Obama, Jeb Bush to visit Miami high school
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
MIAMI (AP) — When President Barack Obama and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush stand side by side at a Miami high school, it will be an opportunity for the Democrat to show a bipartisan approach to education reform while allowing the Republican to push his own nationwide message on the issue.
Obama and Bush have common ground on education. Both support increasing the number of charter schools, tying teacher evaluations to student performance on standardized tests and setting high standards and accountability. They also believe education is key to invigorating U.S. competitiveness.
The joint appearance comes as Obama aims to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act — signed into law by the governor’s brother, former President George W. Bush, no less.
One of Jeb Bush’s legacies during his eight years as governor, which ended in January 2007, was an overhaul of Florida’s school system.
Public schools are now graded on a scale of A to F and are rewarded or punished based on their grades. Bush continues to push Florida-style education changes around the country through the Foundation for Excellence in Education. A number of states are in the process of adopting similar changes.
“Like with everything in politics, it’s mutual convenience,” Jack Jennings, president of the Center for Education Policy and former general counsel of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said of the joint Obama-Bush appearance.
On Friday, they will be at Miami Central Senior High School, one of hundreds of low-performing schools across the nation that have received money from the U.S. Department of Education to execute one of four turnaround models. Jeb Bush selected the school as an example of a school that has made gains through reform.
“Because of high expectations for students, hard-edge policies that focus schools on learning and an array of choices for families, the Sunshine State is leading the nation in rising student achievement,” Bush said in a statement.
He said he looked forward to sharing the state’s “model for student success” with Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Obama has pushed Florida-type reforms through the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, which rewards schools for taking on ambitious reforms to close achievement gaps and improve student performance. The initiative has prompted states to adopt Common Core standards, and led to an increase in the number of charter schools and changes in the way teachers are evaluated.
“Both of them have pushed the envelope,” said former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. “Both of them have been willing to go out on issues that are controversial.”
White House officials say the joint meeting shows the president believes education is not a Republican or Democratic issue.
Obama has sought to show a broader sense of outreach to the GOP after his own party took a beating in the midterm elections, as well as a willingness to work across party lines.
Toward that end Obama will be appearing alongside the brother of a president he constantly assailed during his own 2008 campaign.
Obama also wants Congress to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act, including by changing the way student progress is measured. The brand name has become so unpopular among many parents and educators that the White House tends not to even use that title.
“The president working with Gov. Bush, working with leaders across the aisle, is hugely important for leading the country to where we need to go,” Duncan said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday, citing a range of figures that show United States students trailing behind students in other countries. “We need to put politics and ideology to the side.”
Duncan will also attend the event. Central High received $784,700 in Title I School Improvement Grant funds in 2009. It has 1,826 students, many of whom come from low-income families.
While Obama and Jeb Bush share many ideas, Jennings noted they have differences. Bush is unlikely to support increases in education spending and Obama is not a supporter of school vouchers.
“He certainly does not have a traditional Democratic education program, which would emphasize new programs and money,” Jennings said of Obama. “A number of his reforms are very agreeable to Republicans; lifting the cap on charter schools, tying teacher pay to test scores. Those are things that Republicans like.”
Obama will also headline two fundraisers for Sen. Bill Nelson and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Nelson is seeking his third term in 2012.
AP White House correspondent Ben Feller contributed to this report.