Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gave a strong reaffirmation of his support for Common Core on Thursday, declaring that the controversial multi-state education standards represent the “new minimum” for what students must learn in the classroom.
Bush was in Washington, D.C. to give the opening address at the 2014 National Summit on Education Reform, a major gathering hosted by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the non-profit he founded and currently chairs.
Bush is widely believe to be mulling a 2016 presidential run, but recently such thoughts have been haunted by the specter of Common Core. Bush has backed the standards from the beginning, but they are increasingly despised by the Republican base Bush would have to appeal to in a primary battle. The disagreement threatens to tarnish Bush on the issue of education, which has previously been regarded as his great strength.
On Thursday, some speculated that Bush might shy away from the standards and focus on his other educational achievements, but he declined to do so. Instead, during his address he spent several minutes giving a full-throated defense of the standards. He declared that Common Core was essential to rolling back a current climate of low expectations for American high school graduates. Half of all community college students require remedial coursework, he said, while one-third of high school graduates can’t pass the military’s entrance examination and 600,000 skilled factory jobs are unfilled because there are no skilled employees able to take them.
“Given this reality, there is no question that we need higher academic standards,” Bush said. “In my view, the rigor of the Common Core State Standards must be the new minimum.” States should feel free to create their own standards, Bush said, but if they do they should aspire to make sure the standards go above and beyond Common Core.
Bush suggested that much of the opposition to Common Core has arisen from parents and schools being unwilling to expect more of students. He cited as an example Orange County, Florida, where last week administrators announced a new policy making the minimum grade in any class a 50 percent rather than a zero.
“This morning, over 213 million Chinese students went to school, and nobody debated whether academic expectations should be lowered in order to protect a student’s self-esteem,” Bush said. “An overriding concern for self-esteem instead of high expectations does not get to number one.”
Bush also offered a conciliatory hand towards foes of Common Core, saying that “nobody in this debate has a bad motive.” He then took pains to emphasize the many educational positions he shares with education reformers on the right, including support for aggressive school choice and teacher accountability. ”We need to pull together whenever we can,” he said, to overcome the entrenched, unionized, and politically powerful groups defending the educational status quo.