Ed Panel Emphasizes Reform

Jane Seo

Margarent Spellings, John Podesta, Jeb Bush, and Michelle Rhee speak at the forum "Strange Bedfellows: The Politics of Education and the Future of Reform" in front of a packed crowd at the Institute of Politics.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, and former DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee called for scalable solutions to reform the public education system last night in a discussion moderated by a former U.S. Secretary of Education at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at the Institute of Politics.

The discussion marked the end of Bush’s week as a Visiting Fellow at the IOP.

During the panel, Bush, Rhee, and Podesta emphasized that reformers should focus on teacher effectiveness and targeting resources in a more effective way because they will have wide-ranging impacts that will lead to sustainable improvements in student achievement. Rhee said that teachers unions were an impediment to attracting and retaining effective teachers.

“We need to begin to differentiate. We have to be able to say that they’re not so good...for kids,” said Rhee, who brokered a contract to compensate effective teachers with more pay. “Now, if you tell a teacher they’re not doing a good job, it’s like you’re attacking the entire profession.”

Rhee said teachers unions’ philosophy, which is that all teachers should be treated—and paid—equally, made it difficult to reward effective teachers and fire ineffective ones.

Citing “Jeb’s Way,” Bush, the governor of Florida from 1999-2007, argued that it is possible to separate teachers from labor organizations, and that was one of the ways he facilitated education reform in Florida.

Another possibility for hiring effective teachers is to “blow the whole thing up in terms of the teacher certification system,” Bush said. “Bring in teachers who have great competency in the subject matter, and teach them how to teach it.”

Bush also addressed the issue of funding in schools.

Bush said principals should be given full control of the budget and be allowed to hire the teachers they want to, regardless of their seniority.

He also said that to create education reform across the country, reform needs to be scalable. He said that one-time donations, such as the $100 million gift from Mark Zuckerberg to Newark’s public schools will not lead to true reform because it cannot spread across the country.

“We get to scalability if we get closer to what the average student funding is,” Bush said.

Since Monday, Bush—the brother of President of George W. Bush and the son of President George H.W. Bush—has talked to students in various student groups, including the Harvard Republican Club. He also attended Professor Roger Porter’s class, “Government 1540: The American Presidency,” on Tuesday and taught the class yesterday. When asked in an interview with The Crimson whether Bush would be running for president, he responded, “I don’t have any plans to do that.”

—Staff writer Monika L.S. Robbins can be reached at mrobbins@college.harvard.edu.

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