INDIANAPOLIS -- Teachers unions favor "the economic interest" of adults and are standing in the way of progress in education, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday.
A "monolithic" and "homogenized" system is holding back school reform customized for students, Bush told about 300 people attending a national school choice summit sponsored by the American Federation for Children at the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis.
"We also need to dedicate our time and energy to ... take on the powerful interests that challenge any kind of change," Bush said. "The simple fact is that the teachers union and others that want to protect the economic interest of the adults in this massive system are winning right now. And ... we need to fight them because they're not going to change."
Florida is recognized as one of the leaders in school choice programs, including a literacy-based pre-K curriculum and the largest virtual-based charter school. Bush was being honored by the AFC. He is now chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.
In a session following Bush's speech, the Indiana State Teachers Association was criticized by school-choice supporters and described as a long-time blockade to choice education initiatives in Indiana.
"The biggest barrier in Indiana, as I think it has been in lot of states, was the defenders of the status quo. Here for us, it's the Indiana State Teachers union," said Betsy Wiley, president and CEO of Hoosiers for Quality Education, a school reform non-profit.
In response to Bush's charge, ISTA President Teresa Meredith reiterated support for public schools.
"We all need to be looking out for the kids in our community and finding ways to ensure that they have a chance at a bright future -- that comes through neighborhood public schools," Meredith said. "It's about a future for all kids, not just a few."
On Monday, ISTA organized a rally in opposition to the school choice agenda espoused by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who gave a keynote speech to the American Federation for Children.
During his speech Tuesday, Bush said that education isn't keeping up with gains in artificial intelligence, wireless technology and robotics, Bush said.
"The world we're moving towards at warp speed requires outcomes in learning far higher than what we deliver today," he said.
"All these things are accelerating into our lives, and yet we're still educating in a 20th century way. The net result is that we're going to create two Americas, not based on race and ethnicity ... but rather if people are capable of riding this technological wave or whether they'll be drowned by it."