Jeb Bush’s milk controversy picks up steam

From the Washington Post, By Valerie Strauss

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said pretty much what you’d expect him to say about education reform at the GOP convention — schools are failing and teachers unions are bad — but you might not have expected:

Everywhere in our lives, we get the chance to choose. Go down any supermarket aisle – you’ll find an incredible selection of milk. You can get whole milk, 2% milk, low-fat milk or skim milk. Organic milk, and milk with extra Vitamin D. There’s flavored milk — chocolate, strawberry or vanilla — and it doesn’t even taste like milk. They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk. Shouldn’t parents have that kind of choice in schools?

Bush doesn’t quite mean that we get to choose “everywhere in our lives”; he believes in choice for schools and milk but not for women who want abortions (except in the case of rape and incest).

Bush has actually given the same school-milk spiel before, but this is the first time a national audience has heard just exactly how he really views public schools. Bush has been a national leader in the damaging movement that seeks to reform public education — a civic institution — in the model of for-profit businesses.

In fact, in March 2011, when Wisconsin teachers were battling with Gov. Scott Walker after he moved to strip them of most of their collective-bargaining rights, President Obama flew to Florida and shared a stage with Bush. Obama even called Bush a “champion of education reform.” Thursday night, of course, Bush slammed Obama in his speech, saying his policies have failed but never mentioning how much the two men have in common on school reform.

Here are some other things Bush said in his speech — and things he didn’t say:

* Insisting that American schools are failing, he threw out statistics such as: “Of 34 advanced nations in the world, American students rank 17th in science, 25th in math.” But he didn’t note that Americans have always ranked ranked at best average in international rankings.

* “China and India produce eight times more engineering students each year than the United States,” Bush said, without noting, as my colleague Jay Mathews did in this blog post, that “we are light-years ahead of them in providing instruction and opportunity for every child who wants to go to college or adopt a useful trade.”

* Teachers unions are super powerful and their supporters are “masters of delay and deferral,” he said, without mentioning that the unions have lost so much political power that they have been unable to stop the implementation in a number of states of unfair teacher evaluation systems that link teachers’ pay to student standardized test scores. Bush’s implication that teachers unions are stopping academic progress ignores the fact that the problems that ail urban schools are the same in union states as they are in non-union states.

* Bush praised his own school reform program when he was governor from 1999-2007, which became known as the “Florida Miracle” and has been a model for other governors who have adopted its key tenets, which include standardized test-based accountability, charter schools, vouchers, virtual education, an end to teacher tenure, merit pay and assigning letter grades to school.

But he didn’t mention that the standardized testing regime that he pioneered, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, is in shambles after a succession of scandals, and that his claims of great progress in student achievement are questionable.

* When Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, Romney helped narrow the achievement gap, Bush said. But according to the Tampa Bay Times. Romney’s role is highly exaggerated.

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