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Jindal vs. Common Core: Round 3 Three things to keep in mind about Jindal’s latest attack on the Common Core State Standards

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Bobby Jindal wanted to be a contender. He wanted to be somebody…

…specifically, President of the United States.

And for a while, at least – back in the days before his disastrous State of the Union response – everyone thought Jindal was the next big thing. However, over the course of his tenure as Governor, it’s become obvious that Jindal is trying to punch above his weight, and consequently, he’s gone from GOP wunderkind to persona non grata.

This is about as close as Bobby's gonna get to the White House

This is about as close as Bobby’s gonna get to the White House

But Bobby Jindal isn’t the type of man who lets frighteningly long odds deter him and he’s pressed forward with laying the groundwork for a presidential run, as illustrated by his sudden conversion from steadfast Common Core supporter to avowed enemy of the standards.

Although the Governor’s previous attempts to kill CCSS ended in failure, Jindal renewed his attack on Common Core at a press conference on Wednesday, announcing that he would support bills to replace the standards during the upcoming legislative session.

While Common Core supporters are understandably tired and frustrated by the Governor’s refusal to leave the standards well enough alone, there is reason for hope. Here are three things to keep in mind about Jindal’s latest plan…

I. Jindal’s Renewed Assault On Common Core Is A Diversionary Tactic

As columnist Stephanie Grace pointedly noted in The Advocate,

“The way Jindal talked at today’s press conference and in his press release announcing a ‘Plan to Get Common Core Out of Louisiana,’ you’d think the education standards are the most pressing problem facing Louisiana today. Seems to me that just about everyone else thinks the biggest threat is the $1.6 billion budget hole.”

Yep, Bobby Jindal’s fiscal policies have gotten the state in one hell of a mess. Thanks to the huge tax cuts the Governor pushed seven years ago, lawmakers are now scrambling to figure out how to fill a projected $1.6 billion hole in the 2015-16 state budget. Jindal’s proposed remedy to fill the looming budget gap would require painful cuts to state services, including higher education. USA Today blasted Jindal’s approach in an editorial in recent weeks, saying:

“Jindal, who long ago took a pledge never to raise taxes, has cut higher education and resorted to unsustainable one-time remedies such as draining reserve funds and selling state assets.”

The Governor’s fiscal policies are even drawing criticism from members of his own party. In a newsletter to constituents, GOP State Rep. Jay Morris called Jindal’s proposal “insane” and noted, “the insanity has its roots in the Governor’s pledge to the Americans for Tax Reform,” the anti-tax group founded by Grover Norquist. Jindal is also taking flak from conservative pundits, such as blogger Scott McKay, who recently lambasted the Governor’s tax plan in the pages of the American Spectator:

”Jindal has been patching budget holes for years by raiding the various dedicated funds to create a balanced budget out of whole cloth. Those funds having been largely drained, the $1.6 billion is a real deficit and the piper is demanding his payment.”

Bobby Jindal shows reporters the mess he's created.

Bobby Jindal is trying to tidy up the mess he’s created.

For Jindal, who’s desperately trying to position himself as a viable presidential candidate, the timing of the budget crisis couldn’t be worse. The beating he’s taking in the press over the shortfall is damaging his national image and undermining the rosy picture he’s been painting of his tenure as Louisiana’s Governor. Seeing that his approval ratings already stand at a dismal 27%, the Governor needs to divert the public’s attention from the budget crisis and quick.

Enter Common Core. By launching a new attack on CCSS, Jindal is creating a political sideshow in an attempt to take the spotlight off the deep cuts in state services coming down the pike. It’s a classic Jindal move: cynically trying to keep his presidential dream afloat by throwing Louisiana’s teachers and students over the side.

II. Jindal’s Anti-Common Core Legislation Is So Poorly Conceived It’s (Almost) Laughable

As the old saying goes, “the devil is in the details,” and when one looks closely at the specifics in Governor Jindal’s strategy to jettison Common Core, it has disaster written all over it.

To start, Jindal’s plan would have the state revert to Louisiana’s old Grade Level Expectations (which haven’t been updated since S.Y. 2004-05) while the state develops new standards to replace Common Core. After districts have spent millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours on the transition to CCSS, Jindal would effectively force educators to start this whole process all over again. Nevertheless, the Governor doesn’t seem to care. As BESE president Chas Roemer said, “It is so clear that he is only concerned about one thing, and that is his own politics.”

John White (left) and Chas Roemer don't mince words about Jindal's CCSS plan.

Don’t let the preppy vibe fool you: White & Roemer are bulldogs when it comes to CCSS.

Furthermore, Jindal’s convoluted plan for developing new math and reading standards would require their vetting and approval by both the Legislature and school boards across Louisiana. In response, State Superintendent John White warned that the process would become a political quagmire:

“Every elected official in the state having to do with education, from school board members to the legislature, would all have to vote on draft standards and review them – an unprecedented scheme of bureaucracy.”

In short, while Jindal is portraying himself as a “small government” conservative on the national stage, he wants to create a costly bureaucratic nightmare in Louisiana at a time when our state cannot afford it.

III. Defeating Jindal’s Anti-Common Core Effort Would Be A Mortal Blow To His Presidential Ambitions

As I said in a post last year, “Common Core doesn’t seem like a hill worth dying on, and yet Jindal is charging up the slope in a full frontal assault on CCSS.” If we’re able to defeat Jindal’s anti-Common Core legislation this session, we can turn the Governor’s latest attack on the standards into the political equivalent of Pickett’s Charge.

Jindal's latest attack on Common Core as envisioned by Ken Burns.

Jindal’s latest attack on Common Core as envisioned by Ken Burns.

To say that Jindal’s presidential campaign is struggling is an understatement – if anything, it’s on life support and a priest is about to be called to administer the last rites. Recent presidential polls have consistently placed Jindal near the bottom of potential GOP contenders. In fact, the Washington Post didn’t even include him in their Republican nomination bracket earlier this week, even though has-beens like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump made the cut.

Jindal’s weakened position raises the stakes for his latest plan to eliminate Common Core. A defeat at the hands of lawmakers would be deeply embarrassing for Jindal, demonstrating just how unpopular he’s become in his own state. Given his already low standing in the polls, it’s hard to imagine how Jindal’s reputation could recover from such a blow. That’s something that opponents of Jindal’s policies – especially Democrats in the Legislature – should keep in mind.

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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A Victory For Pettiness Over Progress Why Did The Governor Veto A Common Sense Education Bill?

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On Friday, Louisiana lawmakers voted to cancel a veto session to override Governor John Bel Edwards’ rejection of a number of bills passed by the legislature during this year’s regular session. The move was expected even though many Republican legislators accused the Governor of using his veto power to punish lawmakers who have consistently opposed his agenda.

Although the Governor’s line-item vetoes of construction projects in the state budget aroused the most controversy, the press largely overlooked his rejection of House Bill 568, a proposal from State Rep. Nancy Landry which would have revised the state’s student data privacy law.

Some background on H.B. 568

The story of House Bill 568 has its origins in a conversation I had last spring with a friend who works at the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. For years, CREDO has produced highly regarded studies on the effectiveness of the state’s charter schools using data provided by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). However, in 2015, LDOE officials informed CREDO they could no longer provide access to that information due to changes in the state’s student data privacy law, passed by the legislature in 2014, which prohibited the department from sharing data with research institutions outside of Louisiana.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford has published highly regarded studies on the effectiveness of charter schools.

Without access to student performance data, CREDO’s research on Louisiana’s charter schools would grind to a halt and education policymakers would lose an objective, in-depth assessment of the health of the state’s charter sector. Moreover, the refusal to share data with out-of-state researchers would mean that Louisiana’s influence on the national education policy debate would be significantly diminished.

Seeking to avoid that outcome, my friend at CREDO reached out to see if I had any ideas on how they should proceed. I connected her with State Rep. Nancy Landry, who serves as chair of the House Education Committee, to explain the situation and see if she could help. Their subsequent discussions resulted in H.B. 568, which Landry filed during this year’s regular legislative session.

State Rep. Nancy Landry (R – Lafayette), is chair of House Education Committee and has clashed with the Governor over education policy.

The bill sought to carve out an exception to the overly broad changes lawmakers made in 2014 by allowing data to be shared (in accordance with standard data privacy protection procedures) with researchers at any college or university in the United States accredited and recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. In short, H.B. 568 was limited in scope and non-controversial, as evidenced by the fact that it passed by large margins in both the House (95-3) and Senate (27-7).


Read more about how researchers use student data:

Student data privacy and education research must be balanced

Last week, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on data privacy protections for students. Michael Hansen highlights the gravity of the debate around how Congress will update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) for use in the modern age where big data is king.


So what’s with the veto?

Which brings us to the question of why Governor Edwards vetoed the legislation, especially when it had broad bipartisan support. Let’s start with the “official” rationale provided by the Governor in his veto message:

“The legislation requires LDOE to enter into a memorandum of understanding in which the person conducting such academic research agrees to be civilly liable for any fine imposed as a violation of authorized uses of the student information. Under current law, a person who violates authorized uses of the student information is subject to both criminal and civil penalties. House Bill 568 references civil penalties only relative to the memorandum of understanding. However, it does not create an exception to the criminal liability provisions in current law. Because of these drafting concerns, I have vetoed House Bill 568.”

The contention that the Governor felt compelled to veto the bill over a technicality – i.e., it didn’t create an explicit exception to the criminal liability provision in the current law – is unconvincing. Even though H.B. 568 didn’t specifically address criminal liability, it’s not at all clear that it necessarily needed to do so. In any case, from a practical standpoint, it is highly unlikely that a prosecutor would pursue a misdemeanor conviction – as opposed to a civil fine – against an employee of an out-of-state research institution. In fact, to my knowledge, no one has ever faced criminal charges in Louisiana for violating the state’s student data privacy law. It’s also worth noting that the Governor’s Office never raised this concern as H.B. 568 was winding its way through the legislature and could have been amended.

The Governor’s Office never raised concerns about H.B. 568 as it was making its way through the legislature.

When taken together, the facts suggest that the decision to veto House Bill 568 had little to do with the content of the legislation and more to do with its author. Rep. Landry has clashed with the Governor repeatedly over education policy in recent years and several of the Governor’s school-related proposals have died in the House Education Committee, which Landry chairs. Although Edwards would not be the first governor to use his veto pen to punish lawmakers who opposed his agenda, it makes no sense to apply it to a bill as innocuous and apolitical as H.B. 568, especially seeing that Rep. Landry had nothing to gain by sponsoring the legislation.

Nevertheless, Governor Edwards did just that. Thanks to his veto, Louisiana’s overly broad and mind-numbingly parochial student data privacy law remains in force. Out-of-state academics who want to study our public schools will be told to look elsewhere. And as a result, our public education system won’t be able to benefit from the knowledge and insights their research would provide.


Read House Bill 568:


Read the Governor’s Veto Message:

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Charters

All About The Kids? Calcasieu Teacher Plays Politics At The Expense Of Students, Taxpayers

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For more than a year, Calcasieu Parish special education teacher Ganey Arsement has been on a self-appointed crusade against education reform in Louisiana. He has blasted charters, standardized testing, Common Core, teacher evaluation, and yours truly on his blog, as well as on social media. He has worked to coordinate his attacks with the state’s teachers unions, particularly the Louisiana Association of Educators, and has sought to ingratiate himself with anti-reform politicians like Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.

Arsement with Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.

Arsement has also become an increasingly visible presence in Baton Rouge, where he has spent untold hours attending meetings of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and lobbying in the hallways of the State Capitol. In recent months, Arsement has turned his guns on State Superintendent of Education John White – the bête noire of Louisiana’s reform opponents – whom he wants replaced. After failing to convince legislators that the law required them to reconfirm White (who has been on a month-to-month contract since the beginning of 2016), Arsement filed a petition in state court late last month that seeks to remove him from office.

Through it all, Arsement has portrayed himself as a selfless defender of public education who is fighting the nefarious schemes of greedy “corporate” reformers. However, a closer examination reveals that his political adventures have instead come at the expense of students and taxpayers.

Unethical and possibly worse

Official attendance records provided to me by Calcasieu Parish Schools Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus show that Arsement missed 16.5 days of work – more than three weeks of school – over the course of the 2016-17 school year.

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Arsement's absences and Calcasieu Parish School Board holidays.

According to Bruchhaus, all but one of these days (May 9, 2017) were recorded as sick leave. State law permits teachers to take two days of personal leave per year without loss of pay. The law also allows teachers to take ten days of sick leave per year due to illness or other emergencies without loss of pay. Unused sick leave can be carried over from one year to the next.

In Arsement’s case, it is clear that he took paid sick leave on many days when he was actually playing politics in Baton Rouge. Moreover, you don’t have to take my word for it, as he admits as much several times on his blog. Here are just a few examples…

What this means is that Arsement was off doing political advocacy while his special needs students were left with a substitute (who also had to be paid) and taxpayers foot the bill. I would venture to guess that most people would find that unacceptable, especially the parents of his students.

Missing absences?

If that’s not bad enough, I’ve also identified at least one day – and possibly two days – where his attendance record says he was working, but he was actually in Baton Rouge.

Several sources have confirmed that Arsement was at the Capitol during school hours on May 2nd. Nevertheless, his attendance record does not mark him absent on that date. Why that absence is missing is unclear, but since teachers verify their timesheets, the error should have been corrected.

The second day in question is May 8th when, by his own admission, he proudly delivered a petition calling for the removal of John White to the office of Senate President John Alario. Although he does not indicate when he made that delivery, one assumes he didn’t hop in his car immediately when school ended at 3:10pm to drive two hours to Baton Rouge to drop it off. In any case, Arsement is not marked absent on May 8th, either.

Exactly why reform is needed

When Arsement claims education reform supporters “demonize” teachers, what he means is that they actually expect teachers to do the work they’re paid to do. While this may seem draconian to someone who can apparently skip entire days of work and get away with it, this is not a radical concept to most of us. When taxpayers hand over their hard-earned money to pay for public education, they expect teachers to teach. When parents send their children off to school, they expect their kids will actually spend the day learning. When Arsement instead takes a bunch of sick days to lobby lawmakers for lower standards and less accountability, he’s breaking that social contract and possibly the law. Worst of all, he’s doing a tremendous disservice to the young people in his classroom – kids who need the most help.

In his effort to rollback Louisiana’s education reform policies, Arsement has inadvertently provided a real-life illustration of why they are so desperately needed. For that at least, I thank him.

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