SALT LAKE CITY — Unless the United States “dramatically changes how we educate our children,” many of them who are living in poverty “are never going to have jobs,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday.
“It’s not that the system we today have is bad. It’s that it’s not — what’s the hockey term? —we’re not going toward the puck. We’re not anticipating what the world looks like 10 years from now and 15 years from now,” Bush said, speaking to an audience of education leaders, state legislators, executive branch officials and others at a private event hosted by the Sutherland Institute think tank.
For a child born now, what will the world look 18 years from now? Bush asked.
“Will they be college ready, and will college be relevant 18 years from now? Will they be career ready? Will the jobs we don’t even know exist, will they be capable of taking on those jobs of the future? That’s the lens I look through when I think about education,” said Bush.
He believes “we can fix the path we’re on to make sure more and more of our children gain the power of knowledge and the skills that they need to be able to live a life of purpose and a life to achieve earned success, where they are proud of the work they have done to achieve what they’ve achieved.”
Advances in technology — artificial intelligence, big data analytics, automation —converging “at warp speed all at once is creating massive disruption, and yet the (education) systems around us really haven’t changed that much.”
Utah has done “a phenomenal job” inside a system that was designed with an agriculture calendar and an industrial model on top of our students, he said.
Utah leads the nation on many educational measurements, Bush said, “but we need systemic change if we’re going to make sure more and more of our kids gain the power of knowledge.”
If Bush had a magic wand, “I’d make our government look like a successful 21st-century entity, not one with one with rules around it that were designed in the '50s, '60s and '70s,” he said.
Moreover, “loving family life” would be recognized as the most powerful political entity in the United States, he said.
Parents are their children’s first teachers. If they don’t have those skills, they should be given the tools “so that kids start out in kindergarten capable of the work that we’re requiring of them,” Bush said.
With another wave of the magic wand, social promotion of third graders who are functionally illiterate would end, he said.
“That shouldn’t be the biggest challenge in the world, but too many of our children in our country don’t have the reading skills to be able to read to learn. If you can’t learn to read, how are you going to read science books and other things to be able to acquire knowledge,” he said.
“It should a priority in every community that we eliminate this insidious idea that we socially promote kids in third grade. It should be nonnegotiable, in fact,” he said.
The federal government, Bush said, should have “very little” role in education.
Bush, a two-term governor, said he quickly realized as Florida’s chief executive officer that the vast majority of education funding comes from states and local school districts. Yet, 90% of state-level education officials spent their time filling out forms required by the federal government to access 10% of education funding.
Sutherland Institute President and CEO Rick B. Larsen asked Bush his opinion whether Utah’s State School Board should be a partisan body.
In September, the Utah Supreme Court ruled in a 5-0 decision that partisan State School Board elections are constitutional. Starting in 2020, people who want to run for the Utah State Board of Education can file as partisan candidates.
The greater concern is that partisanship has become “hyperpartisan, not advancing a cause,” but attacking the other person’s point of view. Essentially, there are no longer any rewards for achieving consensus, Bush said.
More than partisanship, “it’s the culture underneath it that matters,” Bush said.
Florida’s state school board is appointed by the governor.