“There’s an unspoken right in our country,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told attendees at the Mackinac Policy Conference in Michigan Wednesday.
“That is the right to rise. The right for all Americans to reach their full potential.”
Bush gave a keynote speech to the audience of business leaders, spending much of his time talking about education. He’s behind two groups that have set out to change education – the Foundation for Florida’s Future and the Foundation for Excellence in Education.
He stayed on point with his message: School choice, merit-based pay for teachers, and higher academic standards are good; Unions and social promotion of students are bad.
Bush said being competitive in a global economy means measuring everything American students do against the best students in the world.
“Higher standards is a key element of that. The Common Core State Standards are clear and straight forward,” Bush said. “They will allow for more innovation in the classroom; less regulation. They’ll equip students to compete with their peers across the globe.”
“Do not pull back. Please do not pull back from high, lofty standards,” said Bush, acknowledging the backlash of late against Common Core.
“The greatest mistake we make in public education is underestimating the capacity of our children to learn. When we do that, particularly with our at risk kids,” Bush said, “we take from them the right to rise.”
Bush said America isn’t rising to the challenge, because only 4 in 10 kids who “go through the most expensive education process in the world” are ready for college or a career by the end of 12th grade.
“We worry way too much about whether our kids have self-esteem. Other countries worry about whether their kids have a deep understanding of algebra and physics,” Bush said. “They’re preparing their children for a very competitive 21st century economy where the most skilled and educated workforces will dominate.”
He also criticized America’s adult-centered education system.
“We’re not building capacity for the next generation and in doing so, we’re imperiling our own future,” Bush said. “This is, in fact, in large part due to a public education system that dumbs down standards for kids to make adults look better.”
Bush said education is the only government program capable of curing poverty. “90 percent of people on welfare and 75 percent of Americans on food stamps are high school dropouts,” he said.
He talked about Florida’s system of holding back 3rd graders who can’t read. He said students who go on to 4th grade not knowing how to read have a tough time closing the achievement gap with their peers.
“Yet in this country, half of our African-American and Hispanic 4th graders are functionally illiterate,” Bush said. “America as we know it is not sustainable if we do not address this one issue.”
“We must raise expectations for all children in the form of more rigorous academic standards at all grade levels in all key subjects,” Bush said. “We can move the needle if we shake the complacency and eliminate the political correctness that makes it – I guess – acceptable in refined company to say that some kids can learn and some kids can’t.”