Jeb Bush champions US education reform ahead of 2016
Former Florida Republican Governor Jeb Bush speaks at the 2014 National Summit on Education Reform in Washington, DC on Nov. 20, 2014 (AFP)

Ex-president George W. Bush's younger brother Jeb, who is mulling a 2016 White House run, on Thursday called for a revolution in the US education system, decrying the glacial pace of reform.

The former governor of Florida has emerged over the past year as a leader of substance as the Republican Party navigates contentious issues like immigration, gay marriage and abortion.

He has spoken out about education often since leaving the governor's mansion in 2007, and he was pushing the issue into the spotlight again in Washington.

"This is a civil right crisis in every sense of the term, because when schools fail our kids, we deny them more than an education. We deny them their right to their potential," Bush said at the annual summit of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

"Doors close to them. They become stuck in a world that none of us would choose for our own children."

Bush noted that while school integration took root in the 1960s, the vestiges of inequality linger, highlighted by pronounced gaps in test scores between black and Hispanic students on one hand and white students on the other.

"If we let kids struggle, if we herd them into failing schools, how can we expect young people to grasp the first rungs of opportunity?" he asked.

"Education reform is about renewing this great country, it's about protecting and promoting the essential right to rise."

Bush favors more rigorous standards for US students. He backs the controversial Common Core standards that have set conservatives on edge, and warned of the perils of lowering expectations for US students.

In Florida's Orange County, he noted, education officials recently decided that in order to protect students' self-esteem, children who attend class cannot get a grade below 50 out of 100.

"An overriding concern for self esteem instead of high expectations does not get you to number one, it gets you to number 21," he said, citing a Shanghai report on international schooling standards.

Common Core's methodology for teaching English and mathematics, developed by experts in partnerships with US states, is at the heart of the education standard debate, with critics denouncing Common core as a federal takeover of education.

Bush rejected the argument.

"There is no question we need higher academic standards," he said. "The rigor of the Common Core state standards must be the new minimum in classrooms."

Bush is one of several Republicans openly considering a presidential campaign. Some of his prospective primary opponents are opposed to the standards.