While Gov. Bobby Jindal is all over the map, flitting from state to state in pursuit of the dream of being on the Republicans’ 2016 presidential ticket, he’s also all over the place ideologically on the issue of education.
Currently, the governor is trying to find a way for parents to opt out of high-stakes testing tied to the controversial Common Core standards in March and take some kind of alternative assessment instead.
For those critics who believe Common Core is a federal plot to brainwash our kids, it’s not clear what’s accomplished by skipping the test about 30 days from now. The brainwashing, presumably, has already taken place.
Boycotting the test is simply throwing a spanner in the works; Jindal as revolutionary firebomber, a Luddite raging against the machine. But maybe the governor’s actions aren’t really designed to make a serious change to Louisiana’s K-12 education system (What he’s done to state universities is another matter). They might simply be a way for him to show important parts of the national Republican electorate that he is not Jeb Bush.
Bush has not shied away from his support for Common Core — not yet, that is. We’ll see if Bush wavers down the road when conservative voters hold him accountable for supporting a program that is closely identified with President Barack Obama and is held by them in about as much esteem as Obamacare.
Jindal, meanwhile, says he is still a supporter of standardized testing, but not in its Common Core incarnation.
But is he?
In Jindal’s national education plan released last week — in Washington, not Louisiana — there’s a curious passage about “the current obsession with math and reading tests”: “They have caused schools to sideline instruction in other core subjects, including science and history, and have even prompted schools to reduce recess times and jettison art and music instruction. The annual testing cycle drives the school calendar to its detriment.”
What’s curious about that is there’s a long line of critics of standardized tests going back many years who have said just about the same thing. But supporters of testing, people like Jindal, simply brushed off their complaints as meritless.
The governor’s education plan is a strange document. In some places, it sounds like it could have been part of the Port Huron Statement, a manifesto issued by the liberal Students for a Democratic Society in 1962. His plan speaks of an “education-industrial complex” that moves students “through factory-style education so they can be shuffled off through a factory-style economy.”
It talks about education being “a merely self-serving means to a high-paying job — as if that’s all there is in life.”
You can almost picture Jindal in a 1960s Greenwich Village coffee shop spewing lines of poetry sneering at the empty lives of the bourgeoisie.
Elsewhere, the plan borders on red-baiting.
It compares the American school system to “the industrial policy and rampant shortages of the old Soviet Union. Customers — parents and students — face long lines, bare shelves and poor quality of limited ‘goods.’”
Many New Orleans parents remember those lines from a decade or so ago — people camping out and waiting for days to enroll their children in one of the few “good” public schools in the city. Many would conclude that the lines indicated a need to create more “good” public schools.
Jindal, however, sees it as a need to throw more bombs: Tear down the public schools, give the money to parents in the form of vouchers and let them spend it wherever they want, even in schools that choose not to be assessed through standardized testing.
Dennis Persica’s email address is email@example.com.