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The Year in Review for the Bush Institute's Education Reform Initiative

Article by Tracy Young December 18, 2015 //   7 minute read

Increasing student achievement.  Improving the quality of our schools for every child.  These remain the most important goals of the Bush Institute’s Education Reform initiatives, which are focused on strong accountability; well-supported, effective principals; research-based practices in middle schools; and a love of reading and learning through support for school libraries.  Here’s a look back at a momentous 2015 and why this matters to parents, educators, policymakers, and our communities.

Use the Data and Shine a Spotlight

The Bush Institute continued to focus on the need for strong accountability locally, at the state level, and across the nation.  The Mayors’ Report Card on Education and the Global Report Card showcase tools to turn data into action

Margaret Spellings, President of the George W. Bush Presidential Center and former U.S. Secretary of Education, delivered keynote remarks on the need for strong accountability in education and showcasing data to the joint partnership event in December with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the NAACP. 

“Quality education for everyone, of every background, remains one of the most urgent civil rights issues of our time," she said in her remarks, which focused on the important strong coalitions in local communities and using objective, comparable and timely data to keep the focus rightly on student achievement.

Her timely comments on strong accountability came on the long-awaited day of the passage and signing of the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Earlier in the year, the Bush Institute released the Big Idea of School Accountability, which provided a look back at the long history of our nation’s education reform efforts as policymakers were focused on the next phase of accountability. 

Syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, a Bush Institute education fellow, also conducted several interviews with Hispanic leaders, hearing their views about raising standards and making sure students are meeting them.

In addition, the final volume of Productivity for Results, authored by leading national experts, was released focused on useful tools to make public schools and districts more effective. 

“We believe in success.”

President Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush commemorated the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina by returning to Warren Easton Charter High School in New Orleans, Louisiana to honor the transformational work accomplished by the city’s school leaders, nonprofit partners, educators, parents, and communities.

President Bush applauded the education reform work of the last 10 years.

“Out of the devastation of Katrina, you vowed to do more than just open the schools.  You vowed to challenge the status quo.  Long before the great flood, too many students in this city drifted from grade to grade without ever learning the skills needed for success.  Parents lacked choices and the power to intervene.  Principals and teachers lacked the authority to chart a more hopeful course.  It was a system that stranded more than sixty percent of students failing in schools.  It was what I called the soft bigotry of low expectations.

President Bush also noted the importance of strong principals and quality school leaders.

“Laura and I are here in New Orleans to remind our country about what strong leadership means, and we’re here to salute the leaders. It turns out that every good school that’s succeeding – and we know it’s succeeding, because we measure against other standards – requires strong principals.  Lexi Medley is a strong leader, and she says, “If you fail, we fail.  The student is our product.  We don’t believe in putting out anything but the best.” 

Why Do Principals Matter?

The Bush Institute’s Alliance to Reform Education Leadership continues to dive deep into research and district practice to answer this question and provide greater clarity to school leaders, educators, and policymakers about what districts need to do to get and keep great principals.

The Alliance to Reform Education Leadership (AREL) authored a significant report to follow on the work of Great Principals at Scale - the Gwinnett County Public Schools case study.  This report provides a window into school district supports for principals, and highlights one district’s innovative policies and practices supporting and developing principals.

Next year will include AREL’s large-scale evaluation of five principal preparation programs and release of the district-focused Framework for Principal Talent Management.   

Research-based Practices in Middle Schools Matter

In its third year in schools, MSM is working at the district and school level to help educators implement research-based practices in order to help students prepare for success in high school and beyond. District partners have embraced the MSM model and tools, and the teams are starting to see positive changes on their campuses.  

Middle School Matters also released a short publication by leading researchers, How Writing Instruction, Interventions, and Assessment Can Improve Student Outcomes, that is designed specifically for teachers.

School Libraries Foster a Love of Reading and Learning

2015 saw more than $875,000 distributed to 131 school libraries across the country in grants from the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries, including the eight middle schools that each received a $7,000 library grant last October, as a part of the Bush Institute’s Middle School Matters program. 

Mrs. Bush visited a school library in Austin, Texas, and gave the elementary students some advice, “No matter what you want to be when you grow up – a doctor or a lawyer, a Senator, an artist, or a teacher, reading will help you reach your goal…By providing more schools with better reading materials, the Laura Bush Foundation helps students understand more of the world around them, and its limitless possibilities.”

As a restricted fund of the Bush Center, the George W. Bush Institute is proud to support the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries – which provides library grants to our nation’s neediest schools to expand, update, and diversify their book and print collections to help students continue to develop a love of reading and learning.