Jindal and the irony of local control

Governor Jindal is determined to pull Louisiana out of the Common Core. He wants “Louisiana standards and a Louisiana test” for Louisiana kids. But here’s the rub: Louisiana’s top education officials aren’t having it. According to the Times-Picayune,

Education Superintendent White and board President Chas Roemer dismissed Jindal’s rejection of Common Core as a dramatic but meaningless gesture. They said the state’s 714,000 students will continue lessons aligned with the national academic standards and its associated tests.

So, in the name of local control, Jindal wants out, but local officials are pushing back. This brings up the question: what is local control?

I find much of the Core implementation dismal (and consider the standards themselves partly to blame)–but question the claim that the main problem  is federal overreach. Those making this claim cite a long tradition of “local control,” which, in their view, should remain. What do they mean by that?

If “local control” is state control, well, I’d be happy with local control in Massachusetts but somewhat worried in Kentucky, say.

If “local control” is district control, great–if I live in a district with a liberal curricular tradition (“liberal” in the sense of “liberal education,” not necessarily liberal politics). In a weak district, or a district with strong religious or ideological biases, there’s a much greater chance of fads, poor curriculum, upheavals, and so on, in which case a counterbalance of power could potentially do good.

If “local control” is control at the school level, good for you, if your school has a strong staff, a good curriculum, adequate resources, and wise leadership, or at least some of these. If not, you’re out of luck.  School-level control may be liberating in some cases and confining in others.

Beyond that, within any of these definitions of “local control,” a hierarchy exists. The person in charge (for instance, Jindal) might see things one way, and those directly below him might disagree. Who, then, controls the local control? “Democratic process,” some may say–but democratic process doesn’t always uphold local control.

My point is not to bash local control. In many ways I support it. I am just observing its conceptual fuzziness and practical contradictions.

Common Core? What’s that?

Only 53 percent of Americans have heard of Common Core standards and only 20 percent have heard a lot about them, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.

When told about the standards, 59 percent are supportive, while 31 percent are not, notes Neal McCluskey on Cato@Liberty. But the description is so biased it’s amazing the support isn’t 99 percent. Pollsters said:

The Common Core standards are a new set of education standards for English and math that have been set to internationally competitive levels and would be used in every state for students in grades K through 12.

What’s not to like?

It’s “highly debatable that the Core is set to top international levels,” writes McCluskey. Furthermore, the description ignored the “massive federal role in pushing state adoption.”

It’s like failing to tell people pufferfish are poisonous, saying, “pufferfish are delicious and nutritious,” then asking, “would you like to eat some pufferfish?”

I don’t think Common Core standards are as dangerous as pufferfish, but I’d agree that the only useful information in the poll is that most Americans know little or nothing about the new standards.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is trying to pull his state out of the Core, but it’s not clear he has the authority to do so.

Core in the classroom: Write and cite


Common Core has students writing and citing “textual evidence,” reports Sarah Carr for the Hechinger Report.

BELLE CHASSE, La. — In the early elementary school grades, Zachary Davis and his classmates at Belle Chasse Primary School in  suburban New Orleans wrote almost entirely from personal experience: describing their ideal vacation, trying to convince readers that a longer school year would be a good (or bad) idea, penning a letter about their adventures during summer break.

This year, as a fourth-grader, Zachary writes persuasive essays using “evidence” from nonfiction reading. For example, students “read a description of Louisiana’s Avery Island followed by one of a bayou swamp tour, and then wrote about which destination they would prefer to visit based on examples in the passages.” 

Proponents of the change say an increased emphasis on analytical, evidence-based assignments will better prepare students for the kind of writing they will face in college and the workforce, where few will be asked to describe family vacations or write poems, but they could very well be asked to summarize a research paper or defend a project proposal. Others worry that if schools veer too far in the direction of analytical writing at too young an age, they risk stifling children’s creativity and discouraging students who aren’t strong readers.

The “intense focus on text-based analysis is new,” said Shelley Ritz, principal of Belle Chasse Primary.

The school still teaches creative and narrative writing, but teachers expect new core-aligned tests will require students to write essays based on multiple reading passages. (The state’s transitional exam did just that.)

In keeping with the new standards, Belle Chasse teachers have gone to a 50-50 split between fiction and nonfiction readings. “Kindergarteners might read a non-fiction book about the life cycle of butterflies and moths paired with a fictional one featuring those insects as characters,” writes Carr.

In Zachary’s class, students practiced writing essays for the state exam, but protested when they learned they’d be doing more writing in social studies and science. 

The class had just finished a citizenship unit where they learned how citizens of all ages can contribute ideas to improve their communities. So the students said they wanted to write a letter to Gov. Bobby Jindal protesting all the writing required in Louisiana’s public schools these days.

Teacher Mary Beth Newchurch agreed. After all, it was another chance to practice writing.

Common Core no more

As Common Core controversy mounts, several states are renaming the education standards, reports Fox News.

Common Core is now  “The Iowa Core” in the Hawkeye State. In Florida, it’s “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.”

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order to erase the name “Common Core.” Instead, officials will refer to “Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.’’

Other states may follow suit. “We will probably do something really silly like changing the name of it to something else”to confuse opponents, said Louisiana Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.

New Orleans is #1 choice city

The Ticket is a new documentary on school choice.

New Orleans and New York City are the friendliest places for school choice and competition, according to Brookings’ new school choice index.

“School choice is under attack in the very places that top this year’s rankings,” said Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the House Majority Leader, at a Brookings conference. 

Cantor criticized the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Louisiana’s voucher program, which Cantor said has “brought hope and opportunity to thousands of students.”

And he hit Bill de Blasio, a Democrat and New York’s new mayor, for considering a change to school-facility regulations that allow charter schools to share space with regular public schools, saving them big cash in the city’s pricey real-estate market.

“School choice is a threat to the status quo,” Cantor said. “School choice protects families and children, not bureaucracies.”

Teacher evaluation is a-changin’

Most states are using student achievement to evaluate teachers, according to Connect the Dots from the National Council on Teacher Quality. “What is occurring more slowly are the policy changes that will connect the rich performance data from these systems to tenure decisions, professional development, compensation, teacher preparation, and consequences for ineffectiveness.”

NCTQ looks at teacher evaluation policies across the 50 states and Washington D.C. Louisiana is “connecting the most dots,” followed closely by Florida and Tennessee, NCTQ concludes. Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Rhode Island and DCPS are also ahead of the curve.

Louisiana vouchers aid integration

The U.S. Justice Department is trying to block vouchers for low-income Louisiana students on the grounds transfers will increase segregation in 13 of the 34 districts under long-standing desegregation orders.

However, voucher transfers decrease segregation “in the very districts that are the subject of the Department of Justice litigation,” according to a new study, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Louisiana Scholarship Program allow low-income students in C-, D- or F-graded public schools to enroll in participating private schools at taxpayer expense. Ninety percent of transfer students are black.

Looking at the state as a whole, voucher transfers did not affect the racial balance of the receiving private school, the study says. And in the districts under desegregation orders, voucher transfers improved integration both in the public schools the students left and in the private schools they entered.

“The statewide school voucher program appears to have brought greater integration to Louisiana’s public schools,” write Anna Egalite (great name!) and Jonathan Mills in Education Next.

Louisiana court rejects voucher funding

Louisiana can’t use per-pupil funding to pay for school vouchers, the state  Supreme Court ruled today on a 6-1 vote.

“The state funds approved through the unique MFP (minimum foundation program) process cannot be diverted to nonpublic schools or other nonpublic course providers according to the clear, specific and unambiguous language of the constitution,” wrote Justice John Weimer in the opinion.

The lone dissenter, Justice Greg Guidry saw no constitutional reason the state could not use a student’s per-pupil allocation “to fund scholarships” because the money reverts to the state when the student leaves the system.

The court also found the MFP for the 2012-13 school year is invalid because it was passed by resolution, in violation of proper procedure.

Gov. Bobby Jindal expanded the state’s voucher program as part of his 2012 education reforms: 8,000 students were expecting to receive vouchers in the 2013-14 school year. Louisiana teachers’ unions challenged the voucher plan.

GED + job training = motivation

In Louisiana, undereducated and underemployed adults can train for skilled jobs while studying for a GED at a technical college. Most Work Ready U students are training for jobs in construction trades, welding or health care.

Some community colleges are helping veterans get college credits for skills they learned in the military, such as giving a combat engineer credit for construction management skills.

Rhee’s D.C. legacy

The Education of Michelle Rhee will run on PBS’ Frontline tonight.

Rhee’s group, Students First, gave low grades to states on education reform: No state got an A and 11 failed. The two highest-ranking states, Florida and Louisiana, received B-minus grades.