Obama champions Jeb Bush, scorns the educational status quo

Education Secretary Arne Duncan turned heads last winter when he joined former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on a stage in Washington to find common ground in education reform. Yesterday, the governor was joined by Duncan’s boss. And as Duncan did, President Obama went out of his way during a tour of Miami Central High School to congratulate Bush as “somebody who championed reform when he was in office, somebody who is now championing reform as a private citizen.”

What does reform mean to Obama? These passages from his speech speak with more substance than did his highly anticipated State of the Union, and the message isn’t all too distant from his Republican companion:

I say I am not willing to give up on any child in America. I say I’m not willing to give up on any school in America. I do not accept failure here in America. I believe the status quo is unacceptable; it is time to change it. And it’s time we came together — just like Jeb and I are doing today -– coming from different parties but we come together not as Democrats or Republicans, as Americans –- to lift up all of our schools — and to prepare students like you for a 21st century economy. To give every child in America a chance to make the most of their God-given potential.

Now, the good news is we know what works. We can see it in schools and communities across the country every day. We see it in a place like Bruce Randolph School in Denver. This was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado three years ago but last May graduated 97 percent of its seniors. And by the way, most of them are the first in their family to go to college.

We can see it in Mastery Charter School in Philadelphia, where four times as many students are proficient in math, and violence is down 80 percent compared to just a few years ago.

And of course, we can see it right here at Miami Central. A little more than a decade ago, when the state exams started, Miami Central scored a D in each of its first five years. Then it scored an F in each of the five years after that. Halls were literally littered with garbage. One of the buildings here was called the Fish Bowl because it was always flooded. In one survey, only a third of all students said they felt safe at school. Think about that — only a third …

… You are proving the naysayers wrong –- you are proving that progress is possible. It’s possible because of your principal; it’s possible because of all the great teachers that are going above and beyond for their students, including the Teach for America Corps members who are here today. We’re proud of them. To all of the teachers here, I hope you will stay with the Miami Central family as long as you can — because this community has already benefited so much from your teaching and your mentorship and your dedication.

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BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit