If you can’t stand the heat, flip-flop. That ought to be the new motto on the door of the governor’s office, where Gov. Bobby Jindal is pushing to roll back higher academic standards in public schools.
The Common Core State Standards are the issue. A product of predominantly Republican leadership in state education policy, the new standards enjoyed the support of the governor until recently.
Fortunately, the Legislature rejected moves by Common Core opponents to pull the standards. Now, Jindal has issued an executive order directing the Department of Education to seek competitive bids for a new state standardized test. The governor also said he would use whatever authority he has over state contracting to impede implementation of Common Core.
The state superintendent of education and the head of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education say the governor doesn’t have the authority to yank Louisiana unilaterally out of the consortium developing Common Core test questions. Those officials are co-signers with the governor of the memorandum agreeing to participate in the test consortium; the memorandum clearly says all involved have to agree before the state can pull out of the agreement. BESE has the constitutional responsibility for these issues, including purchasing tests.
If the mechanics of the governor’s exit strategy are dubious, the potential problems are even more worrisome.
Superintendent John White has rightly noted that withdrawal from Common Core standards and the related tests scheduled to be administered in the coming school year would be a chaotic last-minute shift.
The Common Core State Standards have been underway since 2010, when the new standards were backed by the Jindal-allied superintendent and BESE — and Jindal himself.
Jindal has tried to say that his about-face on Common Core is not about national GOP politics and his potential bid for president, but — vaguely — about “local control” of standards and curricula. The governor has never articulated a coherent rationale for his change in position.
The standards — the knowledge and skills that students need to learn — do not dictate a specific test or curriculum, the methods by which standards are imparted in the classroom. The core standards are endorsed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and to the extent that he has the power to do so, he has backed them. But ultimate control is still at the state level.
If the governor says he is for higher standards, his actions belie his words.
There is only one realistic plan on the table for higher academic standards in Louisiana schools, and that is the Common Core produced by a consortium of the states. The business community has spoken forcefully for the standards. Thousands of hours of work by educators on the standards and millions spent on test development would be wasted if they are rejected.
Even in a few states where the core standards have been formally rejected, the reality is that the same material is adopted with only surface changes.
The governor is wrong to try to force this retreat from higher quality education. We hope that the state’s broader leadership will stick with higher academic standards in schools.