Political Horizons: Jindal and Common Core

Does Gov. Bobby Jindal want to slow, change or even reverse Louisiana’s bid for tougher, national academic standards?

The new classroom guidelines, which debut next year, are called common core standards.

Backers see them as a way to improve student performance, and Louisiana has been signed on since 2010.

Critics call them a thinly veiled federal takeover of what public school students here and most other states will have to learn.

Jindal, when asked about the topic, said on Aug. 2 that he would oppose any bid by federal officials to impose a public school curricula on local schools.

But the governor also said the issue is up to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which has already endorsed the changes.

Three days later the governor avoided any endorsement of common core.

However, he said the need for testing and standards are key parts of his administration’s education policy.

Jindal also said the chief concern is that Congress could impose new rules on communities, and create a standardized curriculum.

The standards apply to math, English and other subjects and are designed to inject more rigor into public schools and better prepare students for college and careers.

Most states have signed on.

The Obama administration no friend of the governor encouraged them to do so.

But the standards were actually drafted by a wing of the National Governors Association and the umbrella group for state superintendents of education nationwide.

Educators, researchers and national groups provided much of the input.

Supporters scoff at the notion that tougher classroom guidelines are some kind of federal plot to take over local schools.

“Common core standards are an integral element of Louisiana’s long-term strategy to drag ourselves up by our bootstraps and get ourselves into the 21st century,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.

“It is in accordance with our goal to raise Louisiana’s targets to a point where our students will not be 49th in the nation,” Appel said.

Appel also said he spoke to Jindal “at length” and came away convinced that he is full-speed-ahead on implementing common core.

He said that, like the governor, state lawmakers have no interest in new standards that pave the way for federal officials replacing local educators in deciding what students need to know.

“No one that I know would be supportive of a federal assumption of Louisiana’s rights in the area of designing curricula, period,” Appel said.

“We aren’t interested in that. That is not going to happen.”

State Sen. A. G. Crowe, R-Slidell, is not so sure.

Crowe, who sponsored an unsuccessful resolution earlier this year that asked the state to withdraw from the standards, said if students are given tests agreed to by most states “then you really don’t have control of your educational curriculum.”

He said he plans to meet with state Superintendent of Education John White, who is the governor’s chief public schools lieutenant, to go over his concerns.

Louisiana’s move to common core has been underway for years.

About 2,000 educators statewide have led the training.

The state is also offering a “classroom support toolbox” for teachers in advance of the 2014-15 rollout.

New tests are being phased in to see how well students master the new standards and how they compare nationally.

Pearson Cross, who heads the Department of Politics, Law and International Relations at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said Jindal could end the whole thing if he were inclined.

Up to nine of 11 members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education are Jindal allies, including three he named and others that he campaigned for in 2011.

BESE picked White after months of urging by the governor.

“The point is he has got total control of BESE,” Cross said.

“He has the superintendent of education in his back pocket. He calls the shots.”

Just what the governor’s aim is remains a little muddled.

Will Sentell covers state education issues for The Advocate. His email address is wsentell@theadvocate.com.