Holding the school system accountable and making schools compete against each other would greatly enhance students’ results, the former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, contends.


 In the same way accountability and competition improve our businesses and make us better people, so too will teachers, administrators and students thrive when they know what’s expected of them, they’re given the tools to get the job done and they know their performance will be measured at the end of the day.

Bush’s government made it their mission to revolutionize education in Florida and two terms later, the state registered the biggest gains in educational performance ever seen in the United States.

Bush was in Moncton for a speech last night during the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ 15th anniversary dinner.

His talk was both timely and relevant to New Brunswick, where 40 per cent of adults are illiterate and where the province has embarked on an ambitious self-sufficiency agenda which some, including AIMS, say is hobbled by an antiquated education system that fails to produce students armed with the knowledge they’ll need to compete in the global marketplace.

“Today, knowledge is the hot commodity,” Bush said, but other countries are beating us in the global educational arms race.

“There should be no complacency, because the stakes are so high.”

Wages are directly tied to workers’ education levels. The only thing that is changing in that regard, is that the wage gap between the lowest and best educated is growing.

“So this is about the very survival of the quality of living we’ve come to take for granted.”

Rather than having a lower standard so that every child can be promoted, Bush advocates setting the standard very high. Students will meet those standards, he vowed.

“I honestly believe that children are geniuses, until we make them act as adults.”

The standards must be rigorous, transparent and lofty. In Florida, that initiative produced more college- and career-ready high school grads than ever before, yet other countries who compete with us demand, and get, much more out of their students.

Students, teachers and administrators are held accountable for results, which are measured in a standardized, clear manner. Schools get a grade: A, B, C, D or F.

“Everybody understands the difference between an A and an F.”

Parents demand answers when a school registers a D or an F. Principals are held accountable. Parents are free to send their children to an A school. The best schools are financially rewarded by the state.

“Accountability works in our own lives,” Bush said. “Why wouldn’t it work in schools?”

Social promotions end in Grade 3. That’s when students stop learning to read for the sake of reading, and start using reading for the sake of learning. If you can’t read and comprehend properly, you don’t make it into Grade 4.

Effective teachers are not often recognized nor rewarded, Bush contended. Under the current system, a teacher is financially rewarded according to their standing on a seniority list, not on their effectiveness. A proper education system would pay the best teachers more.Technology is not being used to proper advantage, Bush said; the classroom today looks much the same as it did 50 years ago, with a white board and a laptop thrown in.

Technology allows teachers to harness a vast wealth of information that can be tailored for individualized learning, where students can learn at their own pace with the help of their teacher and where students could advance when they’re ready, not toil under a homogenized curriculum which by its nature is boring to students who learn more easily; too tough for those who struggle to learn.

That would drastically cut drop-out rates and even the playing field between good and not-so-good schools because they’d all have the same technology, while reducing costs and making teachers far more effective.

Bush gave a ringing endorsement to AIMS’s efforts over the past several years to analyze what’s ailing our education system and to promote public debate on the topic.

AIMS CEO and president Charles Cirtwill called New Brunswick’s poor educational results “the single largest challenge that faces us today.”

AIMS chairman John Risley said AIMS has been “vilified” for its hard-hitting research on our poor school system, but the issue remains a critical challenge.

“Our children do not measure up,” Risley said.

AIMS is an independent, non-partisan, public-policy think-tank based in Halifax.