Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal wants to make the state the fourth, including Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina, to turn back Common Core implementation. Jindal adopted Common Core state standards, which put him in line with other presidential hopefuls like Jeb Bush, four years earlier. Since Common Core has become the litmus test for conservatism, Jindal’s retreat apparently increases his presidential profile.
What about the test for children?
Common Core has essentially become the tetherball of gubernatorial politics. Jindal has jettisoned the Common Core ball over State Superintendent John White (who Jindal helped usher into the position), and small children cover their heads waiting for the game to end. Luckily, White has the structural support of a mixed, elected-appointed board and elected legislature to protect him from the games being played with Louisiana’s children.
The only good to come out of Jindal issuing an executive order to effectively pull implementation of Common Core is that he reaffirmed why states need buffers between elected officials and school chiefs. The state superintendent is voted on and approved by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), which is comprised of elected and appointed officials.
What if the Louisiana superintendent was an elected position? Ironically, legislators in this current session took on the question of should the Louisiana state schools superintendent be elected? Given the actions of Governors who have done an about-face, we should assume that John White would have bowed to political pressure.
Thank goodness Louisiana has a structure that can levee political tomfoolery – but for how long?
I’m not that naïve to dismiss what is happening in Louisiana as childish game playing. The stakes are extremely high in state and national politics. Jindal’s Common Core retreat is no where near the worst example of backsliding. Whenever, you hear politicians utter the words, “my position as evolved” be assured a political calculation has been made.
However, the idea of Common Core as a federal overreach is cartoonishly hypocritical and simply not true.
In a press release from the Office of the Governor, Jindal stated, “We won’t let the federal government take over Louisiana’s education standards. We’re very alarmed about choice and local control over curriculum being taken away from parents and educators.”
Too many elected officials, experts and state chiefs, including both Louisiana superintendents who’ve presided during Jindal’s two terms have shunned the overreaching idea of a federal overreach. The first Superintendent, Paul Pastorek, penned a Times-Picayune op-ed, which in the first sentence flatly stated, “Under no circumstances would Common Core allow the federal government to dictate education to states and local government.” Pastorek worked with Jindal to bring the new standards to Louisiana. When Pastorek resigned from the state superintendency, he continued to work as a volunteer with the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers AKA PARCC, one of the tests aligned to Common Core standards. Pastorek became an initial board member of PARCC when the consortium became an independent non-profit.
Jindal also won’t find validation from in his current superintendent, John White, who through an official statement reminded Jindal that “[t]he governor [Jindal], the BESE president, and the state superintendent then signed a commitment to developing test forms and questions that would allow the state’s performance to be measured in comparison with other states.”
Add me to the list of people who think most arguments abjuring Common Core amount to shortsighted political maneuvering or to what folks in the hood colloquially refer to “hateraid.” But instead of making clear political distinctions against a perceived rival, dogmatic juxtapositioning against all things Obama only places people in the ballpark of birthers. All the while, we waste another day of raising standards for children.
The haters of Common Core are mischaracterizing it as merely a test. Let’s be clear; every generation needs new standards. A few may want to make home economics core, but most rational people want curricula that reflect a modern world. Educators have always tested and assessed students’ performances on standards. There are credible arguments to be raised about high-stakes testing, but this is a separate matter. America needs new standards, and we especially need to understand how students compare nationally and internationally.
Unfortunately, the Tea Party and teacher groups have leveraged the fear of the unknown around Common Core. In hindsight, Common Core’s architects didn’t communicate enough with grass-top and grass-root organizations on the changes.
Nevertheless, the Common Core game of tetherball strengthened my belief that state superintendents need buffers to protect them from intense political trends. Education shouldn’t be forced to react to every transition between administrations. States’ standards, curricula and assessment strategies shouldn’t pivot to an individual’s quixotic plan to become a presidential nominee. State legislators should now focus on creating structures that prevent political game playing.
Jindal knows he can’t essentially “take his ball and go home” when it comes to Common Core. We have to believe that Jindal is playing this charade to check another Tea Party, RNC box for the upcoming 2016 presidential race, or for a show on the Fox Network. I just wish that Jindal understood that his star is losing fuel because of these myopic political calculations. In the very least, he should consider how much Louisiana is losing from his own national overreach.
The only person benefiting from Jindal’s politicking is Superintendent White, who needed to differentiate himself from an administration that exploited a once promising education reform agenda for ostensible political gains.
Sadly after his term is over, Jindal may find himself alone in a sandbox looking for friends.
Andre Perry, founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is the author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City (2011).
Find out more about how Common Core is changing education.