ORLANDO — U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush rallied the troops Thursday, telling a supportive crowd that their often-unpopular visions of reform are the best path to modernizing schools.
"The world is much more interconnected, much more technologically advanced and it is much more interdependent," Bush told a packed ballroom at a Disney resort. "And yet our education system is an eight-track system living in an iPod world."
The duo delivered brief, keynote addresses at a summit organized by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which Bush formed last year.
Among the 400 guests expected to attend over two days were dozens of policy wonks who believe more school choice and testing can help deliver a higher quality education to more students.
Spellings mounted a vigorous defense of No Child Left Behind.
"It's right and it's righteous," she said.
Spellings was a leading architect of the 2002 federal law, which initially won broad, bipartisan support but has since come under withering, bipartisan fire. It requires every state to annually test students in math and reading, and to break down results by race and income level. High-poverty schools that don't meet federal standards face consequences
Spellings called No Child a "game changer" because it has forced schools to take a hard look at who is and isn't succeeding — and what is and isn't working.
In Florida, Bush began installing his brand of accountability three years before No Child. Between 1999 and 2007, he led the charge for vouchers, charter schools, school grades and teacher merit pay — all topics for discussion at the summit.
The result: Angry teachers, frustrated parents, a still-smoking battle over vouchers and national test score gains that are among the country's biggest.
Speaking with reporters later, Bush weighed in on three proposed constitutional amendments, all education related, that are set for statewide vote in November.
Bush allies on the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission led the effort for two of them, which would rewrite language in the state Constitution that courts used to strike down the first of three Bush-backed voucher programs.
If passed, Amendments 7 and 9 would shift the policy debate over vouchers back to the Legislature, where Bush says it should be.
Bush also favors Amendment 5, which would eliminate local property taxes for schools, but require the Legislature to replace the funding through higher sales tax, budget cuts or other revenue sources.