The applause burst today at a telling moment. In kicking off his high-powered National Summit on Education Reform in D.C. this morning, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush opened and closed his remarks with a call for lawmakers to find creative ways to build on the bipartisan common ground forming around meaningful child-centered education reform. “In this one place,” said Bush, “we can put aside the partisan divide and make things happen.” The room erupted.
This is not to be dismissed as idle happy talk. Bush achieved much of his own sweeping education agenda in Florida from 1999 to 2007 through taut partisan muscle and against an increasingly embittered teachers union. He was introduced this morning by a Democratic mayor, Adrian Fenty, who fought much the same education fight in D.C. against an unwilling union, and the conference will close tomorrow with a Democratic U.S. education secretary, Arne Duncan, whose message is nearly indistinguishable from that of Bush.
Most of the sessions at this conference will deal with the tools of education innovation and customization, but the “tipping point” in education reform to which Bush spoke today is owed in part to people of good will in both political parties who are increasingly willing to put gamesmanship aside for schoolchildren. The mixture of speakers here and the makeup of this august audience both speak to that. “A great country,” Bush said, “should have education as a national priority.” That gets easier when colored in red and blue and Bush provided a powerful reminder today.