Putting Education Reform To The Test

How Jeb Bush Stood Up To ALEC For National Education Standards

Joe Raedle / Getty Images News

Former Vice President Dick Cheney speaks to American Legislative Exchange Council members in 2003.

Last summer, a multi-state legislative group was meeting in New Orleans to hammer out a list of education priorities.

The group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, includes both lawmakers and corporate members who favor limited government and free market policies.

On their agenda in New Orleans was a resolution opposing the still-developing Common Core national education standards, according to Education Week.

And that got former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s attention.

Bush wrote a letter to committee members asking them to abandon their plans to officially condemn Common Core. The committee took Bush’s advice last year, though ALEC has since opposed Common Core.

UPDATE: ALEC education task force director Adam Peshak says that a task force approved a resolution opposing Common Core in December, but the Board of Legislators has yet to vote on the resolution. The resolution is not ALEC policy until the board votes, Peshak says. More on those distinctions here and here.

The incident is an example of the unique national position Bush occupies on education. He’s able to work with Democratic groups — such as on federal Race To The Top grants — while standing up to the conservative wing of his own Republic Party on issues Bush supports, such as Common Core.

“Whether it’s Common Core standards or other issues,” Bush said, “where you’re trying to force change to yield a greater chance for students to learn – which is the ultimate objective here – and put pressure on the system, there are those that are uncomfortable about that.

“As that debate began, I did get asked to intervene,” he said.

Common Core is an initiative of the National Governors Association and other groups to revamp state curriculum so that U.S. graduates are as prepared as those in higher-performing countries.

All but five states — Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia — have signed on to the initiative.

Many ALEC members worry Common Core cedes control of curriculum to the federal government. Researchers, such as the University of Arkansas’ Jay P. Greene, argue there’s no evidence that Common Core standards are more rigorous.

Common Core may outline nationwide standards, Bush and other supporters said, but it’s still up to the states to decide how to implement those standards. No control is being lost to the federal government. States chose whether or not to participate in Common Core.

State of Florida

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

“There’s a legitimate, honest debate about Common Core standards,” Bush said. [“We] do not believe that the federal government’s influence is strong at all and that higher standards that are benchmarked to the world are really where we need to be.”

ALEC has become a bogeyman for education historian Diane Ravitch and others opposing the sweeping education overhaul debated in many states and school districts. The group’s corporate and lobbyist partners often write model legislation for lawmakers to introduce in their home states.

Bush disagrees with ALEC on Common Core, but said he supports their priorities.

“Well ALEC, first of all, is not this nefarious group I read about in blogs and all this vast right-wing conspiracy stuff,” Bush said. “ALEC is a group of reform-minded center-right legislators that convene. They have a policy focus.

“I don’t know if there’s a group like that on the left, but there should be. Elected officials should be focused on policy.”

Read the letter he wrote to members of ALEC’s education reform subcommittee last year:

CLARIFICATION: This post was updated to clarify ALEC’s official stance on Common Core as of June 4.


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