Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana and a potential Republican presidential candidate, railed against the Common Core during a speech in Washington on Thursday, framing the academic standards as an attack on the conservative values of local control and American exceptionalism.
Jindal likened the Common Core State Standards to the Affordable Care Act program, saying both were produced by “the elite in D.C.” who “think they know better than we do.”
“Local parents, local teachers, local leaders need to make these decisions,” Jindal said at a luncheon sponsored by the American Principles Project, a conservative group that has rallied opposition to the Common Core nationwide. “In our entire history as a country, we’ve never allowed the federal government to make these decisions for us. Now is not the time to start.”
Jindal was an early supporter of the Common Core standards — new academic benchmarks adopted by most U.S. states — praising them as a way to “raise expectations for every child.” But his enthusiasm evaporated as the Common Core became a prominent target for tea party groups and other conservative Republicans.
Republican activists have said that opposition to the Common Core will be a litmus test for any candidate seeking the party’s presidential nomination in 2016.
Though conservatives oppose the Common Core, general polling has not produced a clear picture of how most Americans feel about the standards. Nevertheless, Emmett McGroarty, a lawyer for the American Principles Project, said Thursday that a pro-Common Core Republican presidential nominee would be “unelectable” in 2016. McGroarty’s warning was a not-so-veiled reference to former Florida governor Jeb Bush, a strong supporter of the Common Core.
Jindal also did not name Bush, but he went on the offensive against Republicans who he said have strayed from conservative priorities. “We don’t need Democrat-lite,’ ” he said.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Jindal’s own state superintendent of education have accused him of playing politics with standards that they argue will help make significant improvements in the nation’s public schools. Jindal brushed off those accusations Thursday, saying that his opposition to the standards stiffened as he learned more about how they would play out in classrooms.
Thursday’s event served as a kickoff for American Principles Project’s new effort to build an army of parents to fight the Common Core in statehouses around the country. Parents’ frustration with new Common Core tests and classroom materials have helped fuel opposition to the standards.
“Trust these moms,” Jindal said. “I have more confidence in the moms in this room than I do in any collection of bureaucrats.”
The Common Core State Standards are a set of guidelines describing what children should know and be able to do by the end of each grade level. They were designed to bring some consistency to academic expectations that have varied widely across the country, and they began as a bipartisan, state-led effort largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. One aim was to have a set of common exams that would allow student performance to be compared across states.
Jindal said several times Thursday that the standards mean the federal government is “making curriculum decisions for our local classrooms.” Though critics have consistently made that argument, the Common Core is not a curriculum or a set of lesson plans; states and local schools have the power to decide how to teach the required skills.
“The facts don’t back up his rhetoric,” said Chad Colby, spokesman for Achieve, a nonprofit group that managed the development of the standards. “Go to any classroom and you’ll see them using locally selected materials, in a Common Core state or in a non-Common Core state.”
The standards have helped push schools to teach math and language arts differently. Instead of teaching children to add and subtract only with the algorithms their parents learned in school, for example, the Common Core also emphasizes solving problems and applying math to real-life situations. In many classrooms now, it’s as important for children to be able to explain their thinking as it is for them to get the right answer.
Such changes have triggered frustration among many parents. Jindal tapped into those feelings Thursday, telling a story about his second-grade son who, he said, answered every question correctly on an addition and subtraction test but was marked down for failing to explain how he came to his answers.
“My little boy, all of 7 years old, had written for every single answer: ‘Just because it is,’ ” Jindal said to applause.
Colby, the Achieve spokesman, said students need to understand the reasoning behind the algorithms, not just tricks to get the right answer. “Being able to explain it in the early grades helps them as they progress through the math standards toward higher-level math,” Colby said.
The federal government had no official role in developing the standards, but the Obama administration gave $360 million to groups of states that are writing new Common Core tests. In addition, states that embraced “college and career-ready standards” such as Common Core had a better chance of winning grants from Obama’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top program.
Support for the standards has waned since 2011, when Louisiana was one of 45 states that fully adopted the Common Core. Indiana and Oklahoma have since dropped the standards, four states are moving to review and potentially replace them, and anti-Common Core bills have been filed in several state legislatures.
In June, Jindal tried to pull Louisiana out of the Common Core, but he was rebuffed by the state legislature, the state board of education and the state superintendent of education, all of whom supported the standards. Jindal then tried unsuccessfully to sue the state board of education over the standards. In August, he sued the Obama administration, alleging that the federal government had illegally coerced states to adopt the standards. That lawsuit is pending.
Louisiana is one of 12 states, plus the District of Columbia, that are slated this spring to administer new Common Core-aligned tests known as PARCC, or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
Last week, Jindal issued an executive order saying that because parents are increasingly expressing concern about PARCC and many want to opt out of the tests entirely, the state board of education should authorize alternative assessments. Chas Roemer, president of the state board, rejected that proposal and said it was an attempt by Jindal to create chaos for political gain. Some states have decided not to administer one of the two main Common Core tests this spring.
Jindal cheered such trends.
“At the end of the day, I’m confident we’re going to win,” Jindal said.“As more and more teachers, more and more kids and more and more parents are exposed to the fallacies of Common Core, our numbers continue to grow.”