The U.S. Department of Education coerced Louisiana and dozens of other states into adopting Common Core academic standards and assessments by dangling grant money in front of them, a former department official testified Thursday in Baton Rouge federal court.
“They have mightily influenced instruction in the classroom,” Williamson Evers, now an education policy expert, said of the federal Race to the Top funds during a daylong hearing in a lawsuit that Gov. Bobby Jindal filed last summer against the Department of Education and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Jindal, who once publicly supported Common Core but now opposes it, is asking U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick to declare the department’s actions unconstitutional and prohibit the department from disqualifying states from receiving Race to the Top funds based on a refusal to use the new academic standards.
Evers, a research fellow at Stanford University, also testified that the assessments, or tests, guide and drive curriculum in the classroom.
“That is the design and intent,” he said in response to a question from Jindal’s attorney, Jimmy Faircloth.
But Ann Whalen, another former Education Department official who assisted in the drafting of the Race to the Top regulations, also testified in Dick’s courtroom and disagreed with much of what Evers had to say on the witness stand.
“The department doesn’t have influence over the curriculum of any state,” Whalen said to Faircloth.
Whalen, while questioned later by John Theis, an attorney for the Education Department and Duncan, noted that Florida, Georgia and Kentucky have dropped out of Common Core but did not lose their Race to the Top grants. She also said Vermont and North Dakota adopted Common Core standards without applying for those grants.
Louisiana’s total Race to the Top grant is $17.4 million, Whalen said.
Dick, who was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama, cautioned at the start of Thursday’s hearing that, “The politics of education is irrelevant in this case.”
The hearing will resume Friday.
The Education Department contends Louisiana voluntarily decided to use the multistate Common Core standards in math and English. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted the standards in 2010. John White, the governor’s hand-picked education superintendent, also backs Common Core.
Caroline Wolverton, another attorney for Duncan and the Education Department, said in court that the department did not write the Common Core standards.
Despite the department’s contention that Common Core state standards do not constitute curriculum and that curriculum is left to individual states, Evers testified that the assessments are the guiding force behind what is taught in the classroom and how it is taught.
“It is prescribing teaching techniques,” he said.