In Jindal’s Common Core Fight, Policy Should Matter Just as Much as Politics
Scrapping Standards Without Plan B Could Wreck Education Progress, Is High Price to Pay Just to Make a Political Statement
Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is waging a lonely crusade to rid the Pelican State of the Common Core State Standards. The Louisiana state legislature supports the standards and has blocked bills to undermine them. The state Board of Education backs the standards. And perhaps most importantly, the state’s Superintendent of Education, John White, has repeatedly stood by the standards and clashed with Jindal over the governor’s newfound antagonism toward them.
But Jindal, unrelenting, announced a five-point plan yesterday to withdraw his state from the Common Core and the tests being developed by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, citing conflicts between the process PARCC has used to develop the test and state procurement law. To be fair, Jindal technically asked PARCC to withdraw from Louisiana, as if it were Union Major Gen. Benjamin Butler. But most of Jindal’s objections appear to stem not from the quality of the standards or tests or from the bidding process, but from concerns over federal overreach. While he remained noncommittal on the standards as recently as March, Jindal now believes that the effort is led from Washington, D.C., not from the state governors and schools’ chiefs who developed the standards. For the record, Jindal himself was part of those conversations and helped bring Louisiana on board.
I’m not a lawyer, so I have no idea whether Jindal can suspend a rule adopted by the state Board of Education, or whether he can cancel a state contract to use test items from PARCC. But it is worth noting: Jindal wasn’t the only state official involved in signing the Pelican State up for the Common Core.
The former State Superintendent of Education, Paul Pastorek, also signed the 2009 Memorandum of Agreement with the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers to join the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Then, to seal the deal, the Board formally adopted the standards in July 2010. And when it comes to PARCC, the Memorandum of Understanding between Louisiana and the consortium (from June 2010) was also signed by Jindal, Pastorek, and the state Board Chairman. Put another way, Jindal didn’t make the decision unilaterally to join the Common Core -- so can he unilaterally revoke it?
That is the dilemma. And it makes Louisiana distinct from other states that have dropped the common standards. Indiana’s legislature, governor, and state board were all for the move to go their own way. The decision to develop uniquely-Hoosier standards and tests wasn’t made by one state official, but rather, a group of them. The same is true in South Carolina and Oklahoma.
But that isn’t the case in Louisiana. Just see the response to Jindal’s plan from current Board Chairman Chas Roemer: “This is a political maneuver. [Jindal’s] politics are national in scope and focused on a very particular portion of the vote. There is no other way to explain a 180-degree turn from a plan that started in 2004.” White’s rebuke is even more direct: “We are not willing to subject our children to last-minute changes to throw our system into educational chaos.”
All of this makes for great political drama -- infighting among the GOP in the wake of Eric Cantor’s Tea Party takedown, a presidential hopeful jockeying for position with all the zeal of an Obamacore convert (remember who else liked five-point plans?), and feisty rhetoric on all sides. And even U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has weighed in, telling CBS This Morning, “Governor Jindal was a passionate supporter before he was against it. That situation is about politics, it’s not about education.” In fact, Duncan’s comments may have spurred Jindal to action, seizing an opportunity to prove his conservative cred and pit himself even more strongly against the administration.
But drama aside, isn’t this just a case of flash without substance? Of politics, without any real policy changes? Although the legal and procurement issues must be considered and could threaten PARCC in Louisiana, the state Department of Education doesn’t plan to slow down Common Core implementation. And more important, after years of planning and training, will schools and teachers suddenly use different standards to shape their lessons next year? Despite Jindal’s executive orders, it’s unclear what has actually changed for Louisiana schools, teachers, and students.
Moreover, Louisiana received $17.4 million in Race to the Top funding from the U.S. Department of Education. While not as large a grant as earlier states, some of that money could be in jeopardy if the state cannot deliver on all of the promises it made, including those related to implementing the Common Core. And the states’ federal waiver from No Child Left Behind is also contingent on Louisiana implementing college- and career-ready standards by the spring of 2014 and new assessments by the spring of 2015. These new standards and tests don’t have to be aligned to the Common Core, but the state can’t just go back to the way things were before, either.
In other words, the posturing in Louisiana will be all about politics -- until the policy has to change. With White and Roemer standing firm, Jindal can continue to rail against the Common Core, and look toward 2016, without having to be for something else specifically. But if Jindal gets his way, over the objections of White and the Board, politics should be the least of Louisiana’s concerns. How would the state produce new standards so quickly? How would educators receive the training, materials, and support they need to teach those standards? And with such an expedited timeline, could the state procure new assessments that were high quality and aligned to the standards in time? If not, would they lose their Race to the Top dollars, or their NCLB waiver? These policy questions matter -- and they particularly matter for districts, educators, and students.
Scrapping the Common Core or the consortia tests in Louisiana without a Plan B -- without a real policy alternative -- ready to go is reckless. Just look at the chaos unfolding in Indiana. It may not wreck Jindal’s political career. But it could quickly wreck years of careful planning and hard work to improve student outcomes across the Pelican State. And that would be a very high price to pay just to make a political statement.