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Jindal withdraws La. from Common Core standards program

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on June 14 at the Iowa State Republican Convention in Des Moines. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Tensions over the Common Core in Louisiana erupted into an intramural battle Wednesday as Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) declared he was withdrawing his state from the national education standards while the state’s top education officials insisted Louisiana would keep them.

Jindal issued an executive order to remove Louisiana from a consortium of 14 states and the District of Columbia that is creating new standardized reading and math tests based on the Common Core. The tests are scheduled to be given to Louisiana students next spring.

“This gets us out of the Common Core,” Jindal said, adding that he wants state officials to develop “Louisiana standards and Louisiana tests for Louisiana students.”

Minutes after the governor’s remarks, Chas Roemer, the chairman of the state board of elementary and secondary education, and John White, the state superintendent of education, told reporters that Louisiana is sticking with the Common Core standards.

“The state will continue to implement the Common Core Standards . . . This is a long-term plan we have been working on,” said White, whom Jindal appointed. “We are not willing to subject our children to last-minute changes to throw our system into educational chaos.”

White said he was defying his boss because he believes in the Common Core.

The Common Core State Standards, which were fully adopted by Louisiana and 44 other states as well as the District of Columbia, spell out the knowledge students should possess by the end of each grade. They are not curriculum — states and local school districts decide how to teach them and what materials to use.

The standards were designed to inject some consistency into academic standards, which have long varied wildly across states.

Roemer and White said Jindal has no legal authority to unilaterally remove Louisiana from the Common Core.

Jindal, a potential presidential candidate, was an early supporter of the standards. He lauded them as a way to “raise expectations for every child” in a pro-Common Core ad made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

But as they came under fire by critics — particularly tea party groups — Jindal’s support dissolved. On Tuesday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted Jindal’s flip on “CBS This Morning.” “Governor Jindal was a passionate supporter before he was against it,” Duncan said.

Jindal said Wednesday he changed his mind because he came to see the Common Core as a federal takeover of local education, even though the impetus came from the states and the federal government had no official role. The Obama administration did, however, give $360 million to the group of states that are writing new Common Core tests.

“We won’t let the federal government take over Louisiana’s education standards,” Jindal said. “We’re very alarmed about choice and local control over curriculum being taken away from parents and educators.”

Jindal said he was removing Louisiana from the testing consortium known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, because it violates the state’s procurement laws, which require Louisiana to use the lowest-cost vendors when it buys a product or service.

Roemer accused Jindal of trying to ditch the Common Core to appeal to conservative voters as he considers a White House run.

“I don’t take any great satisfaction in saying this — this is a political maneuver,” Roemer said. “His politics are national in scope and focused on a very particular portion of the vote. There is no other way to explain a 180-degree turn from a plan that started in 2004.”

Jindal lobbied unsuccessfully during the recent legislative session for bills that would have required Louisiana to drop the Common Core. But the bills were defeated, and the state board of education reaffirmed its support for the standards.

Roemer said Jindal was trying to make an end run around the will of elected lawmakers.

“It runs contrary to the democratic process and the laws of this state,” said Roemer, a Republican and the son of former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer. The younger Roemer was elected to the state board in 2007.

White said he was concerned that the dust-up in Baton Rouge was going to create confusion in classrooms. “The idea that we change the rules of the game in the seventh inning doesn’t feel good if you’re a teacher,” he said.

A Jindal spokesman had no immediate response to the charges that his actions were politically driven and would not answer questions about what the battle meant for students and teachers in Louisiana.

Jindal’s commissioner of administration, Kristy Nichols, said she would temporarily suspend the state’s contract with the company that manages its standardized testing so that White could not direct it to buy Common Core tests.

In the past several months, amid heavy pressure from conservatives as well as some progressives, Republican governors in Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina have signed legislation to withdraw from the Common Core.

Forty-one states — excluding Louisiana — as well as the District of Columbia remain committed to the standards, which were underwritten to a large extent by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.

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