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Possible Presidential Contender Jeb Bush Defends Common Core


Potential presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose views on the common core are increasingly unpopular with his party, launched a spirited defense of the standards in a wide-ranging speech on education Thursday. 

States are welcome not to adopt the standards, he said, but if they don't, they should aim even higher—since the nations competing economically with the United States are certainly willing to push their students. 

"This is why the debate over the Common Core State Standards has been troubling, " he said at the National Summit for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the organization he founded. "I respect those who have weighed in on all sides of this issue. Nobody in this debate has a bad motive. But let's take a step back from this debate for a second. This morning over 213 million Chinese students went to school, and nobody debated whether academic expectations should be lowered in order to protect the students' self-esteem. ... " 

But that's happening in the United States, he said.

Bush's defense of the standards isn't a surprise. He has been an ardent supporter of the Common Core State Standards, and has even set up "myth-busting websites" to stem the political backlash against them in his party.

The common core, which was developed through a partnership of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors' Association, started out in 2009 as a bipartisan and relatively politically obscure initiative.

But it is has since ignited the fervor and fury of conservative activists who see it as a federal power grab. That's because the Obama administration promoted the standards through its Race to the Top competition and No Child Left Behind waivers—and then took credit for them on the campaign trail in 2012.

And now, a couple of Bush's potential rivals for the GOP presidential nomination—including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—are running away from the standards. Jindal has actually filed a legal complaint involving common core-aligned tests. And Walker has said he'll work to end the Badger State's involvement in the initiative next year.

Plus, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., another possible presidential contender, said recently he doesn't understand why any Republican who is serious about getting the GOP nod would support common core—in what seemed like an early, pre-campaign slam at Bush.

Bush also championed standardized testing, which has recently been the subject of serious debate as Congress gears up to renew the No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by his brother, President George W. Bush, back in 2002.  

"I believe testing is critical. We need to measure to identify students and schools that are struggling so we can get them the support and resources needed to help them improve. But, we should have fewer and better tests," he said. "States should make sure tests measure critical thinking skills, and districts should make sure local tests are used in a way that is helpful to teachers in the classroom."

He didn't say, however, whether he supported less-than-annual testing, an idea that may come into play in the 2016 presidential race. Bill Clinton, the former president and husband of Hillary Clinton, who is widely seen as likely contender, recently lent his support to testing in just certain grade spans, rather than every year. 

And Bush promoted some of the policies that characterized his two terms as governor of Florida, including school choice and the use of technology to improve teaching and learning. 

In a perfect world, Bush said. "Parents would have the right to a full and competitive marketplace of school options. Neighborhood schools. Charter schools. Private schools. Blended and virtual schools. Home schools."

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