Friday, May 7, 2021

Jeb Bush follows Common Core trajectory


I hope Jeb Bush will continue his campaign for president, but at this point, it doesn’t look like that’s a strong possibility. The New Hampshire primary could be the last vote with him in the running, depending on the outcome.

Jeb Bush in Philadelphia, 2012 (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

“If [presidential candidate and Senator Marco] Rubio [of Florida] beats him badly in New Hampshire, Jeb is toast,” the New York Times quoted Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a Bush backer who spent most of Tuesday traveling the state with him, as saying. Mr Graham added that Mr Bush must either “tie Rubio or beat him” in New Hampshire.

I say the signs aren’t strongly in Mr Bush’s favor, because at an event in New Hampshire last week, he asked the audience to “please clap” after an applause line fell flat. And then, in a debate yesterday, he asked New Jersey Gov Chris Christie, “Why don’t you mention my name so I can get into this?” in order for him to take advantage of a common debate rule.

(As an educator, I thought, when I saw Mr Bush deliver the “please clap” line, that his words and body language were frighteningly similar to teachers of the year saying the PARCC tests were a “step in the right direction” for children, as Voxitatis reported.)

But before he drops his campaign, I want to talk about Mr Bush’s stand on the Common Core State Standards, which he has largely supported, as have I. He has since his initial push for the standards found them to be toxic to a run for the presidency, and his brother, President George W Bush, rejected the idea of a set of learning standards that would be shared by every state in the nation. Jeb Bush, though, has championed the standards in our public schools.

And as the tests we use to measure students’ progress against the Common Core—the PARCC tests in a handful of states, the Smarter Balanced tests in a few more, and other state-based assessments—fall about as flat as Mr Bush’s applause lines, I have a great opportunity to talk about what’s happening.

Look, the Republican Party of 2016 doesn’t look anything like the Republican Party of President George W Bush and even less like the party of his father, President George HW Bush. Nor does the Common Core on the PARCC tests look anything like math and English, students’ understanding of which the tests purport to measure. In fact, federal law requires them to measure students’ understanding of those learning standards.

Whereas students and their parents aren’t really aware of the standards of learning that make up the actual Common Core, Republican voters aren’t really aware of the policy positions that Jeb Bush would endorse as president. We voters have no idea what he would do with Obamacare, despite the fact that he told us long ago what he would propose to replace it.

My point is that nobody’s talking about the merits of his plan or the lack thereof. Nobody’s reporting what it would do to the 17 million Americans who would lose insurance coverage the day he signs legislation to repeal Obamacare. Nobody seems to notice that his idea would eliminate required coverage for treatments that now have a solid footing under Obamacare, treatment for new mothers or mental health coverage, for instance. And that’s because nobody’s taking the man, Jeb Bush, seriously at this point.

It’s the same with the Common Core. Nobody’s talking about the actual Common Core, because the only subject in our national dialog that tops the education field’s obsession over the PARCC tests is the Republican Party’s fascination with trash-talking President Obama, who, incidentally, isn’t running for a third term, unbeknownst to several Republican presidential contenders whose last name isn’t Bush.

Teachers need to keep the learning standards separate in their minds from the tests in order to give the proper attention to both the standards, which should be looked at and talked about by teachers, and to the tests, which should be handled by any government that wants accountability data or by the testing industry.

That is, there are many problems with Obamacare that need to be solved, just as there are many problems with the tests that need to be solved. I’ve documented a few of them in the last week or so, but as more research can be done and is made available, we’ll keep you posted.

Federal law requires that students be tested in math and English, and with the PARCC tests, we aren’t reliably and validly measuring how well students understand the Common Core standards in math or English. This is especially true on the PARCC tests in math, where student responses in algebra 1, algebra 2, and geometry, don’t look anything like the math they learn in school or the math that we’re required to test them on under federal law.

But just as Republicans’ obsession with a president who has one foot out the door shouldn’t get in the way of a healthcare debate, teachers shouldn’t let the public’s obsession with the tests or their multitude of deficiencies take their focus away from the learning standards. If we draw teachers into the discussion about these tests, which could very well be, like President Obama, heading for the exit, we take those teachers away from working on the standards.

In Maryland and Illinois—where primaries are so late that Jeb Bush is likely to be a footnote by the time we vote—the math and English standards are the ones in the Common Core. The standards are flawed, but we won’t be able to give any revisions proper consideration until we can stop obsessing over the tests, which are required by the federal government. Whatever president we elect, he or she will have to enforce that law properly.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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