The asininity level has reached new heights, or rather depths, from all sides of Louisiana’s battle over the Common Core education standards. Common Core supporters offered asinine reasons, or rather non-reasons, in support of the Core during this year’s regular legislative session. The Jindal team in recent weeks made asinine insinuations that state school superintendent John White isn’t merely wrong on the topic but perhaps “corrupt.” A charter school organization, in an asinine misunderstanding of its own best interests, joined a group of parents and others in filing a lawsuit against the Jindal administration to force it to back off its anti-Core actions. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education today took the asinine step of joining that lawsuit. Later today, Jindal took the asinine step of intervening in the suit, by using presumably expensive outside counsel to make what is more a philosophical point than a legal one, while further entering Jindal in the “I can sound like Rick Perry too” national conservative presidential sweepstakes.
Rather than embroiling the state in so many suits and counter-suits that it will take a Dickensian eon to unravel them (see Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, in the novel Bleak House), all sides should stop wasting money on lawyers and tying up the courts, and instead solve this through ordinary representative processes. A special session should be in order. (About which, more, momentarily.)
Let’s unpack, far too quickly, why each step has been asinine.
First, even though the topic of Common Core created considerable sturm und drang during the legislative session, it actually catalyzed very little cogent debate. Opponents repeatedly were treated rudely, while some legislators pronounced themselves in favor of Common Core before asking what it was. A committee chairman took to cyberspace to offer embarrassing pablum in favor of the Core, while the governor, suddenly opposed to it, barely lifted a finger to actually persuade legislators in his direction. In short, the spectacle was asinine.
Jindal made matters worse by sending out his minions to question Superintendent White’s integrity. For that matter, his original press release announcing Louisiana’s “withdrawal” from the Core focused far more on his policy disagreements with the Core than on his legal reason (or pretext) of saying BESE’s procurement process for the Core-aligned tests was flawed. (The administration later tried just to emphasize the procurement issue, but that didn’t explain the governor’s unilateral “termination of [Louisiana's] participation in the Common Core.” If anybody thinks Jindal’s aim was merely the dutiful attempt to enforce a state law, rather than to curry favor with national conservative audiences, they are more gullible than TV’s Gilligan.)
Then came the lawsuit by the parents and the charter school group. Most of the suit sounds like a policy argument devolving into a whine session, but it does eventually make some points actually relevant to legally actionable claims. That’s not what was asinine. What was asinine was that the “Choice Foundation,” an otherwise excellent group which runs three admirable charter schools in New Orleans, chose to stick its nose into the morass of the courts. It did so against its own best long-term interests. To wit:
One of the biggest policy arguments (among many other good ones) against Common Core is that is probably will have the tendency to homogenize instructional methods, curriculum, and other educational practices nationwide. One of the beauties of charter schools is that they resist homogenization in favor of innovation, particularity, and an understanding that different strokes work for different folks. Inherent in that idea is the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that, to the greatest extent possible, decisions be made and implemented at the most local level practicable. This key aspect of charter schools thus runs directly contrary to the Core’s nationalizing impulse. For the Choice Foundation to join this suit amounts to an illogical fit of pique rather than a wise use of time and resources. (And yes, I read its explanation of the “harm” it will supposedly suffer due to the governor’s actions, and I just don’t buy it.)
Today, BESE upped the ante by joining that lawsuit. It did not need to do so. There’s even a question as to whether it has the authority to hire its own counsel to do so. The layering of lawyers (or is that lawyering of layers?) further complicates an already awful situation, and further raises the legal stakes for all involved.
Then came the administration with what, at first glance, appeared to be a rather ludicrous “third party demand” — an intervention in this same lawsuit — by the governor to nullify something called a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) between BESE and a Core-aligned outfit known by the acronym PARCC (which also provides the material for the tests at issue in the procurement controversy). It does so on the basis of a legitimate doctrine, questionably applied. The doctrine is known as “non-delegation,” and in layman’s terms it means that a public body may not delegate its authority to a private entity or an entity outside of the state. Yet by the very terms of the MOU cited by the administration’s lawsuit — an MOU originally signed by Jindal himself — the “authority” being delegated is revocable by the state at any time, so BESE retains control (without threat of penalty) over whether or not to participate in PARCC’s processes. That hardly seems, to an outside observer, to be an illegal delegation of BESE’s responsibility.
It’s all rather complicated. Let’s simplify it: Jindal in effect is yelling “state sovereignty” at the top of his lungs, trying to get attention back from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is gaining ground in the Republican presidential sweepstakes by making valid points about state sovereignty with regard to the border crisis and the Obama administration’s perfidy related thereto.
All of which leads to this: It’s horrible public policy to rush to the courts, which take months or years to rule, to solve what really amounts to a policy dispute, while holding children, parents and school hostage to the political battle. This should be a matter handled not by judges, but by the people’s elected representatives. Those representatives did a pathetic job this year in their so-called consideration of whether or not to withdraw from Common Core. They were dealing with hundreds of other issues at the same time, and few legislators even had a clue what they were really talking about.
Jindal should call a special session devoted to the Common Core issue, alone, and then use all his persuasive ability to try to move legislators his way. Those of us who oppose Common Core would cheer him on, all the while. Legislators would be forced to own up to their decisions, sole-focused, without excuses. And the public could watch how outside players — lobbyists and campaign donors — influence the proceedings.
It would be a donnybrook. But it would last a finite time period. A decision would be made, one way or the other. And, afterwards, education could move forward.