Dennis Persica: Education reform making strange alliances

The ground in the school-reform debate is shifting rapidly under our feet. Everything is moving so quickly, in fact, that Gov. Bobby Jindal recently found himself in the awkward position of having his feet planted on both sides of the widening ideological fault line.

At the same time that the governor was staking out a position against the new Common Core standards, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation released a video showing him making a statement in favor of them. The governor was for the Common Core standards before he was against them.

He’s not alone; there’s a lot of buyer’s remorse around the country about the new standards, and some of the 45 states that originally adopted them are backing away now.

Jindal was one of the early supporters, but now finds himself on the opposite side of the issue from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. But that also puts him opposite President Barack Obama, which is not a bad place to be if you want to move up in Republican Party politics.

It’s a little puzzling to see some conservatives fleeing from Common Core standards now. Many supporters of stronger standards are some of the same people who promoted and still promote the cause of charter schools and the idea of using taxpayer money to pay private-school tuitions in the form of vouchers. Consider those tenets the three legs of the school-reform stool.

In coming out against Common Core last week, Jindal found himself on the same side as two unions, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators. In explaining away the apparent disconnect, the governor pointed out, “There are times when we can find common ground.”

Well, then, hear me singing, Lord, kumbaya.

Jindal may soon find himself standing on common ground with the teachers unions again, this time at New Orleans’ premier public school, Benjamin Franklin High School. Last week, more than 85 percent of the teaching staff petitioned the administration of the school — which is now a charter — for union recognition.

Charter school supporters have long claimed one of the advantages of the new schools is they can freely swat those pesky teachers unions out of the way. But now that the faculty at Franklin wants the union back, there’s no telling where this is headed.

No one should be concerned about the school’s quality, however, since Franklin was the city’s top public school even during the time when New Orleans teachers were unionized.

I don’t really expect to see the governor linked arm-in-arm with union leaders chanting “Solidarity Forever,” of course. But the unionization drive at Franklin, which would make it the second unionized charter school in New Orleans, raises an important question.

By balkanizing public schools in the city and separating them into smaller, self-governing units, has the state made it easier to unionize individual schools? By approaching the faculties of charters on a school-by-school basis, do unions have a better chance of getting a collective bargaining agreement at each school than they would if they had to try to sign up an entire public school system at once?

Duris Holmes, president of Franklin’s governing board, told The Lens news site that he wasn’t sure what the protocol is for recognizing a union at a charter school.

You can be sure, though, that if it hasn’t been already, an answer to that question will soon be devised and disseminated quickly across the ever-changing terrain of Louisiana public education.

Dennis Persica’s email address is dpersica@theadvocate.com.