Last week, the four major declared candidates for governor — Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, state Rep. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter — gathered for a forum in Shreveport hosted by the Louisiana School Boards Association. Among the hottest topics: The Common Core State Standards initiative, the now-controversial set of benchmarks developed by the National Governors Association to measure the progress of public school students nationally.
Vitter and Edwards once supported the standards, which have drawn intense political fire despite strong support from Louisiana's business community and many educators. The day before the forum, Angelle, who had been silent on the matter, joined the chorus against the initiative. Dardenne is the only major declared candidate for governor still supporting Common Core.
It's getting lonely out there for Common Core supporters, particularly among Republicans like Dardenne. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is alone among GOP presumptive presidential candidates for his support of Common Core. Last week New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie switched from pro to con. The sad part? A December poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University, released in mid-February, found that the people with the strongest opinions about Common Core also had the most misconceptions about it, starting with what's actually in it.
Those who thought they were closely following Common Core were the most likely to be misinformed.
The benchmarks are for reading and math — period. Each state, city and school district can set its own curricula; Common Core is just a measuring stick. But the Fairleigh poll found 44 percent of respondents thought Common Core covered sex education, while other significant numbers of people thought global warming, evolution and the American Revolution were somehow included. It's interesting — but not surprising — that those who thought they were closely following Common Core were the most likely to be misinformed, according to the poll.
The Collaborative for Student Success, a policy group supporting Common Core, released a memo from its executive director with a list of "10 Questions for Candidates Pandering on Common Core." Chief among those "candidates pandering" should be Gov. Bobby Jindal, who once trumpeted his Common Core support but now is among its most vociferous detractors. Jindal has sued the feds and the Louisiana Department of Education over Common Core's implementation. In a speech in Washington, D.C., last month, Jindal asked, "What happens when American history is not the American history you and I learned about, but rather it becomes a history of grievan-ces, of victimhood?" How embarrassing that our Ivy League-educated governor doesn't even know that Common Core does not include American history.
Jindal, along with the Common Core bashers who seek to succeed him, insist they're not against raising educational standards. Vitter and Angelle call for a "blue-ribbon" panel of educators, parents and others to determine new educational standards for Louisiana. That's what we have now, and it has kept us at the bottom of public school achievement by most metrics. Given Louisiana's political climate, voter misconceptions and the lawsuits, the fight over Common Core is likely to drag on for years. While opportunists exploit public misinformation for their own political advancement, the real losers will be the children.