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Beebe letter fails to justify her flight from reality

If being unable to figure out Louisiana’s campaign finance reports and constructing straw men and chasing red herrings qualifies one for service on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, then member Lottie Beebe goes to the head of the class.

Beebe got into a dander when I pointed out, in a letter she sent to The Advocate chastising its editorialists for pointing out the success of education reform as a byproduct of changes wrought by the hurricane disasters of 2005, her paranoia-infused theories about Louisiana’s Department of Education statistics,. Her claim was that shadowy forces somehow exerted enough control over the agency and BESE as to fix data to make it appear that education reforms she bitterly opposed were succeeding. In doing so, she insulted most of her fellow members by implying they were pawns of others and elevated hearsay evidence as her source of her allegation that data coming from DOE could not be trusted.

In my Advocate column, I made several points: (1) that as a member of BESE she had access to all of DOE’s data to check it for herself, (2) that, as a district superintendent, she had her own system’s raw data that she could check against what DOE put out for veracity, (3) that independent research on related indicators confirmed results obtained from DOE data, thereby providing construct validity to them, and (4) that throwing around claims of others’ bias contaminating data ignored her own prejudices against the worldview concerning education that the data to date have confirmed. So she fired off a letter to The Advocate as a presumed response.

Except that it hardly addressed most of the points I made. Responding to my first point, she argued that as a single member of BESE that, despite the fact that she was one of the 11 bosses of DOE, that without the concurrence of others on BESE she couldn’t compel information from DOE. That is sheer nonsense: not only at BESE, but at the other collective state policy-making bodies, the Public Service Commission and the Legislature, any single member can compel information from their staff. DOE may be circumspect in handing out to outsiders information that may have sensitive personal data attached, but it’s not going to and cannot refuse a request from one of its leaders.

Understand this explanation not only serves as an excuse to validate her paranoia but also as an admission that her hypothesis is incorrect, because if she did ask the data she then would receive them and these would disconfirm her falsification thesis. Thus, don’t ask, you don’t have to tell the world you’re wrong. That response also provides additional impugning of her fellow BESE members, who by her implication are complicit in preventing this reputed scam from coming to light.

And as for the simple checking of her original district data against what DOE reports for it, mysteriously she does not address that point. That’s because this also would falsify her hypothesis, and she desperately wishes to avoid that.

In her comments about independent research providing construct validity to DOE’s published results, she tries to brush this aside by mentioning a Cowen Institute study that later was retracted as a way of discrediting all such research in general. This is both a mistaken and dishonest tactic. The Cowen Institute data that confirms the general trend that student performance growth in Orleans Parish has been significant in charter schools, a school governance form she criticizes, comes from its annual State of Public Education in New Orleans reports. The argument is specious in any event; that the removed report’s data may not have been analyzed properly, used selectively, or tampered with to produce that study does not mean that those so used were false to begin with.

Of course, these Institute data over time are not analyzed by it experimentally, making us less certain of the actual impact. However, that’s not a drawback of reports by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which has conducted multiple studies on the impact of charter schools not only in New Orleans but across Louisiana and the country. They do show the beneficial effects that charter schools have had using a quasi-experimental design, and have countered successfully critics’ attempts to try to discredit these results. Oddly, Beebe chose not to address this research inconvenient to her argument.

Finally, she almost entirely sidestepped discussing her glass house position that alleged bias among her opponents on reform issues led to fake data when in fact she had her own agenda prejudiced against many reform aspects that explains why she would make her desperate fabrication claim – because, as I noted, when losing an argument on the basis of the facts, those so invested in the issue on the losing side then try to change the facts to make it seem that they are not on the short end. The only way in which she addressed this directly was to claim she wasn’t against reform, pointing out her district’s participation in piloting teacher evaluations and in Act 3 of 2012 early childhood education changes.

But that defense fails to note she outspokenly has opposed most teacher and district accountability measures as in Acts 1 and 2 of 2012, as well as on the subject of the previous editorial and my column, school choice. Her record of being a reactionary on broad education reform initiatives that involve greater parental choice and increased accountability of schools and teachers using value-added measures is indisputable, and to point that out is not, as she erroneously claimed, to say that she is against all reforms. Just because you support one narrow reform and participate in some reform implementation does not inoculate you from your record.

Her penchant for saying criticism of her views is something that it is not is additionally reflected by other assertions she makes, such as by my drawing a parallel between the command and control model of the Soviet Union to the government school monopoly model she favors in her mind becomes a putdown of concerns of school governance and transparency. No; it’s not axiomatic that obstructing school choice means one must always be concerned about those kinds of issues because one can have such concerns and favor school choice, or could forward such concerns as a cover for an agenda to restore the government monopoly model.

And where I did make a factual error – I forgot to include in my calculations her 2011 BESE opponent’s initial campaign finance reports – in stating she outspent her opponent in that election, she can’t even get that right by stating in her letter the opponent spent $132,000. In fact, her opponent spent only $69,000 in the 2011 campaign: from Sep. 6-12 $900; from Sep. 13-Oct. 2 $4,000; and from Oct. 3-Dec. 31 $64,100. Beebe spent from Aug. 1-Sep. 12 $3,997.36; from Sep. 13 to Oct. 2 $1,467.10; and from Oct. 3 to Oct. 30 $58,535.75, for a total (including in-kind contributed spending) of $64,000.21. If you’re going to call attention to someone else’s error, at least don’t make your own mistake.

So in the final analysis, when sifting through her various straw men and red herrings – delivering these instead of substantive rebuttals undoubtedly a skill learned through her decades rising in the educational establishment – other than the campaign spending fact (which had nothing to do with her argument and is erroneous on her part), there’s no “false information” at all in the column. The facts remain: she has no evidence to disprove the validity of the DOE data that reflects progress through reform but every reason to make such an unsubstantiated claim given her prejudices derived from a career investment and special interest alliances in the unreformed, subpar system.

And her letter only amplifies the question confronting voters: do they want to reelect someone who at the very least can’t figure out campaign finance documents, but who, more importantly, cannot come close to explaining convincingly why she does not desire to construct a fantasy scenario that attempts to explain why she has not been so wrong specifically on the issue of educational choice? Is it really in the best interest of children to have such a hard-headed politician who will not realize and make policy on the basis of reality?

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