Jeb Bush’s I-love-the-’90s education ideas (column) |

Jeb Bush’s I-love-the-’90s education ideas (column)

John Young
Special to the Daily

Jelly shoes. Guys with frosted hair tips. Hand-held games. Wallet chains. Sony DiscMan. Netscape. Giga Pets. They’re remnants of another decade.

And so in one regard is the man who offers to shape up America’s schools this century. Jeb Bush’s education policies come from another time altogether.

They come from a time when testing and categorizing schools mercilessly, particularly to flog teachers, was new and all the rage. It was so shiny and innovative in the ’90s that shortly it was universally embraced, like fanny packs.

The concept: Concoct a standardized test and give it to all the students. Bow to the test. Preach the test. Live by the test. Have uniform standards. Have uniform everything. Then grade everybody by one test. All will be proficient, and no child will be left behind.

If the latter is not the result, particularly if some students come from abject poverty with no support at home, then rail against their schools. Talk up school vouchers and for-profit charter schools as helpless children’s saviors.

Jeb’s son, George P. Bush, recently elected as the new land commissioner of Texas, was making like fruit not far from the tree the other day when talking up these very things before a Republican audience, pitying all those children “trapped in failing schools.”

Nothing plays to a conservative throng like faux concern about schools in neighborhoods through which no one in the room would dare drive intentionally, much less fund sufficiently through tax dollars.

You’re saying, “Hey, wait. Over-testing and vouchers aren’t policies of the ’90s. They’re policies of today. Look at what Texas Republicans are trying to do right now with vouchers and with a ‘new, improved’ overwrought testing regimen.”

Well, you haven’t been listening to citizens from the left and right. They are so over this approach to education.

The ’90s? That’s when the corporate-style excesses and fallacies behind No Child Left Behind incubated in Texas, notions George W. Bush shortly took to Washington.

When we speak of corporate behavior, understand that new product development is vital. Hence a group of governors birthed the controversial spawn that Jeb salutes, the set of national standards called Common Core. It is accompanied, naturally, by more tests.

One thing to be said about the Common Core is that it has brought tea party-style conservatives charging to the table to decry rampant top-down school intrusions they seemed to ignore for decades.

All of this adds up to a huge backlash that politicians cannot possibly ignore. Bipartisan bills in Colorado, for instance, are being crafted to account for what a task force chairman told the Denver Post is “overwhelming dissatisfaction with the existing system.”

As for NCLB, name one elected official in Washington who doesn’t think it needs changing or abolishing.

The Common Core, as shown by its rejection in many Republican-controlled states, seems to be last straw for people of varied persuasions who agree that top-down meddling has gone too far. That applies whether the directives come from the state capital or the nation’s capital.

In all of this, “Parents have been awakened as a sleeping giant,” writes Diane Ravitch, an early architect of NCLB who now is among its fiercest critics.

In state after state, legislatures are considering granting opportunities for parents to opt out of NCLB-required tests, prompted by students and parents who refuse.

Back in the ’90s, people were led to believe that over-testing and top-down control were just the costs of excellence for schools. We’ve been doing these things for three decades now, and we can assume that they are not.

But Jeb Bush is welcome to run on the supposed success of these oldy-moldy assumptions and bolster them further with intrusions like the Common Core. We’ll see how that sells in the primaries.

Who’s up for a Hootie and the Blowfish concert?

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

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