Washington — The Common Core educational initiative represents an intrusion by federal bureaucrats and elites into the classroom and is not worth a break with the American tradition of local and parental control over schools, Gov. Bobby Jindal said Thursday in a speech to a conservative advocacy group.
Although the speech was keyed to a Common Core theme, Jindal — as he said he would at the beginning of his remarks — also talked about radical Islam and immigration, the Affordable Care Act and a litany of other hot-button issues that he’s repeatedly invoked in appearances across the country and in Europe.
And his lunchtime audience of nearly 100 at the Mayflower Hotel broke into applause when he offered advice for his fellow Republicans:
“Don’t become just cheaper Democrats,” he said. “We don’t need Democratic-lite.”
Those fellow Republicans certainly include the gaggle of all-but-announced candidates for president in 2016 — among them, Jindal himself, who so far has failed to rise above the low single digits in most opinion polls on the race.
The speech coincided with an announcement by American Principles in Action — the nonprofit organization that sponsored Jindal’s appearance — of its campaign against the Common Core, an issue that has emerged as something of a dividing line among the potential Republican contenders for the White House. Jindal lines up with the majority against the program, but some possible candidates — notably former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — support it.
Common Core, Jindal said, is part of a pattern: “In the last five or six years, we have seen an overreach of government power that is unprecedented in our country’s history.”
Jindal mentioned several examples, including the Affordable Care Act, the IRS targeting of tea party groups and the Justice Department’s investigation of reporters’ telephone calls.
Common Core, he said, is more of the same. By contrast, he pointed to his record as governor in promoting school choice and charter schools.
“Ultimately,” he said, “it’s up to the moms and dads to decide what’s best for each of their children.”
Common Core has spurred widespread opposition, particularly on the political right, where it’s denounced as “Obamacore.” Jindal’s own antagonism to the program represents a change of heart, dating from last summer, when he disavowed his former support for it.
Jindal has tried repeatedly to disentangle Louisiana’s public schools from the initiative, which they adopted with his explicit approval in 2010. But he has failed to convince the Legislature and education officials to go along with him, and his legal battles over Common Core in both state and federal courts have so far failed to squash the undertaking.
Jindal last week urged state school officials to offer alternatives to Common Core for children whose parents opt them out of the tests administered under the program, but the officials demurred, and the testing is scheduled to take place next month. Jindal has said he will renew the fight when the Legislature convenes in April.
The program actually was developed by educators and school officials in the states, with substantial financial backing by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It does not directly mandate curriculum, instead establishing measurable standards in math and English in an effort to raise the overall level of achievement by public school students and to allow for meaningful school-to-school and state-to-state comparisons.
The Obama administration did provide a major incentive for states to adopt the Common Core benchmarks by effectively tying billions of dollars in federal grants to that decision. Louisiana jumped on the bandwagon, which eventually included 45 states and the District of Columbia. Since that high-water mark was reached, an increasing number of states led by Republican governors have dropped out of Common Core.
Opponents to Common Core come from many points on the political spectrum and include parents, teachers and others worried less about Big Brother than about straight-jacketing their kids’ classroom teachers or judging school performance by standardized testing. But opinion polls have shown the opposition at its strongest among Republicans.
Characteristically, Jindal in his speech recounted the story of his parents’ immigration from India to Louisiana and the land of opportunity. He offered numerous tributes to the greatness of the nation.
“What happens,” he asked at one point, “when we stop teaching American exceptionalism for our students?
American Principles in Action also opposes same-sex marriage and access to abortion, and it supports a return to the gold standard.
On the same day that Jindal spoke, four members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education renewed their call for a special meeting of BESE.
The four want the state to change plans that would penalize schools and districts in cases where students opt out of Common Core exams next month.
They are Lottie Beebe, of Breaux Bridge; Jane Smith, of Bossier City; Mary Harris, of Shreveport; and Carolyn Hill, of Baton Rouge.
“Schools must not be penalized for a variable they can’t control,” the panel members said in a prepared statement.
BESE President Chas Roemer rejected the same request last week.