The new Tennessee SCORE (State Collaborative On Reforming Education) initiative hosted their first town hall meeting today featuring former governors Jeb Bush of Florida and Michael Easley of North Carolina. Bill Frist led off the meeting by showing a graph demonstrating that although those two states used to have NAEP scores similar to Tennessee's, they now rank far above us. The next two hours were spent listening to the governors explain why their states were such runaway successes -- both in prepared remarks and in response to audience questions.
I will say that both were remarkably well behaved for politicians -- they actually answered questions, for example. And both were at least superficially self-deprecating (Bush noted that "I screwed up pretty regularly" while Easley claimed to have stolen all of his ideas from Florida and from Bush's brother in Texas). Outside of one leading question about charter schools, the audience was well behaved as well. It has to have been the most civil meeting led by three politicians in a long time. Over the course of two and a half hours we heard the two men agree on almost everything -- higher expectations are absolutely crucial, accountability is necessary, and people should be rewarded for their work seemed to be the central themes. But there were subtle differences between the two:
-While Bush maintained that "what gets measured gets done," Easley noted that "you don't fatten a hog by weighing it"
-While Bush emphasized the effects of competition -- "many of the benefits occurred because of the threat of a kid moving to another school" -- Easley emphasized the importance of pre-K and limiting class sizes to 18 in K-3
-When asked where reformers can meet teachers on reforms, Bush responded "Money . . . money talks . . ." but Easley followed up by responding that bonuses were important but that respect was more important and that "they're not in it for the money"
-Bush listed his four cornerstones as "high standards, measurement and reporting, rewards and consequences, and parental choice" Easley agreed wholeheartedly, but added that while accountability is great only if fund everything down below
-Bush spoke very frankly about his struggles to work with teacher unions, Easley seemed to have had fewer problems and went out of his way to talk about the importance of teacher working condition surveys that were developed while he was in office, saying "if you put in place a reform and you don't thave the teachers bought in, it won't work"
Despite the differences listed above, I will re-emphasize that they seemed to agree on virtually everything throughout the course of the meeting. I'll definitely be writing more about SCORE, and possibly more about this meeting, later. For now I'll leave you with the most interesting random thought of each governor.
*Bush said that there was no excuse for running schools the way we do in the 21st century -- more specifically that we should eliminate social promotion. He said that with the technology we have that we should be able to make a "school of one" for each child and that if we were to start over right now, "we wouldn't organize schools as we do." I would've liked to have heard more about exactly what he meant by this.
*Easley compared high schools to Wal-Mart by saying that if a third of the shoppers that went into Wal-Mart without buying anything (a third or so of high schoolers leave without graduating) that they would change what they're offering. He followed that up by saying that "you cannot break the high schools -- the're already broken" and arguing that we shouldn't be scared to make big changes in high schools b/c it would be hard to make them worse.