Jeb Bush Defends Common Core and Auditions as the GOP’s Education Candidate

The former Florida governor, who is still debating a presidential run, seems to be testing an education-themed stump speech.

Nov. 20, 2014, 5:18 a.m.

Jeb Bush on Thursday called the de­bate over edu­ca­tion stand­ards “a really, really good fight” for Re­pub­lic­ans to have—and then threw a few punches at his polit­ic­al op­pon­ents.

Speak­ing in Wash­ing­ton at the an­nu­al con­fer­ence of the Found­a­tion for Ex­cel­lence in Edu­ca­tion Re­form, a group he foun­ded in 2008, Bush ag­gress­ively de­fen­ded the Com­mon Core State Stand­ards that have be­come an ideo­lo­gic­al flash point with­in the GOP.

“There is no ques­tion we need high­er aca­dem­ic stand­ards,” said Bush, the former Flor­ida gov­ernor. “And at the loc­al level … the rig­or of the Com­mon Core state stand­ards must be the new min­im­um in classrooms.”

Bush ac­know­ledged, to some audi­ence laughter, that he “might be in the minor­ity” with his views on edu­ca­tion.

Com­mon Core is a set of na­tion­al stand­ards—which Bush was con­sul­ted on and has sup­por­ted since its in­cep­tion—that de­term­ine what level of pro­fi­ciency stu­dents must at­tain each year in key sub­jects. It has stirred a firestorm of op­pos­i­tion from con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ists who view the pro­gram as an in­tru­sion of big gov­ern­ment in­to loc­al classrooms.

Bush called the de­bate over Com­mon Core “troub­ling,” but he was care­ful not to de­mon­ize op­pon­ents. “I re­spect those who weigh in on all sides of this is­sue.” Bush said. “Nobody in this de­bate has a bad motive…. Even if we don’t all agree on Com­mon Core, there are many prin­ciples we can agree on.”

Still, he is­sued a warn­ing to gov­ernors—in­clud­ing some po­ten­tial rivals for the 2016 GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion—who have spoken out against the Com­mon Core stand­ards.

“For those states that are choos­ing a path oth­er than Com­mon Core, I say this: That’s fine. Ex­cept you should be aim­ing even high­er and be­ing bolder and rais­ing stand­ards to ask more from our stu­dents.”

Bush offered his re­marks in­side a D.C. hotel ball­room, as a po­lite group of sup­port­ers ate quietly from a break­fast buf­fet at white-cloth-clad tables. His 20-minute speech was not slowed by any in­ter­rup­tion of ap­plause from the audi­ence.

Bey­ond speak­ing dir­ectly to Com­mon Core, Bush also de­livered a sting­ing ap­prais­al of the pub­lic-edu­ca­tion sys­tem. He said or­gan­ized labor and oth­er en­trenched polit­ic­al in­terests have stifled in­nov­a­tion and ex­per­i­ment­a­tion that is needed to trans­form Amer­ica’s strug­gling schools.

“It starts with a ba­sic ques­tion: If we were design­ing our school sys­tems from scratch, what would they look like? I know one thing. We wouldn’t start with more than 13,000 gov­ern­ment-run, uni­on­ized, politi­cized, mono­pol­ies who trap good teach­ers, ad­min­is­trat­ors, and strug­gling stu­dents in a sys­tem that nobody can es­cape.”

“It would be in­sane” to re-cre­ate such a sys­tem, he ar­gued.

Bush also took the op­por­tun­ity to tout Flor­ida’s im­proved edu­ca­tion sys­tem, cred­it­ing a series of re­forms he im­ple­men­ted nearly a dec­ade ago. Today, he said, Flor­ida is “a na­tion­al lead­er” in school per­form­ance and in lev­el­ing the play­ing field between high- and low-in­come stu­dents.

The former gov­ernor, who is weigh­ing a pres­id­en­tial run in 2016, seemed at times to be re­hears­ing an as­pir­a­tion­al, edu­ca­tion-themed stump speech. He said qual­ity edu­ca­tion is “the great equal­izer” for low-in­come chil­dren and called the lim­ited ac­cess to such op­por­tun­it­ies “a civil-rights crisis.”

In keep­ing with that theme, Bush was in­tro­duced by Den­isha Mer­ri­weath­er, an Afric­an-Amer­ic­an wo­man from Jack­son­ville who be­came the first in her fam­ily to gradu­ate from col­lege.

“There are lit­er­ally mil­lions of Den­ishas wait­ing out there to be helped. Wait­ing for us. Wait­ing for us to push through policies to give them a choice,” Bush said. “That’s what they want—a choice and a chance. They’ll take care of the rest.”

This story was up­dated to cla­ri­fy Bush’s role in the cre­ation of Com­mon Core.

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