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If you want to know which Republican governors harbor presidential aspirations, in 2016 or beyond, a good way to find out might be to look at their stance on Common Core.
The controversial effort to standardize education across the 50 states has fallen so far out of favor among conservatives that it’s quickly becoming a litmus test for Republicans hoping to one day move up the political ladder.
Over the past few weeks, Republican governors in Oklahoma, South Carolina, Indiana and Louisiana have all taken steps to distance themselves from the Common Core, either by working with their state legislatures or by taking unilateral action.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is the latest to turn against Common Core after having initially invited the program into his state in 2010.
Unlike in Oklahoma and South Carolina, Jindal did not have a state legislature that took the lead on ousting Common Core. So he acted by executive order.
Jindal announced June 18 that he had contacted Common Core’s copyright owners – the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers – to tell them that he was terminating the contract tying his state to Common Core. He then notified the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, that the state is dropping the test meant to measure compliance with Common Core.
Jindal also suspended funding for PARCC, pending an investigation into the state Department of Education’s handling of the PARCC contract under Supt. John White, who said last week that Louisiana schools will continue implementing Common Core. Critics allege that White secretly handed a no-bid contract to PARCC in violation of state law.
Whether Jindal’s actions will actually get Louisiana out of Common Core at this late stage of the game remains to be seen. The state Board of Education has been in support of Common Core under White’s direction and many school districts have already started implementing the standards.
But Jindal seems to be giving more than just a token effort, says Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana educator, popular blogger and author of the whistleblower book on failed national education reform, “A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education.”
“He looked like, for the first time, he was being honest, not just saying this for the cameras,” Schneider told WND. “Now, is it to his political advantage? Yes, because he wants to be the Republican nominee in 2016. But is this a real effort by him to get out of Common Core. Yeah, it’s real.”
Jindal only appointed three of the state board’s 11 members and he has no legal authority to remove White as state superintendent.
But White is now damaged goods, Schneider said, and several of the board members could change their positions as the scenario plays out over the next few weeks and months.
“The Office of Contract Review is investigating White and Jindal could use the threat of criminal charges as leverage against him,” Schneider said. “Jindal is the governor and he’s a very well-connected governor. We are very volatile in Louisiana but are we out of Common Core? It’s very much up in the air right now. Even the state board is undecided right now but funding is suspended and there will be no PARCC. There was no open bidding for that contract in 2010. So are we out of Common Core? Yeah, I think we’re out.”
Could Mississippi be next?
And Louisiana may not be the last state with a Republican governor seeking to ditch Common Core.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant hinted last week that he could be next in line to reconsider the wisdom of moving forward with the national standards in the face of mounting pushback from the grassroots.
“I think Common Core is a failed program, and the United States is beginning to realize that,” Bryant said. “Governors all across America are realizing states can do it better.”
Schneider is reading the tea leaves and doesn’t see much positive going on for Common Core these days. Presidential hopefuls heavily invested in the program, like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, now have a problem on their hands: They’re on record pushing a set of top-down educational standards that have the backing of President Obama and yet have become grossly unpopular with parents and a growing number of teachers.
Just a few days ago another nationwide teachers’ organization, the Badass Teachers Association, issued a statement it had lost faith in the Obama administration’s educational policies. The statement made particular note of the Race to the Top program, which is being used to fund Common Core.
“The Badass Teachers Association (BATs), an association of over 48,000 teachers, has taken a vote of NO CONFIDENCE in U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. This vote signifies that teachers around the nation do not support the educational agenda set forth by the Obama Administration and Secretary Duncan. Race to the Top fails to serve our neediest children and it fails to address race and class inequalities in the education system,” the statement read.
BATs co-founder Mark Naison, in a letter to Obama, wrote: “The joy and creative learning that your own children experience in one of the nation’s top private schools are being driven out of public schools throughout the nation with startling rapidity. Teachers work in fear. Students learn under extreme stress. Parents wonder why their children have started to hate school.”
Some wary of ‘rebranding’
But some veteran education activists are urging caution against any early euphoria. Common Core still has a tremendous amount of establishment power pulling strings and setting strategy that may involve temporary retreat in order to get long-term victory.
Anita Hoge, a Pennsylvania-based education consultant and expert on the global push toward assessment-based education standards, points out that Jeb Bush and Bill Gates are doubling down on their efforts to counter the backlash and get Common Core fully implemented. Bush launched a new TV ad campaign recently promoting Common Core and Gates has his people working behind the scenes in almost every state.
Indiana chose not to go with Common Core but that was clearly window dressing by Gov. Mike Pence as that state’s new standards look a lot like those of Common Core. And the jury remains out on Oklahoma, where Gov. Mary Fallin and the legislature have agreed to take two years to come up with new standards. But with Fallin being the current chair of the National Governors Association, that state could also end up going with some kind of rebranding of Common Core.
“Oklahoma’s law actually allows for data collection,” Hoge said. “We have to be wary that these different states are moving ahead with the Common Core under a new name.”
The bottom-line goals of Common Core, after all, are the measurement of pre-determined benchmark skills or “outcomes” produced by schools on an international basis, Hoge said. A school’s clients are no longer its students or their taxpaying parents but well-connected corporations looking to fill out the needs of their particular workforce.
It’s an effort to standardize education across the globe through intensive data collection and frequent high-stakes testing. So, the needs of the student no longer matter as much as the needs of the global economic system, as determined by central planners sitting in bureaucratic agencies, and this represents a fundamental transformation that has been under way at least since the 1990s.
“ACT had the contract in the 1990s to come up with the benchmark skills, called workforce readiness skills,” Hoge said. “ACT finished the benchmarks in 2003.”
When Bill Gates got involved and infused millions of dollars into the project, it took flight as Common Core, and the governors bought into it with backing from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
This was all done with no input from parents or teachers, or even a trial run of the standards. So even if Common Core is ultimately defeated, the ideas that serve as its underpinning must also be defeated if true local control and parental rights are to be restored to public education, Hoge said.
One backdoor channel Hoge is keeping her eye on should Common Core go down in flames, is the EASA flexibility waivers that Obama’s Department of Education put in place allowing states to bypass certain penalties for not meeting No Child Left Behind benchmarks and for qualifying for Title 1 status even if the school doesn’t meet the required 40 percent poverty threshold. This means the schools would fall under low-income guidelines and bring numerous federal rules into play, including the adoption of “college and career ready standards” with “aligned assessments” to measure adherence to the standards, according to U.S. Department of Education documents obtained by WND.
“I’m hoping that some people just wake up to the fact that they really have to do their own research,” Hoge said. “We could be looking at the fake repeal of Common Core in many states. Nobody’s talking about the waivers.”