Smart conservatism is at the core

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush advocates for profound education reforms.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush advocates for profound education reforms. Getty Images

Jeb Bush sure can cause a ruckus. His entry on Facebook and Twitter announcing that he will “actively explore the possibility of running for president” had some people thinking he was kind-of-sort-of seriously looking at the possibility of a presidential run.

The real news was that he was creating a political action committee (PAC), which came on the heels of another announcement that he was resigning from a few boards that might present a political conflict. He will release 250,000 emails from his two terms as governor and write an e-book about his governing philosophy.

The book will come at a great time, as folks are scratching their heads trying to decide whether Bush is a conservative or a moderate Republican. That isn’t his fault; some in the GOP are so confused they can’t spot a smart conservative when one’s in front of them. Bush advocates for some profound reforms, including education, as a matter of national security. That includes Common Core.

Recent polls demonstrate that a 60 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Republicans oppose it. Research conducted by Pew last summer shows that social conservatives were opposed to this initiative, while many business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are strong supporters. Why is Common Core divisive? It is controversial because it shakes up the status quo.

Basically, Common Core lays out the skills students need to master reading and math every year from kindergarten to the senior year of high school. The standards are meant to be rigorous, raising the bar of student performance not unlike those found in nations whose children score higher in math and science than our own. Common Core does not tell teachers what to teach or how to teach it, nor does it force the extra testing of children. That responsibility remains with local school districts and state governments.

Many states have taken the challenge seriously, and with good reason: Preparing children for the future is a huge responsibility. As a result, many have changed their curricula and will test students to measure results. No room for complacency here; Common Core asks much more of schools, students and their families.

The debate isn’t simply about education; it is also about political power at a time when state governments are still reeling over the disruption of Obamacare. Many of them also oppose Common Core, seeing it as further federal intrusion in the affairs of individual states. It isn’t, but states should worry all the same.

States and district boards of education should be concerned about Common Core, but not because their power to create policy may be siphoned. They should be concerned that they are not up to snuff to create and implement successful educational programs that will make students more competitive worldwide. Currently, in math and science, most of our students score below the average of their peers in developed nations. By adopting Common Core standards, school boards are encouraged to design new programs to help children by establishing a platform for best practices that other states can emulate so that our children to become world-class achievers. If a state wants to opt out of Common Core, it can. It is a choice to be made, and choice has been at the core of Bush’s educational reforms.

Children in poor-performing schools were victims of poverty and their Zip codes. Kids who lived in poor neighborhoods were forced to study in poor schools. They had no choice. All students, Bush argued, would perform better if the academic bar were raised, teachers were better prepared and families more involved in their children’s educational outcomes. Accountability became a new word in school districts, and not only would children’s success be measured, teachers were also to be evaluated. Bush championed school vouchers, charter schools, tax credits for private schools and online education, which were radical conservative ideas just a decade ago. Today, most of these are very popular.

Bush is usually unapologetic about his accomplishments, which are the result of continuous learning and hard work. His legacy in Florida includes educational improvements that require a strong system of accountability. Change isn’t always comfortable. By supporting Common Core, he opens up the discussion as to what our national academic standards should look like. For that debate, Bush is at the right place and at the right time.