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Louisiana Common Core Face-Off On State Contract Cronyism


Bobby Jindal


Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has taken the side of parents, students and taxpayers by opposing the use of Common Core in his state. But Jindal’s principled stand is facing pushback from the Pelican State’s education bureaucracy.
 
Jindal has been in a complicated “negotiation” with the state school board and Louisiana Education Superintendent John White, but they don't seem any closer to resolving their dispute over the Common Core academic standards.
 
The latest matter at issue is the awarding of state contracts for standardized testing.
 
Julia O'Donoghue, writing for The Times-Picayune reports that yesterday, “three pro-Common Core state school board members wrote a letter to Jindal offering to pursue a new, competitive bidding process for standardized tests, as the Jindal administration had said they wanted. But the school board members also insisted any standardized test purchased would have to allow for comparisons with at least 4 million American children test scores across multiple states, which might limit the assessments to options the Governor doesn't like. “
 
O'Donoghue reports that the Jindal administration responded by saying “it would be happy to work with the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on a test contract compromise. But it wants the test-buying process to be overseen by a Procurement Support Team -- scrutiny that is rarely employed for education department contracts. The governor would also have direct involvement in the test contract purchase.”
 
Procurement and standardized testing contracts are at the center of Louisiana's ongoing dispute over Common Core, since Jindal leveraged his control over the state contracting process last month to try and block the use of Common Core test he doesn't like, often called PARCC.
 
In an effort to get around Jindal, O'Donoghue says White and the state school board tried using an established relationship with a state vendor to acquire PARCC test questions, instead of issuing a new contract to buy them. But Kristy Nichols, a Jindal appointee who oversees the state procurement system suspended the education department's ability to work with the vendor in question, once it came to light that it might purchase PARCC questions on behalf of White's agency.
 
Now, procurement official Kristy Nichols is suggesting White and the education department have a lax attitude when it comes procurement regulations. The Jindal administration said a review of a few education contracts revealed White and two previous superintendents hadn't been following contract rules for years.
 
The cozy financial relationships between Common Core advocates and the corporations that make billions from education technology, textbook and testing are major reasons why many distrust the Common Core system.
 
To Common Core skeptics, including us, it looks more like an insider “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” scam than a way to raise education standards.
 
Just this past week The Washington Post ran a well-researched article by Valerie Strauss “How Microsoft will make money from Common Core (despite what Bill Gates said)” documenting that despite Gates’ denial Microsoft does have a substantial business interest in Common Core.
 
Strauss notes that Common Core critic Diane Ravitch (former Assistant Secretary of Education and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which supervises the National Assessment of Educational Progress) points out on her blog that Microsoft does in fact have business interests in the Common Core. This is not to say that that is what sparked or drove Gates’ personal interest in the initiative; he has said he supports the standards because he thinks they will improve public education, and it seems fair to believe him when he says that is his motivation (whether or not the premise is actually true).
 
Still the fact remains that Microsoft is hoping to make some money from the implementation of the Core in classrooms. Here, on the Microsoft Web site, is a page titled “Tech Essentials for Testing Success” with details about what schools will need to give new Common Core-aligned exams on computers. One piece of advice goes like this:
 
For many schools, time is running out. In a report issued by Smarter Balanced in 2012, it found that 56.1 percent of K–12 schools reporting were still running on aging Windows XP, which had an end of service (EOS) date of April 8, 2014. In the face of this looming cutoff of support, it’s recommended by IT professionals to migrate to the new Windows as soon as possible.

Gates may indeed have been convinced to support the creation of Common Core for entirely eleemosynary reasons, but that doesn’t mean that the people who sell Microsoft products or use them in the development of downstream education products are devoid of the profit motive. Governor Jindal is right to use Louisiana’s state procurement system to make sure that students, parents and taxpayers are getting the best deal for their tax dollars, especially if that breaks-up the cozy financial relationships between those who write the standards, those who write the textbooks and tests and those who sell the technology, textbooks and tests.

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