Is this how the Common Core wars end?
Not with a fight to the finish but with a hearty chorus of “Kumbaya” among combatants who seem as surprised as anyone to be singing in harmony? Not with a crushing, as Gov. Bobby Jindal promised at the legislative session’s outset, but with a compromise?
If so, well, good. Good for the lawmakers and education officials who negotiated the deal and who will now be able to move on to more pressing problems. And certainly good for the state’s teachers and students, who deserve an end to the politically driven disarray that the two-year battle has created.
There’s still a long way to go in the session, but Wednesday’s unanimous House Education Committee vote on House Bill 373 sent an unmistakable message that the two sides are ready to lay down their swords.
State Rep. Brett Geymann, the bill’s author, and his colleagues in the anti-Common Core movement sat shoulder to shoulder with committee Chairman Steve Carter, Education Superintendent John White and their pro-Common Core allies and outlined a path forward that they can all agree upon. This came just weeks after Geymann had tried — and failed — to get his legislation to kill Common Core moved out of Carter’s committee.
“I can’t imagine that this would ever happen,” Geymann told the committee Wednesday. “It’s amazing that when you open up and allow negotiations and conversations to take place, you find out you have common ground.”
Geymann’s bill, which is designed to work alongside several companion measures, would adjust an ongoing review of the controversial standards in several ways. It would require the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to hold six public hearings, one in each congressional district. It also would allow the state House and Senate Education committees and the governor to either accept the changes in full or send BESE back to the drawing board.
The deal also calls for a one-year contract to find a test that allows comparison with results in other states — a key Common Core feature — other than the PARCC test now in use. Fewer than half the questions can come from PARCC or other federally funded state consortia, according to the agreement.
Different factions are interpreting the arrangement as they see fit, of course. Common Core opponents are trumpeting a way out of a system developed by states and later endorsed by President Barack Obama — who has attached federal funding to state adoption of competitive standards.
Proponents see a way to tweak the standards but leave them mostly as is. The compromise leaves much of the authority in the hands of education officials; politicians won’t be able to pick and choose what they like and don’t like, and Common Core remains the default.
Frankly, the proponents are right that the deal will likely keep much of Common Core in place, even if it ends up under a different, Louisiana-specific label.
And that should come as no surprise, given that they started with a stronger hand.
The two education committees are stacked with leaders and members associated with the “reform” movement that Jindal once championed, before he got wind that Common Core was becoming a do-or-die issue among conservative national primary voters, many of whom see it as a federal takeover of local education.
They probably could have held the line, although they did get one important concession out of the deal: Everyone involved agreed to try to find money for next year’s test, something the Jindal administration has been trying to block as part of its all-out effort to end Louisiana’s involvement in Common Core.
Indeed, if the Legislature’s Common Core opponents get to walk away with their heads held high, not so for Jindal, who is so far withholding support for the compromise.
As he made clear when the session started, he wasn’t out to break the impasse; he was going for a win to hightlight on the campaign trail once the session ends.
Under the deal, though, not only can’t he take credit for crushing Common Core — he wouldn’t even get a chance to weigh in on the final results. That’s because the review period isn’t scheduled to end until after he leaves office early next year. And although three of the four major candidates to replace him call themselves Common Core opponents, none of them are staking as much on the issue as Jindal is.
Once Jindal’s out of the picture, the temperature on this issue will surely fall. And the vote itself is one more sign that, when serious public policy is concerned, Jindal’s pretty much out of the picture already.