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Change Is Possible: Jeb Bush’s Lessons For Education Reform in Michigan

Read more from this Detroiter article about Jeb Bush’s education reform policies as Florida governor. 

Jeb Bush, former Florida governor, and founder, president and chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, tackled the topic of education on Thursday, May 30 at the 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference.

He shared his experience in implementing education improvements in Florida during his time as governor and outlined the approaches Michigan should consider. In his pursuit to improve Florida’s educational standings and improve conditions and outcomes for the students he served, Bush learned the following lessons:

Elect people that are big and bold.
Education is a long-term commitment, not a box to be checked. Bush calls on leaders to be “all in” on education improvements. On casting education issues aside, Bush said, “That to me is the great civil rights challenge of our time.”

Fund reforms.
“You fund your priorities first. You make them the core of what you’re about,” Bush said. He continued to explain that politicians and other leaders need to invest in things like ensuring teachers can teach and that literacy programs get funded. “If you want to have continuous improvement, you need to fund the things that you want more of,” Bush said.

Reward success in policy.
Teacher bonus programs for student improvement incentivize strong performance, empower good teachers with deserved recognition, and increase the quality of education students receive. “You’re funding more progress, and you get a better result,” Bush said.

Implement consequences.
Consequences deter failure. Bush outlines a common pitfall of reform is that all students, teachers, and issues are homogenized, which removes the dynamic tension necessary to achieve continuous improvement. “Too many people are not reaching their potential because we don’t have the guts to say some things are working and some things aren’t,” Bush said.

Raise the bar.
Bush advises quick, decisive action to prevent circumstance and problems from stagnating. Higher expectations encourage effort and stronger performance from students. “Change is hard, but you’re never going to get to the place where you have rising student achievement unless you begin,” Bush said.

Celebrate progress.
Once improved practices are implemented, and results begin to emerge, Bush emphasized the positive impact of celebrating progress and its importance in sustaining those successes over the long-term.

Among all of these lessons, Bush emphasized the need for a change in mindset to encourage all students, saying, “All sorts of signals are sent to some kids that they can learn and some kids that they can’t. Getting rid of that would be a good idea.”

This session was sponsored by PNC Bank.