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Jeb Bush: Partisanship in Washington 'embarrassing ... but you've gotta pay your debts'

8

October

Jeb Bush, in an interview with Brian Williams was asked about gridlock on Capitol Hill and the next struggle over the debt limit:

"I think in the next week, this is gonna get resolved. But it's embarrassing to see this play out as it has," Bush said. "And I respect, there's deep-- deeply-held views on this.  But you've gotta pay your debts.

"And so I think at the end of this, in a week, whenever the deadline may actually be later than the 17th.  Who knows.  I don't even know how they could actually create a date.  But assuming-- that in October, it has to be resolved, I believe it will be.  We still have the partisanship.  And so, my hope is that at least on a few things, we can find enough common ground to move on those and fight the fights and-- in the places where there's big disagreements."

Read the full transcript below in which Bush discusses Common Core and other education issues.

TRANSCRIPT: BRIAN WILLIAMS INTERVIEWS FORMER GOVERNOR JEB BUSH AT NBC NEWS' “EDUCATION NATION” SUMMIT

OCTOBER 8, 2013 – Brian Williams, Anchor and Managing Editor, "NBC Nightly News," sat down with former Governor and Chairman of Foundation for Excellence in Education Jeb Bush, today at NBC News’ “Education Nation” Summit to discuss "What It Takes" to develop a comprehensive, bipartisan agenda for improving education. The Summit took place at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman building.

The full transcript is below.

MANDATORY CREDIT: NBC NEWS

###

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Hi Governor, how are you?

JEB BUSH:

I was told to come out.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

We were yammering backstage.  We were yammering, I think-- is the word for it backstage--

JEB BUSH:

What does that mean?

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

It means we were talking too much.  And you and I both were introduced and weren't aware.

JEB BUSH:

Oh.  

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

So--

JEB BUSH:

My bad.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

I've been-- biding time out here.  First of all-- one of the topics that has dominated conversation at this gathering, this year, are these new numbers in The New York Times this morning.  Kind of-- a punch to the gut, kind of demoralizing considering how many people are in the game, yourself included, trying to make things better

JEB BUSH:

Yeah, I mean, I think the great challenge for our country is the lack of social mobility.  Which means that if you're born poor today, there's a higher probability you'll stay poor.  And if you're born rich, there's a higher probability you'll stay rich.  And that's not the America that people want.  And the one thing that we've gotta get right is to assure that mobility comes through-- high quality education.

And not enough young people are getting that.  And we're faced with this great challenge.  And it's mired like everything else, you know, in a political fight.  And I'm a participant in that I plead guilty in that because I fight my fight for the things I believe in.  But somehow we gotta get beyond that.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

What are the ideas out there that you like, however radical--

JEB BUSH:

Well-

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

--to increase social mobility?  Like-- throw everything on the table and erase ZIP code as a determinant of your future path in education?

JEB BUSH:

Well, that's what we need to fight that.  And that means, for example, I would say, if you're-- if we can use the R word-- I would say much more school choice-- where parents are empowered to make choices for their kids, irrespective the level of income. I think digital learning is another option that creates a competency-based learning model so that you don't create these huge learning gaps.

I would also say that there should be common ground on early childhood literacy so that you deal with the gaps early enough where they aren't overwhelming for teachers.  Elimination of social promotion in third grade, high standards for every kid, not just those that are already, in affluent families that everybody expects to do well.  But we should have lofty expectations for every kid, which means the implementation-- the faithful implementation of common-core state standards.  There's a whole range of things I think we need to get done.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

And we're gonna go back at two things you just said.  But first, I wanna give you an opportunity to brag on something I know was a big campaign for you.  And that is the elimination of social promotion after third grade.

JEB BUSH:

So in Florida, and most states, about a third of our kids are functionally illiterate.  We call them below basic or level one.  I mean, the terms don't sound-- like what they are.  Basically, there are too many kids, in Florida's case, about a third that were functionally illiterate.

Which meant that by the time they get to fourth grade, when they start learning, they're reading to learn, if you can't read, the expectations are gonna be pretty low.  So we had-- a pretty strong-- policy that said with some exceptions that kids had to be above basic readers. They had to be able to function in fourth grade.  And the strategies then around making sure that that happened changed Florida's-- situation dramatically.

It happened over relatively short two-year period.  So we cut in half the number of kids that were functionally literate in two-years time.  We measured it, which some people don't like, we actually tested to see if kids were reading.  Learn-- we put reading coaches in every school to teach teachers how to teach reading.  Kindergarten and first and second-grade teachers, so there were no tests for them.

But they were part of the strategy, 'cause you can't just do this in one year.  You have to start earlier.  And-- we probably have had, well, I'll tell you one of the-- you're talking about international tests, there's-- the Pearls Test that came out last year. Someone inside the Department of Education in Florida decided to over-sample Florida.

I wanna give them an award.  I don't know who they are.  We came in second in the world in fourth grade reading.  And it was because we've had this, "I'm not kidding" kind of-- harder-edge reform to our strategy.  And then we funded.  We put money in the early childhood-- area.  I think you need to do both.  You can't just say, "Well, we're gonna fund a lotta stuff."  You need to have consequences that are different between abject failure and improvement.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

You mentioned testing-- and before we get to Common Core, do you think as a practical matter, and this is an unfair, very broad question-- our kids, our teachers are over-measured, our kids are over-tested?

JEB BUSH:

No, I don't.  A lotta parents disagree with me on this because they're told over and over again, a lotta states have one test in Florida, and then a lot of test at the local level.  And the state test is the one that has consequences.  So that's the place where there's the greatest target.  But if you don't measure, in my mind, you don't care.

And in the world, I know this is gonna sound really tough.  It's like-- my dad would say it's like-- it's an "eat your broccoli" moment, where you actually-- testing is part of life.  You wanna join the military?  You gotta take a test.  You wanna be a professional?  You gotta take a test.  You wanna get into college?  You gotta take a test.  Measuring is not a bad thing.  Now, if you have a whole system that's organized around teaching to the test rather than teaching to standards, that's where the problem exists.  It's not the test itself.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Now-- you raised-- Common Core.  By the way, if you're an anchorman and you wanna get in trouble in this group, you go on the air--

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

-go on the air as I did last night and call it-- I hesitate to even repeat the error in this room--

JEB BUSH:

Yeah, don't call it national--

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

I called it Common Core Curriculum.

JEB BUSH:

Oh.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Yeah.  

JEB BUSH:

Oh.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Well, okay, easy, easy. And I quickly--

JEB BUSH:

That hurts.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

We got off the air, and of course, I am married to Jane Williams, host of Bloomberg EDU with Jane Williams.  And my Blackberry lit up, and I asked that the writer be found and fired.  And-- the answer back from the newsroom that I-- had in fact written it.  So--  I apologize to the community.  I know better.  And it was a long, difficult night in our household last night.  About Common Core, not even gonna use the word "standard."  Common Core.

JEB BUSH:

Common Core State Standard.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Yes.  What's the problem?  I hear them called, "ObamaCore," I saw a sign that we aired last night, a protester, "No Fed Ed."  And yet, Tom Brokaw and Rex Tillerson, the C.E.O. of Exxon Mobil, Rex has 77,000 employees.  He said today he might be prone in the future to only hire people that came out of Common Core states.

JEB BUSH:

Well, first of all, the President of the United States called them Common Core Curriculum.  So you can get a pass doin' it one time.  This was at the State of the Union Address.  It was a mistake because it preyed into this fear that the federal government is overreaching into what traditionally is a place, you know, that local control is really dominant.

You can have high, lofty expectations that are voluntarily created, that are national in scope.  And then the curriculum can be designed in the classroom, in the school, local level.  That's the football is played with a set of rules.  But how you get into the end zone, how you win games is created each team has a different approach.

And that's what we need to have is one higher lofty expectation, in my mind, as many states as possible.  Much higher than what we have today.  And then let a thousand flowers bloom about how to develop the strategies to assure that this really diverse student population-- gains the power of knowledge.  So to me, if we lower expectations, which effectively, we've done for the last generation, no other reform really matters.

We have to have to benchmark ourselves to the best in the world and assume and believe in our heart that we can achieve that rather than excuse away failure, which is what the system and the country and the complacency that exist has done.  So Rex Tillerson is, you know, I admire a guy who could be doin' other things.  Got a pretty big job-- to be focused on this.  The military is another place where you'll find that people in the military and leadership positions say, "We gotta have higher standards."

We have too many kids that can't enlist.  And then if you look at the outcomes that we have in our competitive posture, this is something that is a first step.  Look, I understand why people are fearful of testing, fearful of data, access to data, that somehow it's an invasion of privacy, fearful of the Department of Education in Washington getting too involved, all that stuff.

That's fine.  But we should put away our fears a little bit and aspire to something for once and for all.  I mean, this is a great country.  But we're acting like a declining country when it comes to education.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Do you fear it's getting hijacked?  When you start hearing, especially in light of--

JEB BUSH:

See the tire marks on my forehead?

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

You've-- especially--

JEB BUSH:

My guess is most people here are not as conservative as I am.  Maybe-- I hope there are a few. This is a fight on the right. This is not a happy, little place where we're having a debating society. This is a fight.  And not enough people are steppin' up.  And on the left, you know, people don't wanna have accountability.

So someone said, "National standards--" which is kinda what this is-- "Conservatives don't like national, liberals don't like standards."  And there's a center there's a right and left coalition fighting for-- this, and there's a right and left coalition totally against it.  And right now, I would say, it's a draw at best.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Do you fear it is getting, to coin a term, ObamaCare -- if we're calling it "ObamaCore," for seeing that more and more in the public realm?

JEB BUSH:

I would prefer not to--engage in a political discussion about this.  This should be above and beyond politics.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

I'll ask you something that is tinged with politics because we're talking here in the midst of a government shutdown.  Houston Family Foundation steps forward yesterday to fund Head Start to the tune of $10 million.

JEB BUSH:

Is that the Arnold (UNINTEL) fund-

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Yeah.  I mean-- it's good news-- bad news--

JEB BUSH:

He can afford it.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

It also tells us--

JEB BUSH:

He's a great guy--

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Doesn't--

JEB BUSH:

--and he can afford it.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

And doesn't it also tell us what pathetic times we're living in?

JEB BUSH:

No, we're in difficult times where there's a gridlock that's based on-- partisanship.  I think in the next week, this is gonna get resolved.  But it's embarrassing to see this play out as it has.  And I respect, there's deep-- deeply-held views on this.  But you've gotta pay your debts.

And so I think at the end of this, in a week, whenever the deadline may actually be later than the 17th.  Who knows.  I don't even know how they could actually create a date.  But assuming-- that in October, it has to be resolved, I believe it will be.  We still have the partisanship.  And so, my hope is that at least on a few things, we can find enough common ground to move on those and fight the fights and-- in the places where there's big disagreements.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

The day of the shooting, the emotionally-disturbed woman who lost her life on Capitol Hill, there was a standing ovation in support of the Capitol police led by Steny Hoyer, joined by both parties.  Two hours later, they were back to floor remarks, hitting each other on the government shutdown.

JEB BUSH:

So what I believe is that every child has-- God has given them the ability to learn.  And we, as adults, need to organize ourselves to assure that they do.  And that should be a place where there is no disagreement.  And if that's the case, if we believe that, then let's forge a new strategy to assure that that happens.  And we'll let the politics play out in Washington.

And by the way, the politics in other places doesn't seem to be like this.  I mean, you go to state capitals, I know you have governors here, they have big fights.  They have big disagreements.  But they forge consensus at the end of the day far easier than it appears Washington.  So thankfully, the contagion hasn't spread across the land yet.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

This is your-- passion, you've been very good to us to-- by joining us-- year after year at this-- summit.  A couple years back, all the talk was about saving failing schools.  And while it's always with us-- this year we've gotten Tangentialized and there's several other topics.  But it remains a big deal to you.  Can you report any good news from the front

JEB BUSH:

Yeah, I would say that the states that have embraced robust accountability and have funded education, funded the things that are on the forefront of reform, have seen improvements.  That we've seen learning games in some parts of the country.  But the gaps are huge.  And there's a long way to go.  There's no question that there's been some progress.  But it's not enough to pause and celebrate.  This is a long-term struggle.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

In all your travels, is there any municipality, any state we should put in a frame and gaze at it and praise them for their work?

JEB BUSH:

I'd say Louisiana has been the place where there's been the greatest effort to open up the system, to empower parents, to have higher standards, to include, for example, course credits so that in places where they may not have access to higher-quality courses this year, starting this year-- parents and students can choose options that aren't available in the traditional schools.

There's been great-- they grade schools.  They ended social promotion as well.  John White, who's the superintendent of education has done a spectacular job, and Bobby Jindal deserves credit as well.  So that would be one example, but many places are-- are working hard.  And again, this-- I think, you know, not just Republican governors but Democratic governors that make it a high priority see learning gains as well

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Let's go inside the classroom.  You and I are of an ilk and an era where it couldn't have been more linear.  Desks, if you were lucky, with a folding top, but certainly an open front, in rows.

JEB BUSH:

What did you put in yours when you opened it up?

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

I really can't comment on that.  And a teacher at the front of the classroom.  I was blessed.  Looking back, we had a pretty good male/female mix and the lack of male teachers is a topic that came up at the teacher town hall Sunday.  But very linear.  Chalk on a board, erased, cleaned by those of us who did something bad during the day, and then ready for the next day.  Fortunately, new technologies have come to the fore.  What do you think the risks are of going all in too far, embracing too much, allowing smartphone usage-- among every kid in the room?

JEB BUSH:

I think there's gotta be some controls on this, but we shouldn't be fearful of embracing 21st-century technologies for 21st-centuries students.  I mean, when we were young, and that was a long, long time ago--

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Yeah, steam had just been invented.

JEB BUSH:

Yeah, exactly.  So it was a pretty homogeneous group of people.  Today, the diversity of students-- is phenomenal.  It should be embraced.  It's something that we should be celebrating.  And-- but it requires-- moving to a student-centered system where children are pushed to their own abilities in their own way, in their own time.  You can move to a competency-based learning system today.

Whereas, one teacher in front of 25 kids 50 years ago, we all learned the same thing, we had to learn the same way, now that's the potential is there to do it differently.  And I think we shouldn't be fearful of this.  We should have good regulation to make sure that fly-by-night people don't, you know, come in and rip off the public.  There should be good assessments to assure that-- kids are learning.  But digital learn I think in the classroom particularly has to be part of the solution to accelerate learning.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Here again, we run smack into poverty.  We run into poor towns with poor schools full of poor kids with bad infrastructure, and especially the pipes and the wires that carry the web.

JEB BUSH:

So-- the federal government has proposed some reforms and the E-Rate system.  I think that-- there'scer-- you know, and now they've also proposed raising taxes for some odd reason, but it's-- put that aside for a moment.  Maybe it's time to look at that source of revenue as a way to expand broadband into the schools and then into the classroom.  Because there is a digital divide in that regard.

But we spend more per student than any country in the world.  So maybe we reallocate the money towards the things that we want more of.  That's what's missing is a pause and say, "If we weren't doin' it this way, how would we do it?"  That's the joyful part of being involved in this effort and encouraging people to think differently is to ask that question and see the answers that come up.

I see Julie Young here, who's the head of the Florida Virtual School, the largest virtual school in the country.  Without a bunch of fanfare, she, last year, I think had 500,000 course credits given to the students across the state.  Many of them would never have gotten the quality course-- in their traditional school without having that access.  I mean, that's a small but important step.  Every state ought to be embracing that kind of idea.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

Why this line of work, why this calling, and why you?  I need not remind you--

JEB BUSH:

--that last part.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

--you come from a family of two presidents and-- and a painter, we now learned.  And afamily that has already-- given much and received much from the United States.  You seem on this issue, folks who've come to know you very well, post your career in politics, to be very highly engaged, enough so to almost label this your life's work.

JEB BUSH:

Well, I'm a little obsessive about it because I think it's the key to the restoration of our country's greatness.  I can't think of a single more important thing to be involved in.  Brian, you were at the conventions last year.  You heard stirring speeches about the American dream, and American exceptionalism.

All of which I believe, but it's not a dream come true for a whole lotta people who are stuck in poverty or who haven't been challenged the way that they need to be to assure that their dreams come true as well.  It just troubles me to no end to think that this country in a developed world is the least socially mobile.  That's not who we are.

That's not who we think we are, that's not how we wanna be.  But yet, we've allowed this to happen because we've really focused on the economic interests of the adults.  I don't wanna breakup-- you know, a nice party here, but frankly, this is-- this has to change.  There has to be a child-centered focus on education.  And all of the economics for adults, which are pretty darn good-- need to be put, you know, way back on the list of priorities.

And if we got that right, I think we can excuse away why some kids are learnin', but I don't think it stands the test of time.  I honestly believe we can develop strategies where more kids learn, not just that the kids in poverty, but kids in the middle, kids at the top, we should be having higher expectations for every child.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

So leave these folks with a charge.  Of all the things you just mentioned, and I see at least one combat infantry badge in the crowd, this is not a crowd of shrinking violets.  These guys can get things done.  What is the number one, most urgent thing--

JEB BUSH:

I--

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

-can do?

JEB BUSH:

I would say we should be advocating systemic change.  And then have a system of accountability where we measure success, but don't dictate how it's done.  My guess is the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit of America would come to the forefront.  And you'd see all sorts of interesting strategies that exist right now, but they're always on the margins, because we have, 13,174 government-run monopolies that the governance model in 2013, really?

We really think that that's the best governance model?  To have these public, heavily unionized-- political-driven institutions, that the means by which we assure this diverse group of kids learn?  I would argue that innovation happens better and more often-- with greatest speed and more open systems.  And so don't be shy about challenging the very governance of how we organize our schools.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

On that note, I have to stay here 'cause I'm doing the next segment as well.  You are free

JEB BUSH:

I'm outta here?

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

--to go with our everlasting thanks for making this a part of your--

JEB BUSH:

Thank you guys.

BRIAN WILLIAMS:

--yearly agenda.  Thank you.

 

[Last modified: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 9:11pm]

    

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