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Jindal battles with Obama’s Ed Secretary over Common Core

14th July 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

La.’s BESE to hire counsel to sue Gov. over Ed standards

President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ripped into Governor Piyush Jindal last week for Jindal’s veto of a Com­mon Core Educational standards bill — which had passed the Louisi­ana legislature in June with overwhelming bipartisan support.

But, Duncan’s comments paled in comparison to the fight brewing with Louisiana’s Board of Elemen­tary and Secondary Edu­cation. BESE, led by Republican Presi­dent Chas Roemer to hire a Special Counsel and potentially sue the Jindal Administration to implement Common Core, and specifically the current contract for its Partnership for the Assess­ment of Readiness for College and Careers test, or PARCC, before the next school year starts.

What’s fascinating is that Roemer, a past ally of Jindal, has joined with other GOP leaders and with a coalition of Common Core supporters on the Democratic side against his own GOP governor.

Moreover, BESE has one other insider ally, Superintendent of Education John White, who appears to be siding against his boss and his anti-common core allies on the Tea Party Right—as well as Jindal’s new Democratic allies, the anti-Charter Schools, anti-RSD Left, with whom the La. governor and the La. Ed Super­intendent have otherwise fought throughout each’s entire term in office.

“Obviously, great teachers are essential to everything we’re trying to do to help students. We think this is essential to moving education forward as a nation,” Arne Duncan said. “Across the country as we go into the fall, over 40 states are moving forward with higher standards. We think that’s fantastic,” Duncan added. “We think in Louisiana the governor is a little bit isolated there. The state board, the business community, the teachers are all moving forward.”

“Teachers need the support of their statehouses to raise the bar, and, again, having high standards, telling the children the truth about where they are in terms of being truly college-and career-ready, we think that is absolutely the right thing to do for the nation,” the Education Secretary also noted. “In Louisiana, the percentage of teachers rated highly effective is 50 percent higher in low-poverty, low-minority schools than in high-poverty, high-minority schools.”

Jindal replied on Twitter, “This from the guys who tried to discriminate against minority kids in Louisiana.” It was a less than veiled reference to a federal judicial ruling last November requiring the state to permit federal oversight of its 8,800 student voucher scholarships on the grounds that the benefiting schools did not racially reflect the general population. The decision, which suggested discrimination in voucher programs, opened the door to the court’s acceptance of further involvement by the federal government in local school choice policies.

Then, Jindal went on to Tweet his defense of the Common Core veto. “We stand with parents & teachers who are concerned with implementation of Common Core & losing local control in education…Saw @arneduncan comments on Common Core. Entire Obama admin is isolated from the American people on most every issue.”

It is Jindal, though, who is in­creasingly isolated from his allies, both legislative and at BESE, as well as his own Superintendent of Education. The legislature passed the Common Core standards bill overwhelmingly near the end of the session only to have the governor veto it before it could become law. And, that veto did not stop BESE from voting 6-3 to hire special legal counsel in its bid to force the Governor to implement Common Core tests that Jindal opposes.

The Board refused to specifically back the filing of any lawsuits for now, pending another resolution to order talks between White and Jindal’s office. White is required by BESE to report on any progress by July 18, but the Superintendent has not actually responded to the governor’s formal request for data on the bidding process for materials and shutting down Common Core. Instead of responding to Jindal’s request for information by June 30, as was originally mandated by the governor, White asked for a ‘summit’ with the Jindal to work out their differences on Common Core. That’s scheduled for July 17.

Regardless, the employment and candidacy of any special counsel must have the approval of State Attorney General Buddy Cald­well, something unlikely to happen before the July 18 meeting, and rendering any lawsuit impossible in that time. BESE President Roemer maintained that two law firms, one in Baton Rouge and another in New Orleans — have offered to represent the Board pro bono.

The fundamental question remains, whether standardized tests will be given for the upcoming school year. Common Core was supposed to replace the LEAP Test, and now local school boards are in a quandary of what to do.

The BESE move was anticipated by the Louisiana Board of Regents , who two weeks before, had voted to defy Governor Jindal’s veto of Common Core standards. The Governing College Board has told college and university leaders that teacher training should continue to include despite Jindal’s move last week to shelve the academic guidelines.

In a memo to heads of the teacher preparation colleges and other deans of Education, the Board of Regents associate commissioner of Teacher and Leadership Initiatives Jeanne Burns noted that Common Core has been adopted by BESE so “universities will continue to integrate the Louisiana content standards into their curriculum… [since] failure to do so can result in universities losing BESE approval of graduates becoming certified to teach in Louisiana.”

The governor can encourage BESE to act, but he cannot order the board to adopt new standards. Jindal however, can order Superintendent John White to do so. Apparently, the governor has so ordered his aide, but as educational activist, Kathryn Goppelt noted to The Louisiana Weekly, the Superintendent has not yet acted.

On June 18, she noted, “Governor Jindal asked the Dept. of Ed Supt. John White to send out a RFP (Request for Proposal) for a test for the 2014-2015 school year. PARCC will not be used. This will allow companies who can develop, administer and score a test the opportunity to respond. The lowest bidder, by state law receives the contract. This ensures that the best product is used for the best price.”

In fact, despite a clear directive from the Governor’s office, White had not replied by his deadline for a new RFP, June 30. Instead, White asked for a meeting on July 2nd with Jindal, scheduled for July 17th. Common Core and John White critic Elizabeth McEnery noted to this newspaper, “These actions are legitimate FIRST steps allowed under the Governor’s powers and are a good beginning to the process of removing Common Core from Louisiana since the legislature, Supt John White, and BESE have taken NO steps to do so.”

Interestingly, McEnery is a conservative critic of Common Core, but some of the same comments are coming from the Education advocates on the Left. Teacher and author Mercedes Schneider, a strong critic of the privatization of education in her book A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education, equally wondered why John White has resisted the LA Governor’s call to repeal Common Core.

“On June 18, 2014, Louisiana Governor [Piyush] Jindal an­nounced that he had contacted the National Governors Associ­ation (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to tell them that he was terminating Louisiana’s Common Core State Standards (CCSS) memorandum of understanding (MOU)… [A]ccording to the CCSS MOU, a governor’s and state superintendent’s signature is a commitment to the entire CCSS process, from development and adoption of CCSS, to aligning curriculum, professional development, and CCSS-based assessments. In canceling the CCSS MOU, Jindal canceled adherence to the CCSS process as a whole.

“In terminating the CCSS MOU, Jindal killed the process that CCSS was intended to be. On June 18, 2014, Jindal suspended funding for the CCSS-related test, PARCC; he initiated investigation into PARCC via the Office of Contractual Renewal (OCR), which discovered that the Louisi­ana Department of Edu­cation (LDOE) has no direct contract with PARCC.”

“Roemer can assert that Jindal is overstepping, but that will not change the fact that LDOE did not comply with state law and competitively bid for a PARCC contract, win said contract, and formally seal the deal with a document between PARCC and LDOE, one that has been formally approved in BESE minutes.”

Consider the seemingly ill informed response Jindal-appointed, pro-CCSS BESE member Connie Bradford in the June 22, 2014, Monroe News-Star. “The governor and John White have been in agreement on just about everything. This is just one of those hiccups”.

Schneider replied to the comment, “Chicken bone lodged in the throat, Bradford. Certainly not a ‘hiccup’.”

Common Core opponent Albert Samuels noted why the Left and the Right have joined in opposition to Common Core, but that Jindal did it for simple political reasons. “Gov. Jindal was one of the first governors to sign on, committing Louisiana to the Common Core bandwagon in 2010. He has given numerous speeches lauding the new standards as necessary not only for boosting lagging student achievement in the state of Louisiana, but vital to preserving American economic competitiveness overall.”

“In 2010, when few people had ever heard of Common Core, the governor of Louisiana was one of its staunchest supporters. But now that the standards have increasingly become a lightning rod on the right, Jindal has reversed course. The very standards he once considered essential to our state’s future, the governor would have us believe, are now a ‘federal overreach’ into education that he has compared with Soviet-style planning.”

“His critics have rightly savaged him for his reversal. U.S. Edu­cation Secretary Arnie Duncan succinctly reflected the common perception of the governor’s action when he flatly stated that Jindal’s change of heart has nothing to do with education; rather, his motives are purely political. Jindal’s flip-flop puts him at odds with Education Superintendent John White and Chas Roemer… Up to this point, Jindal, White, and Roemer have been ‘joined at the hip’ on most issues concerning K-12 education.”

“The governor’s national political aspirations are only the worst kept secret in Louisiana politics. Even the more casual observers of the state political scene have come to interpret political events through Governor Jindal’s predetermined obsession with projecting himself as a presidential contender on the Republican side.”

He went on to say, “[O]pposition to Common Core is not without some merit. There are actually very good reasons to question the wisdom of adopting Common Core, despite the certitude of its strident defenders…It turns out that it is not just a growing number of conservatives who object to Common Core; it is also elements of the left who oppose it as well, but for very different reasons. The left opposes Common Core because they see it as a pretext for ‘reformers’ to expand the use of vouchers, charter schools, and to advance an agenda that aims to privatize an increasing proportion of American education. They fear that the supposed concern for ‘achievement’ expressed by backers of Common Core constitutes a mere subterfuge.”

Making the coalition even stranger, Alabama Republican Governor Bob Riley, an ally of Jindal’s, came to the Obama Administration’s defense on Common Core—encouraging all Governor’s to adopt the standards. Writing in the conservative National Review magazine, Gov. Riley said, “Much of the resistance to the program stems from this single misperception [that Washington will control local schools], which is itself rooted in a deep distrust of the president. But President Obama isn’t driving the standards, nor did he create them. The states are propelling Common Core.”

Riley continued, “The standards now known as Common Core were initiated and developed by governors and other state leaders eager to raise educational standards in a way that was state-led, rather than being a Washington solution….While Common Core standards were designed to raise expectations in three core areas, they do nothing to prevent states from teaching other things they deem important. Nor do they require states to teach only certain texts in those three areas.”

“There is simply no evidence that national education standards will lead to a national curriculum, or that they will stifle the ability of states to teach subject areas that matter to parents residing there. To the contrary, many of those who know the standards thoroughly, including the state superintendent of education in Alabama, insist that educators today retain full control in the development, selection, and implementation of the curricula used in our schools.”

“To many educators and parents, the goals of Common Core are eminently reasonable, particularly in states that rank below average or far below average in the all-important areas of math and science education.

This article originally published in the July 14, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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