Jeb Bush: It will take leadership to transition to digital age in education

Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush

With the creation of The Jetsons in the 1960s, Hanna-Barbera projected what 100 years into the future could look like. Set in 2062, The Jetsons lived in an automated, push-button world. Long distance conversations took place face to face through a television screen, groceries were ordered on-line and delivered to your doorstep, and household chores are performed with the click of a button. What Hanna-Barbera missed was the time horizon. It wouldn’t take 100 years for these changes to occur, it would happen in half of that time.

Little did they know, at the beginning of the 21st century soldiers across the ocean would be able to read their kids a bedtime story via Skype or Facetime. Questions would be answered with a simple Google search. Music would be downloaded straight to your phone with the click of a button. And kids in rural Nebraska would learn physics from engineers in Japan without leaving their 11th grade classroom.

Most schools around the nation operate the same way today as they did a century ago. They have the same schedule, the same classrooms, the same grade levels, the same teachers, and the same courses. With the ring of a bell, students move to the next subject, and the cycle starts all over again.

What if we were to channel our inner Hanna-Barbera, and visualize what public education should look like in the digital age?

I submit we would have an education system focused on student learning. No arbitrary schedules or seat-time requirements. Just learning.  Each student at his or her own pace, according to their learning style.

Interactive and adaptive learning technologies can allow students to learn in their own style and at their own pace. This means no student gets bored and no student gets left behind. Teachers are no longer forced to use textbooks that become outdated the moment they leave the printer.

Digital learning can provide real-time data so teachers can differentiate instruction with laser-like precision. Data brings a level of efficiency to both teaching and learning that will improve both the experience of education as well as the outcome.

Imagine with me an education system where a student’s homework is listening to their teacher’s lecture, and class time is spent working through the military genius of Napoleon by using the latest GPS mapping software.

Or it might be a 10th-grader in his backyard, at the picnic table, diving into his chemistry lesson via his mobile tablet. He gets so caught up in what he is learning that two hours go by before he even looks up.

It could be a fifth-grader whose classroom consists of students from several grade levels engaging in an interactive learning environment where grammar skills and concepts are practiced through gaming.  After providing an overview lesson on sentence structure and basic concepts, her teacher works with each student individually, based on their specific needs.

This modernized education system cares less about HOW she learns sentence structure as long as she learns it.

When a student masters the course concepts and skills, they have the opportunity to advance to the next level. Some students might advance in three months, some in nine months, and – potentially – some would advance after a year. The bell would no longer control public education in our country. The focus moves from how long it takes to master the content to simply making sure students master it – period! There would be no need for end-of-year tests, but only end-of-course tests.

What I do know is that our education system will not modernize itself without leadership. We need state, district and school leaders who can see this vision and have the courage to make the changes necessary to support student-centered learning. These leaders should focus their efforts on moving to a competency-based education that requires students to demonstrate mastery of the material, ending the archaic practice of seat-time, funding education based on achievement instead of attendance, eliminating the all-too-common practice of restricting students to district boundaries, and removing barriers to effective, high-quality instruction.

Digital learning levels the playing field. No matter where you live or what school district you are assigned to, technology provides the opportunity to access knowledge and resources students and educators need.

Ask any teacher what their students spend most of their time doing in the halls, not to mention during class, and they will tell you their kids are always on their smartphones – for academic as well as social reasons. We are already on the fourth version of the iPhone, but very little thought has been given to the need for public education 2.0.

If each student was given the opportunity to learn at their own pace with an education plan customized to their individual needs, then each and every student would achieve his or her God-given potential for learning. They would all be prepared for success in the 21st century economy.

Hanna-Barbera had the courage to visualize 100 years into the future. The technology is available, just waiting to be utilized. Do we have the courage to act today?

Jeb Bush is the chairman of the Foundation for Florida’s Future and Foundation for Excellence in Education.



    Dear Jeb Bush: Stop misleading on education.

    In his latest opinion piece, Jeb Bush continues to push the mistaken idea that public schools are broken and he offers his usual money making ideas of choice and digital learning. Let us debunk the “crisis in education” myth that is part of so much of the disinformation Bush spreads. What he will not tell you is that US public school students- not in poverty- score at the top of international tests. The US has one of the highest child poverty rates in the world which Jeb Bush and his friends have ignored in favor of catapulting the propaganda. The so called Florida model that Bush wants to infect the rest of the nation with has been debunked many times. Please see the studies conducted by the National Education Policy Center (for one). I am tired of Jeb Bush and his ilk blaming public schools for the ills of society. What he is doing is immoral.

    Jeb Bush laments the idea that the “school bell” controls education. I guess that is like lamenting that the clock controls a basketball game. But is this true? No. Politicians like Jeb Bush control education. They divert billions to the educational testing complex and if schools do too well they change the rules under the guise of “raising standards.” It was politicians who forced common core on us. Politicians forced massive testing on us.
    In his piece, Jeb Bush envisions a world where we only have “end of course exams” and not “end of year testing.”
    There are two problems with this. First, Bush is the one who promoted and diverted BILLIONS to end of year tests. Secondly, we have had final exams for over 100 years. Did he miss this? What Bush and his friends in technology are pushing is computerized testing for all courses in public schools. Some schools spent 13 days just giving ONE computerized end of course exam this year. In Florida- this year- many schools were giving computerized tests for 36 straight school days in April and May.

    Jeb Bush does not stop there. He wants individualized instruction through digital learning. Of course there is no evidence to support this but that never stopped Bush before. Let’s look at some of the digital learning consequences in Florida- since Bush is the titular head of his Florida Foundation.

    1. Virtual Schools- While not true in all cases, most of the students I see that come to regular schools from virtual schools often lack the skills to complete the work in a regular school or college. They are most often behind in math, science, and history. One virtual school in Florida awards history credit when students finish an online board game- yes indeed. I have seen it.
    2. Credit Recovery. Florida pads its graduation rate by running students through “credit labs” and credit recovery programs. Jeb Bush mused how students often use their phones in classes. Well in credit recovery and virtual classes they look up answers to questions on their phones! This is allowed. If a student fails a test they simply take it over and over again until they pass. This is academic fraud. Then schools get blamed when the kids lack knowledge. Who does the work for these students when they are at home? We really do not know.

    Jeb Bush also mused about individualized learning. Well, we have that too. It happens in classrooms around the nation each day. It also happens in FL in a program called (by students) BYG U- Buy Your Grade University. Students pay about $300 for .5 credit. They do a few worksheets and have instant credit in three weeks. This is academic fraud again but is allowed. Do you see how it is all smoke and mirrors?

    Jeb Bush is the leader in a movement that promotes the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” In Florida they have exempted anyone with an IEP from having to pass ANY tests. Of course the rest of the students are not so lucky. Children labeled “ESE” do not have to pass ANY of the end of course assessments. There are waivers- given out liberally. They do not even have to pass FCAT. It is all a scam my friends. Before all of this testing we had higher standards. We expected all students to pass final exams! Needless to say, the waivers make the graduation rates look really good.
    Bush loves to push the idea of choice. Many studies point out that this means segregation in FL (and in many states).

    I agree with Jeb Bush that we need to end the status quo. In public education 2.0 we would stop diverting billions to testing, testing companies and testing infrastructure. We need to let teachers finally have control of curriculum and when and how to test. The disrespect campaign of Arne Duncan and Jeb Bush must END. Leave teaching to me Mr. Bush. You have no idea what it is like and have no idea what public education has done to save kids. In fact we save kids each day. Public education is alive and well but teaching is now a subversive activity. It is harder for teachers to speak out since in states, like Florida, due process rights are gone. Anyone who speaks out can simply be dismissed. I hope redefine ED will allow me to be a regular writer here. Someone needs to stand up to the Jeb Bush bullying.

  2. Jeb apparently forgot to disclose the support he gets from technology companies and the Gates Foundation. His ties to the testing industry escaped him as well, it seems. Where was the part where he references his background….the BS in Latin American Studies? Why did he choose Levesque, another person without an ounce of coursework in education, to advise him on education? Her background was in business and finance, all the better to drain money out of the public schools and place it where profits can be made from our children.
    Jeb’s policies have resulted in Florida’s Seniors of 2009 scoring below the national average in BOTH reading an Math. Of the 11 participating states, only 2 others scored as dismally. These students have been educated under Jeb’s A+ Plan for much of their school career and end up as they did. Jeb can put an A on every school but that does not make it so.
    I am surprised Jeb took the time to send this piece while his empire is at risk. The Florida School Board Association just voted in favor of a Florida Resolution to end the Over-reliance on High Stakes Testing. I read his comment that he doesn’t care about complaints but I see a raging PR campaign.
    My response to those interested in the Florida education hurricane season is to read this l…Luna Education Reform A Long Time in the Making. Watch profit become the motive, not education.

  3. Jeb,

    What you are saying makes a lot of sense. Here is the problem with it. You say that education can’t “modernize” without leadership? Are you speaking about political leadership? Because political leadership (involvement) is why we are in the current educational mess.

    I agree with this position, but the leadership you are looking for is in the classrooms. Allow me the ability to teach each student independently and I can get them to grow. Making me teach to a test and I continue to lose this child.

    You are speaking wise, you just need to change whom is more valuable, teacher or politician?

  4. Pingback: Response to Governor Bush: Virtual science classes aren’t yet ready for prime time « Bridge to Tomorrow

  5. Pingback: It Will Take Leadership to Transition to Digital Age in Education « Missouri Education Reform Council

  6. When Jeb Bush, and other members of the ultra-wealthy, isolated Ruling Elite, start sending THEIR children to “digital charter schools”, then I’ll take this discussion more seriously.

    It’s pretty obvious what Jeb Bush is doing here: He’s using the “education issue” as a way to appear more “moderate” for his future presidential run, in the same way his father claimed he would be “The Education President” when he ran in 1988 and his big brother did with the awful “No Child Left Behind” law of 2001.

    The Bush family also has a direct connection to companies hoping to make money from so-called “education reform”. We’re not being fooled here, Jeb.

    So, Jeb are you planning on sending YOUR children to a “Digital Academy” or a “Charter School”? If not, then why not?

    After all, you’ve spent a lot of time, convincing us that they’re so much better than other types of schools. Why wouldn’t you want YOUR children to have this “great opportunity”?

    And that same question needs to be asked of all these “Education Reform” shysters; Bill Gates, Eli Broad, The Walmart Family heirs, and the numerous Hedge Funders who helped our economy to collapse in 2008: When are you going to send YOUR precious babies to “Charters” or “Digital Academies”?

    When I see one of YOU doing this, then we’ll have something to discuss and evaluate seriously. Until then, STOP telling we average citizens what to do with OUR schools!