Gov. Bobby Jindal and his former ally, state Education Superintendent John White, are offering radically different visions of what public school students should learn and how they should be tested.
“We will not accept this one-size-fits-all approach to our children’s education,” he told reporters.
White wants the standards reviewed and tweaked but largely kept intact.
“I can’t emphasize that enough,” he said during a briefing for educators and others last week.
The gulf between Jindal and White on whether to keep Common Core and a host of related issues points up the huge divide that is about to set off another round of arguments when the Legislature convenes on April 13.
Common Core backers prevailed last year after hours of bitter testimony, mostly in the House Education Committee. But the split this time is just as wide, which means students have to wonder just what they will be taught and how they will be tested when schools reopen in August.
“These approaches are just so radically different,” said Barry Erwin, president of the pro-Common Core group Council for a Better Louisiana.
The two main combatants — Jindal and White — used to be political allies.
In 2011, Jindal took the unusual step of campaigning for state school board members so White would be named state superintendent of education. Now the two camps barely tolerate each other, especially after 18 months of legislative, court and state school board fights over the merits of Common Core.
Jindal wants new standards drafted by parents and educators and for the 144-member Louisiana Legislature, by majority vote, to have the final say on whether they take effect. “Our legislation will return to the pre-Common Core standards adoption process,” he said.
White says the governor’s plan would trigger a “bureaucratic morass” confusing to teachers and students. “If we want a political education system, this is our plan,” he said.
White wants four panels of educators and others to review the standards, with the 11-member state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education deciding whether the changes win final approval.
The governor wants to dust off the state’s 2004-05 standards while new ones are being crafted. “These are standards teachers are familiar with, know how to teach,” Jindal said.
White said doing so would return Louisiana to a time of dismal academic achievement, force teachers to redo years of work and cost schools tens of millions of dollars. “It is hard to fathom a plan that would want to take our state progress back in time, but this one truly does,” he said.
State. Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Livingston, former superintendent of the Livingston Parish school district, lined up with Jindal when the governor unveiled his plan on March 18.
“I am a strong believer in what we are trying to do here today,” Pope said of the Jindal-led push to shelve Common Core and the tests that go with it.
On the other side of the debate, Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, a Common Core backer, said Jindal is offering a telling contrast on Louisiana’s education future.
The Jindal path, he said, would return the state to old standards and old ways of crafting them.
“He wants to open it up so that the whole process is political,” Appel said.
Adding to the mix is the fact that 2015 is a gubernatorial election year — three of the four contenders oppose Common Core — and Jindal is a lame duck who is testing the waters for a 2016 bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
In addition, about 316,000 public school students last week finished five days of Common Core tests, known as PARCC.
About 99 percent of eligible students took the exams despite an “opt out” movement that resulted in more than 4,000 students skipping the tests.
Jindal said Common Core should be dumped for both philosophical and substantive reasons.
He said the standards represent federal intrusion in local school issues.
In addition, the governor said new academic benchmarks are needed to replace the “fuzzy math” featured in Common Core and a heavier infusion of classic literature is in order.
White countered that Common Core test questions require the right answer “but they also ask you to think,” including explanations on how students arrived at their answers.
“It is an extremist plan designed by politicians for politicians,” he said of the governor’s anti-Common Core plan.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.