JEB! Comes to Harvard

It seems JEB! is back, sort of.  He has taken on a new gig as a lecturer about education policy this fall at Harvard University. His position will be to present on education issues at the Program on Education Policy and Governance, which is part of the Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local GovernmentValerie Strauss reports that he will be lecturing in a course titled, “The Political Economy of the School.”

Let’s review Jeb Bush’s contributions to education policy in Florida, where he was a governor who prioritized education “reform.” Later, after his term as governor of Florida ended, he founded a national education advocacy organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education.  This blog has covered Bush’s ideas and so-called school reform “accomplishments” here and here in posts that highlighted a report by Lindsey Layton for the Washington Post and an in-depth profile by Alec MacGillis in the New Yorker.

Here is a brief summary. Jeb worked very hard to bring school vouchers to Florida. His first attempt back in 1998, the centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign, was later found to violate the state’s constitution, but eventually he got the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program operating. He rapidly expanded charter schools during his term, and he encouraged the non-profit schools to hire the big for-profit management chains to operate the schools. Bush introduced the A-F letter grades for schools and school districts that this blog has shown to promote segregation by income across metropolitan areas in states that have tried it. Under Governor Bush, Florida launched the (much-copied) Third Grade Guarantee, that denies promotion to fourth grade for any third-grader who cannot pass the state’s reading test—even though research demonstrates that retention-in-grade at any time in a student’s academic life increases the risk of dropping out when the student becomes an adolescent. After his term as governor ended, Bush formed an education advocacy foundation to promote privatization and his other pet education theories. This Foundation for Excellence in Education created Chiefs for Change, a network of far-right state secretaries of education who were shown to be willing to be paired with corporations in the education sector and who fanned out across other states to serve as matchmakers between state education leaders and companies partnering with the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Bush launched a for-profit chain of phonics-based, after school tutoring programs that profited from No Child Left Behind’s Supplemental Educational Services tutoring dollars. Bush has actively promoted the Common Core.

In 2015, Jeb Bush resigned from the board of his foundation to run for president, but in May 2016, Bush rejoined the Foundation for Excellence in Education as its Chairman and President of the Board.

Valerie Strauss explains that Bush’s education theories seem to have fallen out of favor: “Bush as much as anyone led the reform movement that centered on using standardized test scores as the chief metric of ‘accountability’ for schools and pushing for the privatization of public education… But in recent years, Bush’s view of school reform has run into rough waters. The test-based accountability system that he built in Florida essentially collapsed as the integrity of the test scores was questioned repeatedly by school districts, and as a movement against corporate school reform has gained significant traction across the country. Critics accused him of wanting to privatize the entire public education system and noted that he doesn’t call public school districts ‘public school districts,’ but rather says that the United States has ‘over 13,000 government-run monopolies run by unions.'”

So why is Harvard bringing in Jeb Bush as an education expert?  Actually Bush is coming to the Kennedy School’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, not the College of Education. What is the Program on Education Policy and Governance?

Christopher and Sarah Lubienski, professors at the University of Illinois, explain how philanthropists promote their own agendas by underwriting “individuals and units at respected institutions, such as the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at Harvard or the Hoover Institution at Stanford.  In this way, they are able to capitalize on recognizable institutional brands in adding legitimacy to their policy claims, regardless of whether or not the rigor of research coming from these institutions merits the weight that is given to the studies in media and policy-making circles…  While groups have traditionally done this through the quasi-lobbying think tank sector, market advocates have increasingly seeded and sustained academic units that provide an added veneer of objectivity to the empirical claims supporting their political agenda.  These university-based groups, in turn, have quite often declined or failed to pass their pro-market research findings through established, peer-reviewed academic journals….  Two academic entities aptly illustrate these patterns.  The Walton Family Foundation provides funding to the PEPG at Harvard, which is run by a stable of pro-vouchers scholars and public figures on its board.  Similarly, the Walton Family Foundation was instrumental in creating the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, which is led by a PEPG associate and staffed with pro-voucher theorists and researchers.”  (The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, pp. 135-136)

Paul Peterson is the director of Harvard’s program. And Jay P. Greene is listed on PEPG’s website as leading one of its Research Affiliates—the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. Among the other researchers affiliated with PEPG, according to its website, are Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution, Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, and Caroline M. Hoxby, the Stanford University economist whose research has reliably supported vouchers.

Valerie Strauss explains further: “The course to which Bush will contribute at Harvard is taught by Paul E. Peterson, a professor and director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance; and John White, Louisiana’s state superintendent for education.  Peterson and White have been supporters of the kind of school reform that Bush made famous.”

Governors are becoming famous for their metaphors describing school choice. Ohio’s John Kasich was parodied by comedian, John Oliver for comparing choosing charter schools to choosing pizza toppings. Valerie Strauss quotes Jeb Bush’s metaphor: “Everywhere in our lives, we get the chance to choose. Go down any supermarket aisle—you’ll find an incredible selection of milk.  You can get whole milk, 2 percent milk, low-fat milk or skim milk.  Organic milk, and milk with extra vitamin D. There’s flavored milk—chocolate, strawberry or vanilla—and it doesn’t even taste like milk.  They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk. Shouldn’t parents have that kind of choice in schools?”