Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday urged Nevada educators to “be big or go home” when it comes to updating the education system to allow students to learn online and at their own pace.
“One of the things that’s important is to have high, lofty expectations,” Bush said during a forum at Advanced Technologies Academy. “In too many places in our country, the expectations are dumbed down, instead of starting with the premise that everybody in this classroom has a God-given ability and let’s maximize it.”
Bush, chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which he founded, toured the campus to see how technology and digital learning tools have helped the magnet school become the top Nevada school.
A potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016, Bush also is in town to meet with Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, who threw a VIP party Thursday night at his private hangar at McCarran International Airport. Bush was the featured speaker.
Bush also planned to raise money for the re-election of GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval at a private event.
Bush and several other possible GOP White House hopefuls planned to attend the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition at Adelson’s Venetian hotel-casino. It started Thursday and ends Sunday.
The other potential contenders, who have been given Saturday speaking roles at the conference, include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Adelson, worth about $37.5 billion, expects to meet with all potential presidential candidates on the sidelines of the coalition meeting in what political observers are calling the “Sheldon Adelson Primary.” He contributed more than $100 million during the 2012 elections.
He backed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid almost single-handedly until Gingrich dropped out, then backed Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee who ultimately lost to President Barack Obama.
Bush spoke to about 200 students at Advanced Technologies Academy. He was on a panel with State Board of Education member Mark Newburn; state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas; state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson; Clark County Schools Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky; Deborah Kral, principal at Advanced Technologies Academy, and student Anton Sorkin, who studied in the school’s law program.
When Bush was governor of Florida, he supported innovative education programs and encouraged efforts to let students choose public or private schools.
He said his views on education changed further after he visited Sweden, where students at a private “knowledge school” learn at their own pace and use high-technology. The government pays for public and private school education.
Bush said Nevada and other states should allow more digital learning, including video game-like classes, to excite students about education and prepare them better for the working world.
“It was a customized, student-centered, performance-based system,” Bush said of the Swedish school he visited. “If you mastered one class, you moved on to the next. But you have to master it.”
Bush also touted advanced placement classes that allow students to gain college credits early. He said he hopes his three grandchildren will be learning in a more high-tech environment and taking college classes at the ages of 14, 15 and 16, whether remotely or in a classroom.
“By the time my three grandkids are in high school it may not be called high school,” Bush said. “It may be a continuous learning environment. I do know it will be radically different. We just have to create the most open, optimum environment. … We’re moving in that direction, but it’s taking way too long.”
Bush said “shifting the power from the adults to the students in a customized environment” can help the United States lead the world in education by allowing students to “learn at their own pace, and in their own way.”
“Be big or go home. You have a chance to change things,” Bush said, explaining that many teaching methods are out of date. “Try to make it more like the world today and less like the world 50 years ago. … Think bigger.”
Bush said union collective bargaining sometimes gets in the way of innovation, and he argued for rewarding good teachers who are trained to teach students in a more high-tech way.
“Teaching needs to be more of a profession and less of a collective-bargaining process,” Bush said.
During the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers passed SB58, which removed restrictions on access to digital learning throughout the state. As a result, Woodhouse said, a student in a rural county such as Esmeralda could take an online course in calculus, for example, through Clark or Washoe counties, providing equal learning opportunities statewide.
Woodhouse said nine middle schools in Clark County give each student a laptop. She said the project is just the beginning, however, and it will take lots of money to provide high-tech equipment and Wi-Fi access to all students. Teachers also need to be educated to use the new Internet tools, Woodhouse said.
Roberson said more than 20 percent of Clark County students have problems speaking English and high-tech tools can help them, too. The Legislature added some $50 million to English Language Learning programs last session.
“Technological solutions could be a huge asset in fixing that problem,” Roberson said.
U.S. News and World Report awarded the Advanced Technologies Academy “Gold Medal” status recognizing the school as the No. 1 public high school in Nevada and 304th in the nation.
Bush’s foundation recently issued its annual Digital Learning Report Card. Nevada ranked fourth in the nation and most improved for policies that encourage technology in education.
Advanced Technologies Academy has a 68 percent minority enrollment “busting myths and proving every child can learn if given the right tools,” according to Bush’s foundation.
Contact reporter Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.