Bush’s latest enthusiasm is digital learning. In December, with former West Virginia governor Bob Wise, a Democrat, he released a report on how states can take advantage of the revolution in technology. “We’re doing everything the same way we were 50 or even 100 years ago, with seat time, three months off, and a teacher who stands in front of kids,” says Bush. “Digital learning is the fastest way to change all of that — and the unions see it as an even bigger threat than vouchers because it’s such a disruptive idea.” Bush envisions a system in which students receive customized instruction via adaptive software, possibly delivered by for-profit companies and across state lines without regard to old-fashioned methods of teacher certification. “We have a shortage of math and science teachers, but we also have excellent math and science teachers,” says Bush. “We can create a repository of rich content, deliver it to homes and classrooms, and allow kids to learn at their own pace.” In the future, he believes, children will have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement courses in Mandarin Chinese even if they live in the hills of Kentucky and have to learn from teachers in San Francisco.
The lessons apply to other areas as well. “With the tools at my disposal, I can do the work of three or four Jebs of 1990,” says Bush. “Yet government and the things we ask government to do are mired in the middle of the 20th century.” He cites health care as an example: “We’ve created a whole system based on a policy of employer-provided insurance that was maybe useful in 1950. The result is that people aren’t engaged in their own health, they don’t know the price of anything, and there’s no market.” The approach of President Obama is fundamentally wrong, says Bush: “He should have taken a pause and figured out what health care should look like. Instead, he asked for a monstrosity that locks an old model in place.”