Former governor talks education at Cornell

By Michelle Costanza

October 25, 2013 Updated Oct 25, 2013 at 12:19 AM EDT

Ithaca, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Just two months after President Obama addressed the students of Binghamton University, another political figure made a visit to the Southern Tier to discuss education.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was welcomed with applause to Cornell University Thursday night.

The event, hosted by the Cornell Republicans student group, opened the floor to the potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate with the purpose of digging deeper into the current challenges faced in American education.

With a wave of emotion and a compelling demeanor, Bush preached about the need for drastic reform of our schools, highlighting the problem areas and suggesting solutions.

While he empathized with the debt-ridden students in the audience, Bush explained that the deeper challenges exist within education itself, especially at the elementary level.

After implementing various new education policies in Florida during his stint as governor, Bush expressed the possibility of change for all of the country.

"There's no magic formula for making students smarter, instead we must rely on a variety of reforms, which in concert, can produce large gains," said Bush.

The majority of his keynote address brought several issues into focus, including six elements that the former governor said are key to reshaping the future of our children.

Some of those topics included expanding the use of digital technology, instituting further testing, and doing away with tenure for teachers.

"Don't listen to anybody who tells you all teachers are bad, and don't listen to anybody who tells you all teachers are good. There's a bell curve just like everywhere else. The strategy ought to be that we reward the very best, pay them a lot, award them with more responsibilities. For those in the middle, remediate the challenges of the classroom so they can get better. And those at the bottom, my humble suggestion is fire them," said Bush.

As students mulled over the issues post the event, some admitted they weren't entirely convinced by some of Bush's thoughts. One thing that both conservatives and liberals did agree on, however, was the need for change, and the importance of education as a bi-partisan issue.

"At the end of the day, we want a smarter and better country. So despite whatever political background you have, it needs to be addressed and it needs to be fixed," explained Cornell Junior Andrew Salamida.

Bush was joined by SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and Cornell University President David Skorton for a panel discussion to conclude the event.

"Events like this have incredible potential to bring about ideas that other people aren't thinking of. Having a university president, the chancellor of the largest state school in the country, as well as a former governor, how often is it that three people with those unique and diverse perspectives will be on stage together," said Jessica Reif, a Cornell senior and Chairman-Emeritus of the Cornell Republicans.

Cornell Republicans host an event each fall. The group said that this year's speakers were especially pertinent to the Ithaca community as the topic of education reaches all corners of society -- whether Republican, democrat, or undecided.