a voucher? Is that something you'd like to see as a goal at some point in the future, an offer of a voucher to every family?

Bush: I don't think that's realistic. But I think a customized learning experience, a student-centered, student-driven system …

Let me start over, Ron. If you were a Martian, and parachuted down, and you were an expert on business systems or an expert on education for that matter, and you were sent by the Martian government to study other places and you landed here, and you were asked to report back, you would not design this system.

And if you were focused on how can we assure that every child is going to get the kind of quality education for them to be successful, it probably wouldn't be 180 days, it wouldn't be seat-driven, it wouldn't necessarily have the teachers being taught the way they're taught in universities to be trained. You'd give them different skills so that they were equipped to deal with the world. You'd use technology more. It probably would be life long. It would merge into a workforce development area. So that the obsolete industries that are - not to bring up a sore subject, but like newspapers - where you can retrain people to take new skills and whether you're 50 or 40 or 18 is not as relevant.

Think about it, we're stuck with what we had because that's just the way it is. But it wouldn't be this system. It wouldn't be the system that looks like something very similar to the system that existed in 1950.

And so, back to the question of vouchers: Maybe it's a system that has significant taxpayer support. Maybe it's a hybrid of public and private. Maybe it shouldn't even matter. Maybe that's not even the relevant point. Maybe the focus ought to be on outcomes rather than inputs. And if we could get to that debate, where we were heralding the success of learning and not so focused on where that learning took place, that to me would be victory. Because that's where we need to be. We need to be learning in different ways, and learning more things with greater rigor than we have today.

But do you think universal vouchers, or something approaching …

Bush: (Cuts off question) See you're, that's the paradigm we're in now. And that's the debate, and that's why you're here probably.

But is that the best way to get to that customized education you're talking about?

Bush: I'm waiting for the Martian consultant result to come back. Because the story line is then not about learning. It's about this it's threatening. When it doesn't have to be threatening. What I would like to say is that after eight years of being governor, and many years prior to that of being in the fight for education reform, and since then, through this foundation, what I'd like to say is that can't we just agree for a moment whether we believe in more school choice or not, whether we believe in reform to a degree or we don't, that it's got to get better.

Can't we start with the premise that the outcomes we have, that the level of learning for the great majority of kids, is not working? And if we start from there, and we get beyond the current food fight, I think we'd get a different result. So I think you know my views on these things. You just want me to say it publicly so that's the story line in the article. You'll probably do it anyways.

That certainly wasn't my intent. We know you're passionate about vouchers. But I don't know that we know to what extent …

Bush: (Cuts off question) I actually do read y'all's work online. I'm passionate about vouchers for the catalyst it brings to learning. That's not what comes out. So just as I think the conversation about these issues needs to be deeper, and a little more interesting, so too do I think the coverage of it needs to be a little less sterile and a little less confrontational and a little more focused on the bigger issues. I don't ascribe bad motives to people that don't agree with my views on this. Nor should they. And part of the reason is I think the coverage of this is focused on this political battle rather than the broader results. So, I gave it my best shot.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:48am]


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