In August, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal sued the federal government over Common Core. He’s already embroiled in three Louisiana lawsuits over Common Core, and recently concluded another against the Obama administration, contesting its demand for intimate data about students enrolled in the state’s voucher program.
Three federal laws explicitly prohibit the national government from directing, supervising, or controlling curriculum and instruction. Common Core, as a system of curriculum mandates and tests to measure whether students have absorbed them, very obviously deals with curriculum and instruction. The CEO of one of the two national Common Core testing groups (PARCC) recently put it plainly:
“High quality assessments go hand-in-hand with high quality instruction based on high quality standards. You cannot have one without the other. The PARCC states see quality assessments as a part of instruction, not a break from instruction.”
Or, as teachers repeat, “What gets tested is what gets taught.”
Did I mention these national Common Core tests are exclusively funded by the federal government? And that the Obama administration set up a panel to regularly review these tests as they’ve been developed, right down to the very test questions? The Obama administration has repeatedly proved they don’t care for this trifling thing called “the rule of law,” but that was perhaps to be expected. Worse has been Congress and the nation’s governors letting it slide, and not only playing right along, but in education practically begging the feds to issue them more rules so they could keep their red lentil pots of federal cash.
A major extra-legal policy of the Obama administration has been its decision to let states ignore the nation’s largest federal education law, duly passed by elected representatives in Congress, in exchange for submitting themselves directly to the whims of unelected federal education officials. In order to get these No Child Left Behind waivers, states had to, among other things, adopt Common Core. This although the law itself contains no grant of power for the administration to let states ignore it in exchange for following administrative diktats.
So states that ostensibly repudiated Common Core, notably my home state of Indiana, in reality replaced it with essentially paraphrased Common Core because if they eschewed this academic swamp entirely they feared the loss of the NCLB waiver, and with it, federal silver. So while pretending to thumb their noses at the feds, in truth they’re still led around by them.
What This All Means
A herd of Republican governors has been taking former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s advice to rebrand Common Core, either by inaction or foreseeably ineffective action. These include Alabama’s Bob Bentley, Arizona’s Jan Brewer, Florida’s Rick Scott, Georgia’s Nathan Deal, Idaho’s Butch Otter, Iowa’s Terry Branstad, Indiana’s Mike Pence, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Utah’s Gary Hebert, and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. While making blustery statements about the rule of law, federalism, and local solutions for local problems, their actions in this respect have proved them complicit in subverting all three.
It’s actually been getting really depressing watching moms and dads flood their elected officials with phone calls, hearing attendance, emails, and townhall questions demanding an end to Common Core, only to have those same officials burn their grassroots. State action is necessary because citizens don’t have legal standing to sue the feds over its arm-twisting. So far, however, the threat of Obama administration displeasure (and the almighty dollars it represents) has been enough to scare GOP leaders from saying, “No.”
It’s not clear what got Bobby Jindal. It’s actually not even clear something got him. He’s term-limited, which means he’s done being governor in January 2016. That may be enough time to make something happen, but if it hangs for more than a year and the next governor doesn’t want to continue this lawsuit, it’s finished. Competitors for Jindal’s spot support Common Core. So it could be that only 2016 got Jindal’s attention. If so, at least it’s been effective. This will clearly distinguish him from other oft-named 2016 presidential contenders, particularly Pence and Walker, except for Texas’s Rick Perry (who has from its inception firmly and genuinely opposed Common Core).
But, as a visible former Common Core supporter, Jindal has also risked being called a flip-flopper on this issue. He switched sides anyway. He also has a compelling personal story about his switch, which mirrors one many parents who oppose Common Core share: His son brought home indecipherable math homework one day, and it was over.
Opposing federal meddling in curriculum is also much more than a legal and states-rights issue. It’s a common-sense issue. Our country has historically not been keen on centralization because it eviscerates our system of self government and creates bureaucratic, one-size-fits all programs that fit practically no one well. Devolving control over education to states, communities, and parents is far more likely to yield an eduction system that respects individual and local preferences and needs, thereby increasing student achievement and societal cooperation.
Plus, then parents can actually bring complaints to the people who have the power to fix them and vote those school boards out or financially vote those private schools out of existence if either doesn’t listen. While the public is incoherent on the federal role in education, as it is on the federal role in everything, polls show Americans are very clear about not wanting the feds deciding what kids learn. August’s annual Gallup poll on education repeated a frequent finding: Comfortable majorities of Americans agree local school boards should have far more control over what schools teach than state or federal governments.
Jindal has gone to war to oust the Common Core tests that not only represent but actually extend the hand of the federal government directly into classrooms. He sued Louisiana’s elected state board of education for ceding the state’s authority over curriculum and tests to Common Core’s constellation of unelected private and federal officials. A judge made a preliminary decision against him on that one, and it’s now on appeal. Going for the feds directly, as the entity gripping state education bureaucracies’ leashes, will hopefully be far more effective.
Given that the federal role in education has rewarded a lot of cronies and entrenched a lot of anti-freedom bureaucrats but produced no student achievement gains, and can constitutionally exist only because the feds bribe states with their own money, it’s about time someone with power and cojones took a stand.
[First published at The Federalist.]