Jeb! Trains His Energy on Mastery

Please clap for Bush’s ambitious yet familiar SXSW EDU pitch

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush stopped by SXSW EDU on Monday (March 4) for a chat with Washington Post education reporter Laura Meckler about the future of K-12 schooling, which the presidential also-ran thinks is a “mastery-based system of learning” that ties funding to student outcomes.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (Photo by Austin Sanders)

Promoted as “Next Generation Learning” by Bush’s think tank ExcelinEd, the model envisions smaller, more manageable classes where teachers and technology tailor instruction to students’ current levels of “mastery” of a topic. While students advance through grades along with their peers, they only move on to new topics when they demonstrate sufficient mastery through an exam or other “knowledge test.”

Public education advocates find in the mastery model the same flaws as other conservative approaches to public education – not enough money and too many tests. While Austin ISD has experimented with similar approaches, such as “project-based learning” where students work in small groups to learn through problem solving, it’s been challenged to provide enough funding to keep class sizes small enough to allow for individualized instruction. Bush – whose son, as Texas land commissioner, oversees hundreds of millions of dollars in annual school funding – didn’t address that challenge in his hour-long policy talk, and his home state of Florida, like Texas, has among the lowest per-student funding in the nation.

Bush did, however, opine on a subject of interest to the Texas Legislature right now: performance-based school funding, tied to the state accountability system. While Texas, again, is feeling backlash from educators and advocates over the weight given to the standardized STAAR tests in that system, Bush made clear he feels the carrot-and-stick model works – “having some degree of oversight over systems to make sure you can’t excuse away why some kids aren’t learning. Accountability matters when you create incentives to get more of what you want and disincentives for what you don’t want.”

The GOP majority in the Lege likes the sound of this, with both House and Senate school funding packages expected to include some money (for schools, teachers, or both) tied to student performance. The outline of the House leadership proposal also includes more money for districts with lower-income students, and Bush agreed with the cross-party consensus around “paying teachers more for serving in underserved areas.” Austin’s teacher pay incentive program, Professional Pathways for Teachers – designed by AISD union Education Austin and the American Federation of Teachers – offers teachers more money at campuses with higher concentrations of disadvantaged students and English-language learners.

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Jeb Bush, SXSW EDU, mastery-based learning, ExcelinEdu, project-based learning, Austin ISD, performance pay, Education Austin

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