Today, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal followed through on previous public statements about his increasing dissatisfaction with the state's implementation of the controversial Common Core standards and announced his desire to pull out of Partnership of Assessments for College and Career Readiness (PARCC) testing - a key feature of the educational "reform" program.
In doing so, Jindal signaled a complete reversal from just a few years ago, when Louisiana wholeheartedly signed on for the full and speedy implementation of the standards. At the time, Louisiana's Common Core participation wasn't considered overly controversial; if anything, it was ignored amid some far more high-profile educational reform efforts Jindal had pursued with the state legislature. Teacher tenure reform, rapid charter school and course choice expansion and educational vouchers were headline-grabbers, but Common Core was unknown until later.
Since then, as the state has begun to implement the new standards, parents and teachers have gone ballistic - and as today's event show, Jindal has listened. In doing so, he's put himself at odds with state Education Secretary John White, with whom Jindal was previously joined at the hip in promoting school choice initiatives and teacher accountability, and the state's business lobby. The latter sees Common Core as a potential avenue to improve Louisiana's horrendous performance in math; the state ranks as low as 50th with respect to test scores in that crucial subject, and that's a circumstance which couldn't exist at a worse time with more than $60 billion in capital infrastructure investments on the near-term drawing board in Louisiana in heavy manufacturing industries like petrochemical and steel. Those new employers will need engineers, technicians, machinists and other workers who can do math, and Louisiana's public school kids simply aren't learning what they'll need to qualify.
Thus workforce development is seen as the single more pressing issue in Louisiana today. The business community, and most specifically the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), are begging for changes which will do something to rescue a generation of maleducated kids and ready them for work, and they've latched on to Common Core as the Great White Hope.
Jindal, who gets credit for making Louisiana competitive enough as a business destination to have this pressing problem in the first place, initially agreed with LABI and White. But as the Common Core opposition has grown over the past year and more and more influential conservative groups have delved into the implications of the new standards with respect to federal involvement and control, the governor has gotten a very bad case of cold feet.
You may have heard Jindal would like to run for president in 2016. It's not an outlandish statement that support for Common Core won't improve one's chances at the Republican nomination.
So today, this...
"It's time for PARCC to withdraw from Louisiana. We won't let the federal government take over Louisiana's education standards. We're very alarmed about choice and local control over curriculum being taken away from parents and educators. Common Core has not been fully implemented yet in Louisiana, and we need to start the process over. It was rushed in the beginning and done without public input.
"Additionally, proponents weren't up front about federal involvement in PARCC and Common Core. Now that we understand the federal overreach involved, we need to slow down and make the right decision. Some Common Core proponents suggest that we cannot have high standards without Common Core. That is a false statement. We need a Louisiana test that ensures children are performing at high levels so they can compete not only around the country, but around the world. We can certainly have high standards without giving up control of Louisiana's education system to the federal government.
"If other states want to allow the federal government to dictate to them, they have every right to make that choice. But education is a primary responsibility of states, and we will not cede this responsibility to the federal government."
White immediately said he's going to fight the Governor, because by his interpretation of state law it's the Education Department and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) which decide whether Louisiana participates in Common Core. The lawyers on both sides are doubtless at work building war machines reminiscent of the one Saruman had going at Isengard, and the battle over Common Core - already a bitterly divisive issue which has led to a bizarre combination of Tea Party activists and teachers' unions in fighting business groups and the "education reform" crowd - will undoubtedly get a lot stranger before it's over.
For Jindal, though, an important box was checked. His people don't want Common Core, and he's with his people. He's publicly repudiated the initiative and therefore avoided a potential hit to his 2016 candidacy. And if he's embroiled in an ugly court battle over the issue he can cast it politically as taking on the Chamber of Commerce (which prior to the Common Core fight has never been seen in Louisiana the way it's increasingly seen in Washington and elsewhere) and the Obama/DC crowd. That federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan is actively trashing Jindal for his Common Core stance doesn't hurt him in the latter effort.
It's smart politics, and - particularly the way Jindal cast it today - very defensible policy. Jindal's call for state educational standards which don't have any relationship with Common Core insulate him from criticism that he doesn't support educational improvement. And, at least for now, he can declare independence from Common Core - until those new standards are published. Because the more like Common Core they appear, the more Jindal will get criticized on both sides for playing politics with the issue.