October 26, 2021

White House was ‘grateful’ to Jeb Bush for helping with Common Core, says former Obama aide

President Obama, accompanied by former Florida governor Jeb Bush, right, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, at a Miami high school in 2011. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

This can’t be a tweet that Jeb Bush is going to like.

Daniel Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor to President Obama for strategy and communications, expressed the White House’s gratitude to the former two-term Florida governor on Thursday, the day of the GOP presidential contender debates were held in Cleveland. For what? For supporting the Common Core State Standards and even helping them to persuade states to adopt them.

Here’s the tweet:

When I worked in the White House, we were always grateful to @JebBush for his efforts to help us urge states to adopt Common Core

— Dan Pfeiffer (@danpfeiffer) August 7, 2015

Bush has been on the defensive for some time over his long-time support for the Common Core, a set of math and English Language Arts standards that most states adopted several years ago. When he became the governor of Florida in 1999, he became a pioneer in the corporate education reform movement that used student standardized test scores to hold schools “accountable,” promoted vouchers and charter schools, and pushed to change the way teachers were credentialed. When he left office in 2007, he became a reform evangelist around the country, promoting his “Florida Formula” while advising states on how to adopt the same reforms.

Here is what Jeb Bush really did as governor to public education in Florida

He was an early and consistent Core supporter, even as other Republicans began to turn against the initiative, which had the support of the Obama administration. (While the administration did not write the standards, it did make adopting common standards a requirement of states wanting to win federal Race to the Top money and/or a waiver from the most onerous aspects of No Child Left Behind. The administration also provided some $360 million in federal funds to two multi-state consortia to develop new Common Core standards tests.)

A few years ago Bush had no problem speaking harshly about Common Core critics. For example, in October 2013, he told an audience at his Foundation for Excellence in Education’s annual conference:

“What I want to hear from them is more than just opposition. I want to hear their solutions for the hodgepodge of dumbed-down state standards that have created group mediocrity in our schools…. Criticisms and conspiracy theories are easy attention grabbers. Solutions are hard work.”

After he became a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, he began to offer far more nuanced support for the Core and was much kinder to its critics. In May 2015, he told Fox News host Megyn Kelly:

Common Core means a lot of things to different people, so they could be right based on what’s in front of them. I respect people having a view, but the simple fact is we need higher standards. They need to be state driven. The federal government should play no role in this, either in the creation of standards, content or curriculum. That’s what I believe. And if we don’t have high standards and assess to them faithfully, we get what we have today which is about a third of our kids being college and/or career ready. And by the way, we spend more per student than any other country in the world other than two or three countries.

During the Aug. 6 debate, Fox News moderator Bret Baier asked Bush to defend his support of the Common Core State Standards. Some in the audience at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland booed when he said “Common Core,” and Bush gave a careful answer:

“I’m for higher standards measured in an intellectually honest way, with abundant school choice, ending social promotion. And I know how to do this because as governor of the state of Florida I created the first statewide voucher program in the country, the second statewide voucher program in the country and the third statewide voucher program in the country.”

This isn’t the first time the Obama administration has praised Jeb Bush for his education policies. In fact, on March 4, 2011, Obama himself shared a stage with Bush at Miami Central High School. Bush said he was honored to welcome Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, whom he thanked for his “commitment and service to our country,” and Bush said he agreed with Obama on the importance of school reform:

“Mr. President, as you have said, education achievement is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue. It is an issue of national priority.”

Obama then praised Bush as a “champion” of school reform, saying

We are also honored to be joined here today by another champion of education reform, somebody who championed reform when he was in office, somebody who is now championing reform as a private citizen — Jeb Bush. (Applause.) And we are grateful — we’re grateful for him being here. Aside from being a former governor of this great state, Jeb, of course is best known as the brother of Marvin Bush. (Laughter.) Apparently the rest of the family also did some work back in Washington back in the day. (Laughter.) The truth is I’ve gotten to know Jeb because his family exemplifies public service. And we are so grateful to him for the work that he’s doing on behalf of education. So, thank you, Jeb.