Bobby Jindal’s Politics of Personal Destruction: One of the less-settling themes of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tenure has been his penchant for being petty in dealing with his opponents and even otherwise allies. As I mentioned in yesterday’s piece on Jindal’s faltering anti-Common Core strategy for winning the Republican presidential nod, the Bayou State governor took aim at his lieutenant governor last year for his failure to adhere to his party line by cutting the $2 million budget used for promoting tourism. At the same time, Jindal also cut the budget of the state treasurer, John Kennedy, for opposing the governor’s use of one-shot revenues to balance the budget. A year before, Jindal successfully demanded his ally in the state legislature, House Speaker Charles Kleckley, to demote one member of the Republican caucus, Harold Ritchie, over his vote against one of Jindal’s proposed tax breaks.
So it isn’t shocking that Jindal is likely taking aim at Supt. John White over his efforts against the governor’s push to halt Common Core implementation. White sounded the alarm yesterday in a letter to the state board of education proclaiming that Jindal’s apparatchiks (including state board member and Jindal ally Jane Smith, along with Kristy Nichols, who runs Jindal’s Department of Administration) are insinuating that he and his staffers have been violating state ethics laws through the work on implementing the standards as well as in contributions made to the state by Teach For America. White also noted that one of his allies, state board chairman (and political scion) Chas Roemer, has also been hearing that Jindal’s apparatchiks are looking to find evidence of ethics violations.
Given Jindal’s endgame of kiboshing Common Core implementation — and White’s effort to keep it going — it is clear that the governor will do anything he can to force the superintendent out of office. If it means ruining White’s reputation, so be it. Put simply, Jindal is engaging in the same kind of politics of personal destruction that White’s colleague in Indiana, Glenda Ritz successfully deployed (with help from Associated Press write Tom LoBianco) against her predecessor, former Florida Supt. Tony Bennett, who is another Common Core supporter.
Just a few weeks earlier, Jindal issued another legally questionable executive order forcing the state department of education to seek the governor’s approval for contracts larger than $2,000. Under such an order, White and his staffers will have difficulty simply doing something as innocuous as ordering supplies from Staples without then being accused of some violation. As part of the earlier executive order Jindal issued kiboshing Common Core implementation, the governor demanded that White turn over any documents and contracts to see if the agency has been behaving according to his standards. Particularly at issue is the fact that the PARCC consortium that has developed Common Core-aligned tests that the Bayou State will use didn’t have its plan go through an RFP process the same as other contracting efforts. The fact that states don’t always have to use RFP processes to pick vendors for its offerings (along with the inconvenient reality that Jindal was all in on this before his political ambitions led his to oppose the standards) makes Jindal’s witch hunt desperate and vicious at once.
By accusing White of illegally using PARCC tests, Jindal is essentially setting up the possibility of eventually bringing the superintendent up on both ethics and even criminal charges. Just as importantly, through his insinuations that Common Core is just a federal takeover of education — and that White and his allies on the state board are part of it — Jindal has begun embracing the conspiracy-theorizing rhetoric of Gatesers such as once-respectable education historian Diane Ravitch and Pioneer Institute boss Jim Stergios. Certainly such paranoid rhetoric would make Richard Hofstadter leave his coffin and add a new chapter to his famed text. But Jindal’s entire act against White is intellectually indefensible, morally reprehensible, and unbefitting of a state chief executive. He should be forced out of office himself.
Sadly, such gamesmanship is to be expected. This is why reformers must always engage in conduct becoming. Hopefully, White hasn’t given Jindal any ammunition beyond honestly disagreeing with the governor on providing kids with high-quality education they deserve. But Jindal’s nastiness is another reminder that the reform of American public education is a war — and one reformers must be prepared to win.
Turnabout is Ravitch Play: One of the more-interesting aspect of once-respectable education historian Diane Ravitch’s transformation from dilettantish school reformer to intellectually charlatan traditionalist is how willing so many defenders of failed policies have been willing to embrace her as their own. Perhaps it is because they lacked credible allies (especially those who weren’t National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers bosses), or it could be that they, like Ravitch, are already prone to racial myopia and logical fallacies. But traditionalists have been willing to stand by Ravitch even when her nastiness has cast even harsher light on their cause.
So it is a tad interesting to see that Ravitch is now being called out by some traditionalists for being, well, who she is. What happened? See, as part of a student privacy group emerging out of the opposition to Common Core reading and math standards called Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Ravitch and her partner in crime, Leonie Haimson, sent a letter to Congress calling for restrictions on the use of student data for helping teachers and school operators improve learning for kids. Ravitch and Haimson, naturally, were signatories on the letter. But so was one of their allies in opposing Common Core, the conservative American Principles Project.
This rankled some traditionalists — most-notably Melinda Anderson (who writes the speeches given by NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and predecessor Dennis Van Roekel) — because American Principles Project also opposes the defined-benefit pensions that traditionalists also defend as well as fights against efforts to legalize gay marriage (which progressives within the traditionalist camp support). [The fact that another movement conservative opposed to Common Core, the usually-sensible Joy Pullman of the Heartland Institute’s School Reform News, signed onto the document, also likely set these traditionalists on edge.] As a result of this apostasy, Anderson and others railed against Ravitch on Twitter and other social media forums.
This, in turn, led those long skeptical of Ravitch (including centrist Democrat reformers such as former StudentsFirst operating chief Dmitri Melhorn) to note that others have begun looking askance at Ravitch’s perfidy, intellectual and otherwise. For example, the fact that two years ago, Ravitch was paid by Pearson (yes, the textbook and testing giant she rails against on a constant basis) to give a speech before the National Association of School Psychologists. Oh, and the fact that she gave a speech last year to a convention hosted by Teacher Union Reform Network, an NEA and AFT sock-puppet that is also funded by outfits such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an outfit that traditionalists strongly oppose. In short, Ravitch is, in the minds of some traditionalists, is a traitor to their cause.
[Just wait till they remember that this is the same Ravitch who railed against black parents in Ocean Hill-Brownsville in her first book, The Great School Wars: A history of New York City schools, and who made her bones battling another academic demagogue, Leonard Jeffries, over incorporating black history into school curricula.]
Given the prominence of some of Ravitch’s traditionalist critics, expect this drama to be a C-grade version of Stalinist purging and Reign of Terror guillotining. Sure, your editor can’t look down on Ravitch for taking a single-issue approach to advancing her cause. But she should have known that allying herself with the likes of American Principles (which, from the perspective of this conservative, shouldn’t even be embraced by other conservatives) wasn’t going to end well for her.
As my mother would say: Pack some meals. This is going to be fun.