Gov. Bobby Jindal was for Common Core before he was against it, as anyone who’s following the controversy over K-12 education standards knows.
Same goes for U.S. Sen. David Vitter, whose equally dramatic about-face was more recent.
But that’s not where the two politicians’ similarities end.
Jindal, who’s acting every bit a presidential candidate these days, isn’t content just to go on record. Ever since he came out as an enemy of the very standards that he and a host of Republican and Democratic governors pioneered, Jindal’s been trying to prove that he’s a more fervent opponent than all the rest.
So when the Legislature, Education Superintendent John White and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education declined to follow his lead, the governor embarked on a series of maneuvers to overturn the state’s involvement on his own.
Jindal vetoed a bill that would have given schools an extra year to implement the standards before accountability measures kick in, arguing that allowing the delay would enshrine Louisiana’s participation in law.
His administration concocted a supposed contracting scandal aimed at blocking the purchase of the PARCC test associated with Common Core.
He sued to stop BESE from using PARCC, citing an “imminent risk of irreparable harm created by the unlawful exercise of federal control of education in Louisiana.” The judge didn’t buy it.
And he sued the Obama administration, claiming that it violated the 10th Amendment by essentially coercing states to adopt Common Core through the Race to the Top initiative, which awarded grants to states — including $17 million to Louisiana — that had adopted rigorous standards and assessment protocols, but did not specifically mandate adoption of Common Core.
Vitter, a candidate in next year’s gubernatorial election, not only came out strongly in favor of the standards last summer. He also criticized Jindal’s attempt to circumvent implementation just before the new school year, labeling it “very disruptive.”
The announcement was clearly aimed at shoring up support among the business conservatives who still strongly back Common Core, and to show voters that he wouldn’t be just another Jindal, whose approval rating hovers in the low forties. The fact that it enabled him to get in a few shots at the governor was just lagniappe.
While Jindal and Vitter are anything but allies, they’re courting the same arch-conservative constituency, made up of the type of voters who see any sign of federal involvement — particularly from the current president — as an affront to states’ rights. And so, in a move that had to make Jindal smile, Vitter ate his words and took it all back.
But like Jindal, he didn’t stop there. Vitter tried to one-up the governor by moving to cut off Common Core from his perch in Washington.
He filed legislation to “prohibit the federal government from mandating, incentivizing or coercing states to adopt the Common Core State Standards or any other specific academic standards,” as he put it in a press release, and then highlighted Democratic leader Harry Reid’s refusal to schedule a vote in a fundraising appeal.
Of course, neither politician is openly advocating lower standards for Louisiana students, and both pay lip service to rigor and accountability.
But what neither one bothers to address is what they propose to do differently. What do they think the locals know that the people who make up the national consortium don’t?
How would we know if our students are keeping up with their peers nationwide if Louisiana is doing its own thing? And just what, in a substantive rather than a rhetorical sense, is a Louisiana standard anyway?
The utter lack of discussion over any of those issues shows both Jindal’s and Vitter’s actions for what they are — political maneuvers, not serious educational proposals.
Can we just go ahead and call this a race to the bottom?