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Is Jeb Bush Leading Education Reform in Mississippi?

By Annie Gilbertson | Published 14 Dec 2012 10:13am | comments
Jeb Bush’s organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, appears to be leading reforms to Mississippi’s school grading policy. Critics say it’s a political-move that’s being implemented through the Mississippi Department of Education rather than the legislature. Photo by the Associated Press.
Jeb Bush's organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, appears to be leading reforms to Mississippi's school grading policy. Critics say it's a political-move that's moving through the Mississippi Department of Education rather than the legislature. Photo by the Associated Press.

Jeb Bush’s organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, appears to be leading reforms to Mississippi’s school grading policy. Critics say it’s a political-move that’s being implemented through the Mississippi Department of Education rather than the legislature. Photo by the Associated Press.

JACKSON, Miss. – Education reform appears to be moving down dual tracks and led by the GOP. Republican lawmakers will be pushing measures in the upcoming legislative session, but party leaders will also be crafting reforms to move through an appointed task force that’s advising the Mississippi Department of Education. In the second installment of MPB’s Education Session Preview, MPB’s Capitol Reporter Jeffrey Hess and Southern Education Desk Reporter Annie Gilbertson report Republican heavyweights may be calling the shots on a new statewide school grading system.

Hess: Jeb Bush, the Former Governor of Florida and potential contender for the 2016 presidential bid, may be one of the most influential policymakers in Mississippi.

Gilbertson: How’s that? He doesn’t hold office here.

Hess: Yes, but all year his organization, The Foundation for Excellence in Education has presented to the Mississippi Accountability Task Force – a group that looks at how schools are graded. At a meeting this week, MPB spoke the Task Force Chairman Dr. Lee Childress.

Childress: We know schools graded on an A to F scale.  So what we are going to do is come up with the process that will be used to assign those grades.

Hess: Ok so the A-F scale is set. They are now deciding how the grades are calculated –how many points for graduation, how many points for reading proficiency, etc.

Gilbertson: To some, such changes sound harmless. But many stakeholders are following the group closely, believing their recommendations could dramatically change how education policy moves forward.

Hess: And major policy changes not vetted by elected representatives cause some to be concerned. Bush’s foundation has a lot of sway, because that’s where agenda items appear to be coming from.

Gilbertson: I recently spoke with Dr. Sherman Dorn at the University of South Florida. Dorn says the school grading policy Bush’s organization is pushing is – by nature – political.

Dorn: “Yes, absolutely. It comes from the perspective that having accountability policies that are based on algorithms is one of the two primary ways schools can and should improve schools.”

Gilbertson: The other way, he says, is charter schools. The Mississippi Accountability Task Force firmly denies alliances with Republican leaders. In fact, Kim Hubbard, a task force member, says their work is not rooted in any political agenda.

Hubbard: I don’t necessary see that connection. I think that this is something that has been successful with the children they are serving and so that’s why we are looking to do so many things that they are doing.

Hess: So she is saying Bush’s foundation is more of an expert source, not a political source. I guess the question is: are their school grading policies working for Florida?

Gilbertson: Well foundation representatives have been singing praises. I caught up with Dr. Christy Hovanetz, Senior Policy Fellow, who says changes to the school grading system have strengthened Florida schools.

Hovanetz: It will make it easier for people to understand, more transparent. And it will provide more specific information about the percent of students who are proficient in reading and proficient in math and who are making a year’s worth of progress in a year’s worth of time.

Gilbertson: Hovanetz says by having good measures in place, schools get better. Or as Jeb Bush likes to say, “what get’s measured, gets done.” Others say the gains in Florida have more to do with schools getting better at teaching to the test, than it does with better learning outcomes.

Hess: Still, there is some bipartisan agreement that Mississippi should move to a new school grading system. The US Department of Education under the Obama Administration has voiced concerns.  They say it’s too easy to mask consistently low performing students.

Gilbertson: But it’s in deciding what to do next that policy meets politics. Many call Florida a leader in education reform, but others aren’t happy with their method of school grading.

Hess: And some point out, gains in Florida could be attributed to more Democratic-leaning reforms such as putting more money into schools.

Gilbertson: That’s the point Andy Ford, President of the Florida Association of Educators makes. He says Mississippi should be cautious.

Ford: My advice would be that’s probably not a smart move. And if you do still go down that direction you go slowly and you involve the stakeholders.

Gilbertson: And that’s why, Ford says reforms should move through the legislature so no single policy group gets the stage.

Images

Jeb Bush’s organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, appears to be leading reforms to Mississippi’s school grading policy. Critics say it’s a political-move that’s being implemented through the Mississippi Department of Education rather than the legislature. Photo by the Associated Press.


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