In the parlance of the recent fight between Evander Holyfield and Mitt Romney, in Louisiana the winner by technical knockout was pro-Common Core State Standards Initiatives advocates, creating two distinct losers in the bargain.
Last week, after two years of wrangling, legislators from both chambers and both sides of the issue agreed to a set of billsestablishing a framework by which the set of standards meets with review, and even possible elimination. Essentially, a large group of people appointed by the various factions involved through three panels will forward, as part of the slightly-accelerated periodic review of curricula by the Department of Education, recommendations about changing what exists to a committee, which then sends it to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which then sends it to each of the two education committees in the Legislature’s separate chambers, which then sends it to the governor. All must agree to the changes or nothing happens.
Importantly, the present CCSSI standards stay in effect if there is not agreement on changes, if any, or on their scrapping. Being as at this time all of BESE and each chamber have majorities supportive of the set of standards, that means no substantial move away from these would be expected at this time. However, it would not be until 2016 that these chances to vet occur, and possibly elections in the interim could send anti-Common Core BESE members and legislators into majorities in their respective bodies.
If the anti-faction counts on this, they don’t seem to articulate that publicly, only stating that they think whatever product coming from the committee and subcommittees appointed for review will carry a great deal of weight in what the politicians decide. In reality, that more saves face than anything else and indicates this was the best deal this more obvious losing side could cut with the numbers as they are at this time. As long as the current BESE and legislative majorities remain on this issue, only changes at the margins will happen.
The deal in HB 373 also has the effect of hanging a loss around a less obvious party, in the sidelining of a vocal critic of the standards, Gov.Bobby Jindal. Only giving lip service against them until after last year’s regular legislative session, he then began taking the matter to court, unsuccessfully, and in this year’s budget proposed reducing the amount of money for testing by half as a means to force the state away from the standards by in essence refunding to have money to pay for the tests geared to assessing learning done under the standards. This year the state has conducted this testing in all classrooms after the previous running a pilot program.
As it all works out, as Jindal is term limited, he relinquishes the office by the beginning of next year and therefore will have no input into any of this. He has made no comment about this deal, neither proclaiming victory as have other CCSSI opponents nor criticizing it, but regardless it appears he had little to do with it and cannot really claim any credit for the outcome. That non-reaction might be an artifice of political calculation.
Jindal has had a confusing relationship with Common Core, first as a quiet supporter, then a whispering critic and, in the past year, one of the most outspoken political figures against it. Observers hypothesize that as Jindal began nearing a decision to run for president next year that he surveyed the policy landscape and concluded opposition to the standards would bring maximum positive publicity and would appeal to conservative voters that disproportionately participate in the presidential nomination process for Republicans. He has said his change of heart has come from an evolving realization that implementation of the standards invited too much federal government involvement.
Yet Jindal misjudged the political ramifications of his strident resistance. Had he just kept expressing opposition but eschewing going to heroic lengths to demonstrate his misgivings with court actions and wars of words, on this issue he easily could have showed credentials needed to gain approval of enough conservatives – not that it was the best one to build credibility as a number of conservatives favor the standards – but instead he staked a major portion of his political image on his ability to overturn them, as if to make plain his mettle as a political leader with success in rolling them back.
If anything, with this deal that backfired. Hardly any retrenchment with Common Core occurred with it, and if any were to happen that will be in the future with which he will have nothing to do. This outcome certainly does not validate his leadership abilities, and putting in such effort and at times acrimoniously with little to show for it does more to tarnish his image than to help it.
In order to try to salvage something, Jindal may act obstreperously such as renewing efforts to get rid of the testing dollars. However, there’s really no way he can exercise his powers as governor to manufacture a result that can be claimed plausibly as a victory. Whether this makes a presidential campaign on his part untenable remains to be seen.