Bush Saves Romney From Etch A Sketch Hell!

As was widely reported (see herehere, and here) Jeb Bush endorsed Mitt Romney yesterday.

The Times called it a “coveted endorsement”—and indeed it is, no matter how much fun Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich had at poor Eric Fehrnstrom’s expense. (For the record, that same day Fehrnstrom, a longtime Romney advisor, gave a televised interview in which he said “I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign…. Everything changes [when he’s running against Obama]. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”)

Jeb Bush, who has been a tireless education reformer since the mid-nineties, is no Etch A Sketch. (Photo by Rex Sorgatz)

Jeb Bush, who has been a tireless education reformer since the mid-nineties, is no Etch A Sketch. And by coincidence I was lucky enough to spend some time with the popular two-term Florida governor (1999—2007) just last week as partEducation Next’s “Conversation” series with important education reformers (see my conversations with John WhiteWhitney Tilson, and Chris Cerf). You can read a summary of what he accomplished in Florida here; examples include instituting an A—F school grading system, ending social promotion, rewarding school success with both more funds and more flexibility, and creating a tax credit scholarship program. And it has worked. The state’s fourth graders—a majority of whom are minorities—went from ten points below the national average NAEP score on reading in 1998 to six points ahead of the national average by 2009. Florida’s Hispanic students are now reading as well or better than the statewide average of all students in thirty-one states and its African-American students are reading as well or better than the statewide average in eight states.

It is easy to see why The Economist ran a lengthy story on Bush just a couple of weeks ago, under the headline,

The Floridian school of thought: Inspired by Jeb Bush, more Republicans want to transform the classroom

Through his four-year-old nonprofit, Foundation for Excellence in Education, Bush remains an outsize presence in education reform circles. (Bush had also launched the Foundation for Florida’s Future after losing the 1994 race for Governor. It went dormant while he was Governor and then started up again in 2007 when he left office. It currently lobbies the Florida Legislature, the governor’s office, and the Florida Department of Education on education reforms to build on and protect the policies that were passed while he was in office.)

I watched Bush entertain a delegation of visiting legislators from North Carolina during an informal luncheon at his Coral Gables headquarters, an incisive and expert hour-long primer on building better school systems. What’s the secret, I asked Bush.  “Hard work,” he says. “And you have to be bold.”

Bush’s new foundation is a powerhouse in Florida education reform circles, thanks in large part to a veteran staff directed by Patricia Levesque, Bush’s deputy chief of staff for education while he was governor. And as The Economist suggested, the foundation’s reach is nationwide. (I recommend The Reformer Toolbox.)

As Alyson Klein reported on her Education Week blog,

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the godfather of the reformey-minded Chiefs for Change and an education force in statehouses around the country, has endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for president. That news may be the biggest unsurprise ever to education folks who have been following the campaign.

She notes that former Florida Board of Education Chairman F. Philip Handy is a Romney education advisor and on the board of Bush’s foundation. And Margaret Spellings, President George W. Bush’s former secretary of education, is also on Romney’s team. I guarantee you that if Mitt only half-listens to George W’s brother, the nation’s education prospects will be greatly improved.

– Peter Meyer

This post originally appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Board’s Eye View blog.

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