After years of devising and pushing legislation to disrespect and harm professional educators, Jeb Bush is going to “teach” at Harvard. The irony cannot be overstated. To be clear, Jeb is no teacher and this is no job.

Jeb will act as a visiting fellow in the Program on Education Policy and Governance – an organization where he served as chairman of the Advisory Board for several years beginning in 2011. Other members of the advisory board have included John KirtleyPhil HandyGerard RobinsonJoel Klein and Corey Booker. PEPG funders include the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the The Walton Family Foundation. The Milton Friedman Foundation was among the earliest funders, dating back to 1997, the program’s inaugural year.

PEPG delivers many of the “studies” Jeb, ALEC and others use to justify privatizing public schools. One such study, The Effects of Early Grade Retention on Student Outcomes over time: Regression discontinuity evidence from Florida was written by Martin West, Deputy Director of PEPG but released to the media deceptively by The Brookings Institute.  The study conveniently concluded “evidence that early retention leads to adverse academic outcomes is misleading due to unobserved differences between retained and promoted students.” 

Studies like this allowed Jeb and his friends to aggressively convince 18 states to implement mandatory third grade retention, despite overwhelming evidence that retention is a proven drop-out predictor.

So, PEPG has asked Jeb to deliver its 2016 Godkin Lecture as a “visiting” academic. This is just another effort by public education “reformers” to use the Harvard Kennedy School as a beard to promote a political agenda.

It’s essential to fully understand what Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance does. Far from an objective research center, PEPG is an ardent proponent of the Milton Friedman vision of privatization of public schools using vouchers, for-profit charters, and a vast array of vendors.

Predictable, recurring themes such as mandatory third grade retention, teacher evaluations, U.S  students being unable to compete internationally, investing less on public education while expecting increased returns, class-size doesn’t matter and the ever-expanding push to digital learning are front and center.

Of course, once a “study” is released, PEPG boasts about all the media coverage.  The only thing this proves is that, like many other institutions, the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance churns out thinly supported but well-timed reports to support a political objective. Often this “proof” is released to the media just prior to legislative session or a critical floor vote in the House or Senate.

So, PEPG is part of an enormous propaganda machine that Jeb and his school “reform” pals have been using for years.  Using studies to manipulate and even harm the futures millions of children for political expediency is worse than bad. Calling yourself a “teacher” after working continuously to discredit and devalue the profession is a level of disrespect that knows no bounds.

This overview of several recent PEPG annual reports tells the story:

2015 PEPG Annual Report:

  • Not Just the Problems of Other People’s Children – PEPG refutes the effects of poverty on student learning
  • The Public Turns Against Teacher Tenure – Celebrates Vergara ruling ending teacher tenure in California, which was overturned on appeal.
  • The Education Spending Fog – PEPG dismisses the importance of investment in public schools
  • The First Hard Evidence on Virtual Education – PEPG builds the case that computers are just as good as human teachers. “The bottom line is that Florida high-school students taking algebra or English I online perform at least as well on state math and reading tests as do students taking the same courses in a traditional format.” 
  • Public Schools and the Private School Voucher Threat – PEPG purports that school vouchers are good for public schools

2014 PEPG Annual Report:

  • Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School – PEPG uses NAEP and PISA to support argument that better accountability, more school choice, and market-based teacher compensation and retention policies can, on the other hand, boost achievement without adding materially to school costs.”
  • Louisiana Voucher Program May Improve Racial Integration – PEPG position flies in the face of extensive evidence.
  • Teachers vs. The Public – Among the “findings”: public support for school vouchers for all students increases sharply when people are informed of the national ranking of student performance in their local school district. Support for charter schools and parent trigger laws also increases when the public learns the truth about local student performance. 

2013 PEPG Annual Report:

  • New Digital Learning Policy Conference Hosted by PEPG – the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning, created in 2010 by the Digital Learning Council, co-chaired by former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise, providing the starting point for the conversation: Funding follows the student, Choice among multiple providers: Reducing costs without lowering quality, Fund achievement, not attendance and Federal, state and local roles in education
  • School Vouchers Help African Americans Go to College: Experimental Evidence from New York City – PEPG based its claims on prediction not longitudinal study: The study shows that an African American student who was able to use a voucher to attend a private school was 24 percent more likely to enroll in college than an African American student who didn’t win a voucher lottery
  • Reforming the Early Years of Schooling: Third graders benefit from retention – PEPG executive director Martin R. West claims that: Florida’s policy of retaining third graders based on state standardized test scores has a positive long-term impact on those students.

2011 PEPG Annual Report:

  • Florida’s class-size reduction mandate did not improve student achievement
  • Conference on Merit Pay: Will it work? Is it politically viable? Among PEPG findings: Neither academic credentials nor years of experience, after the initial few, are correlated with a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom.
  • EdNext-PEPG Survey shows that, on many education reform issues, Democrats and Republicans hardly disagree – “proof” that the public completely favors all education reforms and believe there should be no exceptions for teachers regarding tenure.
  • Shaping Court Decisions: PEPG’s research is cited in multiple court cases.
  • Shaping Opinions: Informing Citizens Through Op-eds and Commentaries

Inspect all PEPG annual reports here.

List of PEPG studies used to influence perceptions regarding education “reform.”