Congratulations to the 36 new and incumbent governors elected this month. You campaigned hard, made your case to voters and won.
As you navigate policy and politics in the coming months, understand that the one constant in today’s tumultuous and polarized political environment is the pathetic state of affairs in Washington.
Washington is not just our nation’s capital, it is the capital of gridlock, dysfunction, arrogance and antics. In short, there is a tremendous amount of talk, but little real action. With a divided Congress on the horizon, matters will only get worse.
So, here’s my advice to our nation’s governors: lead, don’t follow. Exploit the 10th Amendment wisely gifted to us by our founders.
The role of governors is key in this current era of disruption and volatility. Governors have the power to reform, to innovate, to convene, to drive the conversation and to problem solve. They balance budgets, work across the aisle and are far more responsible for outcomes and accountable to their constituents than their federal counterparts are.
Governors can make a difference in education
I believe Governors can be most impactful — immediately and for generations to come — by focusing on education. A quality education is the great equalizer in our society, holding the power to break the cycle of poverty and despair for millions of Americans.
Right now, only one-third of America’s fourth- and eighth-grade students are reading at grade level. In the most recent worldwide rankings of nations’ average scores in math, science and reading, the United States ranks 31st. And while more employers need workers with strong math skills, the latest ACT data shows that just 40 percent of graduates who took the exam were ready for college.
In the face of these challenges, I remain optimistic because states, not the federal government, are the great laboratories of democracy and innovation. So, I urge you to challenge the status quo at every turn.
Start with rewarding and retaining America’s great teachers. Pay the teachers with the toughest jobs and most in-demand skills more, and rethink certification policies to make it easier to recruit talented professionals into the classroom. There is no bigger factor in the success of a student than the quality of his or her teacher.
Ensure every child learns how to read. If they can’t, hold them back in third grade — a critical transition year — until they can. Kids who don’t learn how to read before they enter fourth grade have very little chance at thriving in life.
If you want to fix the polarization crisis, use your vote to shift the political climate
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Rethink school accountability. The point of testing is to assess the progress of students and use the data to reward success and reverse failure. The point is not to distract from learning, and good testing policies don’t. Measure what you care about and utilize technology to get the results back to teachers quickly, so the data can inform their instruction.
Focus funding on students and incentivize the outcomes you want. Funding should be determined by the needs of students, not the desires of entrenched special interests. Low-income students and students who have special needs or are English learners often need additional support, so organize your system around ensuring they get it.
For the first time ever, job openings in the U.S. topped 7 million, due in large part to a lack of qualified workers. Technology has rapidly changed the demands on our labor force, and unless our education system can keep up, America will be left behind by our global competitors. We must make high school more relevant to a student’s future by tying coursework directly to preparation for college or a rewarding career. Let’s also end the stigma on career and technical education and instead embrace the opportunity to better meet workforce needs.
Every student should get a head start on college
Every student should be able to earn college credit in high school. Expanding access to Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Cambridge and dual enrollment courses and college-credit aligned industry credential programs accelerates the path to higher education. There is no excuse for not providing every student with the opportunity to get a head start on college.
The future of education lies not in the 20th century model that saw a classroom of students tackling the same coursework in the same period of time, year after year, but in empowering teachers to ensure each child masters the skills necessary to advance to the next level. Embracing a menu of blended and personalized learning models will ensure students truly master the skills and knowledge expected of them throughout their K–12 education.
Finally, and most importantly, remember that education is not a “one size fits all” endeavor. Empower families to find the best match for their children, whether through public school choice, charter schools or private school choice, including vouchers, tax credit scholarships and education scholarship accounts. The families who benefit the most from greater choices are the low-income and working-class families who currently have no other alternatives.
There are just a few ideas, and there are thousands more that will be generated by you and your colleagues, guided by the experiences and needs of your citizens, in the coming months and years.
I hope you embrace the challenge of transforming America’s education system because there is no greater responsibility our leaders have than to preserve our nation’s future. Just remember, go big, be bold and don’t wait on Washington!
Jeb Bush served as the 43rd Governor of Florida and is the founder and chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Follow him on Twitter: @JebBush
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