Jeb Bush: Class size limits unnecessary in education reform

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Smaller class sizes don't necessarily mean higher student achievement. That's according to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bush was in Salt Lake City Tuesday to talk about education issues. He addressed Utah's Excellence in Education Commission at the State Capitol.

Like most of us, [Jeb Bush] recognized that a one-size-fits-all plan doesn't necessarily always work. And so he came to this with an approach of: ‘Let's think outside the box. It's not just about money.'

–Gov. Gary Herbert

The audience was eager to hear how Florida boosted test scores and graduation levels with Bush's "A+ Plan." Though proud of the program, Bush cautioned there is more work to do.

"Whatever success we've had has only created a new challenge and a new chance to do something different," Bush said.

Bush pointed out his plan changed student learning criteria, raised graduation standards and targeted education money to reform-based programs; but he said he does not think there's a strong tie to class size and student success.

Utah has the largest class sizes in the nation right now. Florida voters recently passed a constitutional amendment capping class sizes. Bush is now actively working to undo that requirement.

"Focus doesn't require a whole lot of money; and you can do it in a way that you ramp it up as well," Bush said.

Governor's Education Excellence Commission
Vision Statement:
To articulate the educational goals and objectives, short term, medium term and long term for public education and higher education. To establish the education roadmap for success toward building educational excellence in Utah.

"If a Martian came down and analyzed test scores and compared them to how much money is spent per student - a Martian research analyst - they'd have to go back and say it appears to me the closer tie is an inverse relationship - that the more you spend, the lower the outcome," Bush said. "It would confuse people up in Mars as it does here, but that's the fact that there's not that direct correlation."

Another item Bush mentioned is a results based system that gives schools letter grades rather than a "proficient" or "not proficient" label. He said it's better than the No Child Left Behind program.

"You can always show progress in the accountability system we have, which is what you want, right? You always want to have continual progress," Bush said.

State Sen. Wayne Niederhauser like's Bush's system. In fact, he's got a draft bill that would make that school rating change, among others.

"People will relate to ‘A, B, C, D, F.' We've related to it all our lives," Niederhauser said.

Bush admits his reforms happened when he and Florida's Republican-controlled legislature had political will and power to do it.

Still, Gov. Gary Herbert says Florida's example can be an inspiration as the Utah Legislature starts to take on some of the most serious education challenges the state's history.

"Like most of us, he recognized that a one-size-fits-all plan doesn't necessarily always work," Herbert said. "And so he came to this with an approach of: ‘Let's think outside the box. It's not just about money.'"

The challenge now is figuring out how to put effective programs in place at a time when the state's education system is the fastest growing in the nation.


Story compiled with contributions from Richard Piatt and Andrew Adams.

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