Washington Watch: Jindal’s Common Core stance politically useful

Maybe Gov. Bobby Jindal is onto something with this Common Core business after all.

Not so much with his nominal constituency in the state of Louisiana, where his 180-degree turn against the educational standards regimen he once so warmly embraced has set him crosswise with the business community, the state education superintendent Jindal once supported, the Legislature (which refused to ditch the program), the courts (which rejected his procedural move to derail Common Core), the board that sets state K-12 policy (which joined the lawsuit to block his ploy) and significant players in the charter school movement, who initiated the lawsuit.

Jindal need not worry about voters in Louisiana, where his favorability ratings are plunging in any event, because he is term-limited from running for re-election in 2015. But there are other constituencies that seem to be aligning with Jindal’s stand against Common Core. According to a nationwide Gallup poll, Common Core is opposed by 59 percent of those surveyed who had heard a lot about it. And what may be more significant in Jindal’s calculus, opposition among Republicans topped 75 percent.

It is Republicans, of course, who vote in Republican presidential primaries and caucuses, starting in January 2016 in Iowa and New Hampshire — two states on Jindal’s travel itinerary this year in his all-but-declared candidacy for the party’s next presidential nomination. Some of Jindal’s caucus-conscious fellow travelers to Iowa this month — Republican U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, of Texas, Rand Paul, of Kentucky, and Marco Rubio, of Florida — came out against Common Core last year, but Jindal’s born-again assault on it has won him fresh attention from the national media.

For reasons not altogether clear nor transparently logical, Common Core has emerged as a whipping boy for tea party Republicans, who deride it as a federal takeover of the public schools; they call it Obamacore. But the program was not developed by the federal government. It is the brainchild of education reformers and school officials in the states, vigorously backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It does not directly mandate curriculum, instead establishing measurable standards in math and English in an effort to raise the overall level of achievement by public school students and to allow for meaningful school-to-school and state-to-state comparisons.

The Obama administration did provide a major incentive for states to adopt the Common Core benchmarks by effectively tying billions of dollars in federal grants to that decision. In 2010, with Jindal’s explicit approval, Louisiana jumped on the bandwagon, which eventually included 45 states and the District of Columbia. Since that high-water mark was reached, a few states led by Republican governors have dropped out of Common Core.

Opponents to Common Core come from many points on the political spectrum and include parents, teachers and others worried less about Big Brother than about straight-jacketing their kids’ classroom teachers or judging school performance by standardized testing. But the partisan breakdown in the Gallup survey suggests that the right-wing criticism has taken root.

Given that tea party sympathizers, together with evangelicals, make up a majority of the Republican base, any would-be Republican candidate contemplating Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond would be a fool to ignore them — and Jindal is no fool. Indeed, he has avidly courted both those groups — and as an Ivy Leaguer whose South Asian heritage and Hindu upbringing may seem strange and exotic to some small-town Protestants in the heartland, he can’t take them for granted.

In a June speech to Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition in Washington, D.C., Jindal hit many of the right’s most titillating hot buttons, and he addressed Common Core with his pet rhetorical device of chiasmus: “As long as I’m governor, I’m going to do everything I can to keep Common Core out of Louisiana, and keep Louisiana out of the Common Core.”

Still, Jindal might want to be careful whom he chooses for his bedfellows. On its website this past week, the Tea Party of Louisiana attacked Common Core as “total federalized control of education, indoctrination and socialism.” It linked to an article from Broken World News headlined, “Common Core Turns First Wave of Students Gay.”

The only problem is that Broken World News is a parody site, which includes the disclaimer, “If you believe any of the s**t you read here you are a freaking moron.”

Gregory Roberts is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email is groberts@theadvocate.com. Follow him on Twitter, @GregRobertsDC. For more coverage of government and politics, follow The Advocate Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/