The point of the Bush initiatives was a) undermine funding for public education while b) using testing mandates like FCAT to drive teaching down. Instead of reforming and improving public education, the goal was to open the way for private, charter-based schools that advanced a collateral benefit: conservative, Christian theology.
In other areas of public life, Bush also "innovated" ways to turn public infrastructure -- water management is one -- into opportunities for profit; financial and political. The Republican establishment was so sure of that success, it invested nearly $150 million in Jeb's failed presidential primary. Trump seized the moment to characterize Jeb as "weak", but through his nominations to the Trump cabinet, he now reveals as more Bush, than Bush himself.
Today, two decades after Jeb Bush began tinkering with public education, the Trump administration has designated as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who has no experience teaching in public schools and never put a child of her own in a public school. She has given millions to conservative political causes and candidates.
Jeb Bush called Trump "the chaos candidate" and warned, during the presidential primary, that Trump would be a "chaos president". Bush, however, has been strongly supportive of DeVos who, it is expected, will be the same kind of the "bull-in-a-china-shop" to public education as Trump is, to the executive federal branch of government.
The wrecking crew is firmly in charge. The Trump years, if they last, will be chaotic. They will be democracy-crushing. And that, finally, will be the legacy of Jeb Bush and Florida voters.
Blame Jeb's 'belly flop' for teacher shortage | Opinion
Jac Wilder VerSteeg
ORLANDO SENTINEL, Feb 14 2017
Here's a recent headline from the Sun Sentinel: "Florida lawmakers seek ways to attract, keep teachers."
Florida lawmakers just can't seem to figure out why the state is losing so many teachers. Florida lawmakers sure are slow on the uptake.
Florida doesn't pay its teachers enough, it's true. But here's the bigger deal: Florida doesn't treat its public school teachers with respect. Florida does not treat its teachers like professionals.
It gets worse. Florida was a pioneer in this disrespect, and politicians nationally have followed Florida's woeful lead.
I trace the worst of this back to 1999, when Jeb Bush first became Florida's governor. Jeb is the godfather of high-stakes testing. Jeb turned the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test into the Creature that Ate Education.
Jeb used the test to determine the fates of students, teachers, administrators, schools and entire school districts even though the test was not designed for that purpose and was not valid for that purpose.
Over the years, the test has been revised and even replaced, but the basic fallacy continues. Testing — now under the label of the Florida Standards Assessment — is of top importance.
But don't expect Jeb to ever figure out how much damage he's done. Here's another headline from the Sun Sentinel: "Jeb Bush sees hope in Trump's choice for education secretary."
That story documented Jeb's appearance as the keynote speaker at the National Summit on Education reform. The summit was sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which, the story notes, "Bush founded and chairs."
The news story reported on Jeb's self-effacing humor, which is something I admire. He said he tried to win the GOP presidential nomination by running a positive, uplifting campaign, but that he "failed, miserably. I mean, like, belly flop — bam."
But another part of the news story made my jaw drop. It said that Bush "tied the need for education reform to the malaise that powered (Donald) Trump's rise." Said Bush, "There's a reason why people are anxious. There's a reason why they're angry. The basic institutions in their lives don't work the way they used to."
No, people aren't disgusted with schools because of the "need for reform." People are angry because of Jeb's bottom-line "reform" — the overload of high-stakes testing.
So it is satisfying, on one level, that Jeb's "reform" came back to belly-flop him politically. Satisfaction dissipates, though, because even as testing is being reduced in response to parent anger, the myth of failed public education that Jeb and others perpetrated to pave the way for their "reforms" continues to do damage.
And it probably is too late to undo it. Florida's system of corporate vouchers appears here to stay, even if (or perhaps because) those schools aren't held to the same accountability standards. Florida's growing system of charter schools will keep growing, even though charters don't do a better job than traditional public schools.
Even Florida's Supreme Court has signed on to the pattern of disrespect, refusing to grant teachers standing to demand a full hearing on the constitutionality of corporate vouchers. Even if the high court ultimately blessed the use of those vouchers, the justices at least owe teachers the courtesy of a full hearing at the highest level.
Now, we're reaching the point of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Parents and teachers are motivated to choose charter schools because they are more popular, because they draw the easiest students to teach, and they bask in legislative love.
Traditional schools will find it harder and harder to compete for the dwindling supply of excellent teachers — dwindling because of the meddling by Jeb and all those — up to and including the current Legislature and governor – who have followed in the footsteps of the godfather of testing.
It's not enough that the overall effect has been to undermine faith in public education and to erode the supply of teachers — both of which will hurt students. It's also the case that, if Jeb is right, the discontent helped to elect the spectacularly unqualified President Donald Trump, who installed the spectacularly unqualified Betsy DeVos as education secretary.
So what can we say, overall, about Jeb's reforms? Belly flop — bam.
Contact Jac Wilder VerSteeg at firstname.lastname@example.org.