At the Chalk Face: Does Jindal Have a Case with Common Core as Federal “Scheme”?

It is no secret that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has aspirations for the White House.

On June 13, 2014, Jindal visited the “presidential testing ground,” Iowa. Many in Iowa did not know who he was.

To me, a Louisianian, it is absolutely no surprise that Jindal said that a 2016 presidential run is “something” he is “thinking about.”

What Jindal needs is a sensational, distinguishing, timely issue to propel him into the national spotlight….

Enter Jindal’s very public Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) rejection.

The same day Jindal was in Iowa, June 13, 2014, he vetoed a bill for a CCSS moratorium in Louisiana.

On June 17, 2014, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan criticized Jindal on the CBS News for “the situation” being “about politics.”

It’s funny to hear that from a non-teacher, former pro-basketball player who was placed in the position of US secretary of education by a president who met him on a basketball court.

The next day, on June 18, 2014, Jindal announced his cancellation of Louisiana’s CCSS MOU (memorandum of understanding) and his intent to “get PARCC out of Louisiana.”

He spoke of federal overreach.

The Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) want to keep both CCSS and PARCC.

As of August 7, 2014, BESE and Jindal are involved in three lawsuits related to Louisiana’s involvement in CCSS and PARCC.

Two of the three lawsuits involve the state suing itself.

BESE President Chas Roemer– whose father, Buddy Roemer, is a former Louisiana governor– and whose sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley, is a Louisiana charter school association president– accused Jindal of acting based upon “politics” designed to promote a 2016 presidential campaign.

Another politician accusing a politician of acting like a politician.

But back to that “federal overreach.”

On August 6, 2014Politico published an article entitled, “Jindal Lawyer: Common Core a ‘Scheme’ that Breaks Federal Law.” In the article, Jindal and his attorney declare concerns that should have been stated at least five years ago, at the time that Jindal first signed the CCSS MOU:

The Obama administration’s involvement with the Common Core is part of a “carefully orchestrated scheme to control curriculum in the states,” an attorney for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Wednesday.

The Obama administration is “trying to accomplish very indirectly what Congress has told them they can’t do,” attorney Jimmy Faircloth said. In a court filing Wednesday, Jindal’s administration says that a federally funded group designing Common Core tests violates federal law because it ultimately drives what students are learning in class. [Emphasis added.]

High-stakes tests drive curriculum. And the federal government had every intention to pay for all related to CCSS except for directly paying for CCSS development.

The federal role was clearly stated in that CCSS MOU Jindal and 45 other state governors signed in spring 2009.

Even Race to the Top (RTTT) was mentioned in the CCSS MOU under “federal role”:

Federal Role. The parties support a state-led effort and not a federal effort to develop a common core of state standards; there is, however, an appropriate federal role in supporting this state-led effort. In particular, the federal government can provide key financial support for this effort in developing a common core of state standards and in moving toward common assessments, such as through the Race to the Top Fund authorized in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Further, the federal government can incentivize this effort through a range of tiered incentives, such as providing states with greater flexibility in the use of existing federal funds, supporting a revised state accountability structure, and offering financial support for states to effectively implement the standards. Additionally, the federal government can provide additional financial support for the development of common assessments, teacher and principal professional development, and other related common core standards supports, and a research agenda that can help continually improve the common core over time. Finally, the federal government can revise and align existing federal education laws with the lessons learned from states’ international benchmarking efforts and from federal research. [Emphasis added.]

So, the federal government was all over CCSS prior to both CCSS creation and formal announcement of RTTT. This was news to no governor who signed on in 2009 for the to-be CCSS and its TBA assessments.

The Politico article includes this loaded statement in defense of the federal government:

The Education Department didn’t require states to adopt the Common Core or related exams. As long as states took on higher standards and higher quality exams, it didn’t matter what states chose, and many states have selected other exams. [Emphasis added.]

The federal government has taken on the role of arbiter of what constitutes “higher” state standards and “higher quality” state exams. But USDOE takes it a step further: Not only did they pay for PARCC; they told the PARCC consortium that it must adhere to this January 2011 cooperative agreement outlining “substantial communication, coordination, and involvement between the U.S. Department of Education (Department or ED) and the recipient,” and that USDOE involvement would be “necessary to carry out a successful project.”

USDOE has been all over PARCC development since inception. Consider this statement from the USDOE September 28, 2010, award letter to PARCC:

This award is subject to the attached grant conditions related to administering the grant, monitoring sub-recipients, reporting, maintaining adequate financial controls and procedures regarding the selection, award, and administration of contracts or agreements. Further, in accordance with 34 CFR 75.234(b), this award is classified as a cooperative agreement and will include substantial involvement on the part of the Department of Education (Department) program contact. As noted in the grant award documents, we expect that PARCC and the Department will successfully negotiate and complete a final cooperative agreement the recipient signs and returns no later than January 7, 2011. [Emphasis added.]

Thus, any product of PARCC is a federally funded and supervised product. It does not matter which PARCC states did what. All that has been done under the auspices of PARCC has been accomplished via federal money and via federal oversight.

Federal funding of PARCC doesn’t stop with federal involvement in fronting $170 million for PARCC assessment development. It also includes an additional $16 million for CCSS and assessment “transition,” as noted in the USDOE award letter to PARCC:

In addition, I am enclosing a second GAN for a supplemental award of $15,872,697. These funds support efforts to help participating States successfully transition to common standards and assessments. [Emphasis added.]

The “I” noted above is Joseph Conaty, USDOE Director of Academic Improvement and Teacher Quality Programs.

So, is USDOE driving curriculum via the PARCC assessments?

Yes.

The PARCC tests are considered high-stakes. Students, teachers, and schools have a lot to lose by doing poorly on PARCC tests. Some such stakes include student promotion, teacher livelihood, and school existence. The potential loss can pressure stakeholders into securing “helps” in order to (at least in their perception) improve the chances of avoiding negative consequences– not the least of which involves securing “aligned” curriculum.

Even the USDOE award letter to PARCC hints at Duncan’s intention to manipulate curriculum via the USDOE-funded, CCSS assessments:

Congratulations to you and others participating in PARCC on your hard work and  accomplishment. As the Secretary noted in his remarks on September 2nd when he announced the Race to the Top Assessment winners, if America is to have a public school system second to none, each state needs a first-rate assessment system to measure progress, guide instruction, and prepare students for college and careers. [Emphasis added.]

There you have it: Duncan wants to use his USDOE-funded PARCC to “guide instruction.” The vehicle for accomplishing this test-centered “instruction guiding” is the curriculum.

Despite his motivation for confronting the issue, Jindal surely has a case in declaring federal intention to control curriculum via CCSS and PARCC.

However, the best part of the Politico article is its recognition that Jindal’s stance now puts his views on the matter in line with none other than education historian Diane Ravitch:

Jindal’s argument isn’t new, but it may be the first time it’s been made in court. Education historian Diane Ravitch has questioned whether the Common Core is legal, saying the Education Department used billions in federal grants through Race to the Top and waivers from No Child Left Behind encouraging states to adopt the standards.

“The role of the federal government in offering money to states to adopt the standards may well have been illegal,” Ravitch wrote last November. “Secretary [Arne] Duncan’s fervent advocacy for the standards at every opportunity may well be illegal. His denunciation and ridiculing of critics of the standards as Tea Party extremists belies his insistence that the federal government had nothing to do with the Common Core standards. If he had nothing to do with them, why is he their number one salesman? Why does he so stridently belittle their critics and mischaracterize their motives?”

Why, indeed.

Duncan could not be more chummy with CCSS than if he had, say, met it on the basketball court and rode its coattails to the White House.

That very federal-to-CCSS chumminess will fuel CCSS’s undoing.

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Mercedes Schneider

Mercedes Schneider is a Louisiana public school teacher and education activist. She holds a Ph.D. in applied statistics and research methods and has taught for the past 22 years.