So eight legislators snap their fingers and Gov. Bobby Jindal overturns educational policy just like that? Well, it’s not quite that simple to summarize a series of events performed by all parties more to impact perceptions than substance.
At the beginning of the week, the legislators fired off a note asserting that, by their reading of a memorandum of understanding relevant to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, that Jindal unilaterally could withdraw the state from the program. PARCC is one of four of the testing regimes related to the Common Core for State Standards, of which Louisiana has joined along with 15 other states and the District of Columbia.
After a brief interval, Jindal announced that, if the Legislature did not do that on its own through legislation, he thought he could. To which the state’s superintendent of education John White said Jindal was justone of three entities that had to approve of this, the other being him and his employer, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, represented by its current President Chas Roemer. Neither White nor Roemer favor this, as with the first PARCC-based testing already underway in the state, with their thinking that PARCC was more than adequate to do the job, perhaps because it was based in large part on what Louisiana already was doing, and that starting over would cost both in tangible terms and in nonpecuniary ways, such as the confusion it would sow within schools.
While it may appear that this sets up a battle royal, in reality the legislators and Jindal in collaborating have created a Sun Tzu situationalready maximizing their political gains, which assures much less friction actually will transpire over the issue. Understanding this requires knowledge of both what they want and what they can do.
Note that Jindal did not call for the abandonment of CCSS, and that he said he would act to dismiss PARCC only if the Legislature did not act. This was Solomonic in two ways: a good portion of the utility of CCSS comes from the ability of states to compare performances on a common assessment, and he invites the legislature to first stick out its neck.
In the related issues of PARCC and CCSS, the former seems closer to having a consensus about its rejection than the latter, given legitimate data privacy concerns. Thus, if one wants to split the baby on the larger subject of education reform, that’s a good place to do it. Jettisoning only the former still leaves the benefits of the latter in terms of improved chances of better educational outcomes, but with difficulty in making comparisons. While other legislators are moving bills to quell data privacy concerns, it would make more of a favorable political impression on CCSS opponents to scrap PARCC yet by forging ahead on CCSSS could please also its supporters.
And by telling dissident legislators he’s right behind them as the Hail Mary specialist in case after a brutal drive they can’t get it in the end zone and have but one play remaining, to PARCC supporters he can claim that if the dissidents turn the tide in the Legislature and actually get a law for withdrawal through he was just following the will of the Legislature and apparently the people represented, and if they fail he then attempts the unilateral deferral only to be thwarted by White and Roemer he can claim he tried (further signaled in that he would be unlikely to bring any such matter to trial), but if somehow he legally can make an excision unilaterally, he makes the successful halving.
Regardless of the outcome, Jindal wins because he can offer something to both sides: support of CCSS and a good faith attempt to sink PARCC, if not success there. He doesn’t even have to spend political capital lobbying the Legislature, because letting the effort wither costs him nothing. Nor does he have to in regard to BESE and White, for while Jindal helped all but two of the eight elected members get elected with him in 2011, and appoints three others, and together they appointed White, given his term limitation his ability to influence them has diminished vastly: he simply can’t provide help for the elective members in 2015 and the reappointment of the others then doesn’t depend on him. That reduced leverage makes a claim legitimate on his part that their independence absolves him from trying to win their approval of his action.
Neither can the dissident legislators lose, who already are experienced in the tactic of seeking symbolic wins while giving short shrift to genuine, substantive policy improvements in their association with a faction in the House of Representatives styling themselves the “budget hawks.” They go down guns blazing and get credit for flipping the governor, making them seem more important. And in the unlikely event they pull off PARCC abandonment by law, to the desired symbolism they add a policy win.
That’s not likely because most Democrats support all aspects of CCSS (which is what makes some opponents suspicious and fuels conspiracy theories about how it’s all a federal government takeover of education for nefarious purposes) and enough Republicans see little credence to the speculative and alarmist scenarios about CCSS to make for a majority coalition to block any attempts to turn back. Still, achieving this serves only as a bonus to the strange bedfellows who often have butted heads in the past; just what they have done until now is more than enough to boost their credentials to facilitate attainment of their various future political goals.