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The Truth, the Press, and Leslie Jacobs’ “Reformerspeak”

January 26, 2013

Former BESE member and so-called “reformer” Leslie Jacobs publicized a slanted article in which she “shaped” statistics to produce an outcome that she calls “closing the achievement gap in New Orleans.”  I first read of this “gap closing” on WWL’s website on January 14.  I responded on January 21 to the WWL posting; also, since I read Jacobs’ abbreviated version in the Baton Rouge Advocate, I decided to sent my rebuttal to a number of Louisiana papers, including the Advocate. My original post was 1337 words; for each paper, I had to modify my work to lengths ranging from 200 to 700 words.  In all versions I included the actual 2010-11 graduate cohort percentages for the eight RSD-NO schools that received such a score.

Publicizing this information is critical.  Jacobs released her version at a convenient time for the LDOE website to be “under revision,” thereby not enabling those seeking to verify Jacobs’ account to do so.

I accessed the statistics as they were reported before the shutting down of the LDOE website for revision and was therefore able to rebut Jacobs’ glossed-over account.

As of this writing, the papers that have printed my rebuttal are the Times-Picayune (New Orleans) (01/24); the Hammond Daily Star (01/23), and the Monroe News-Star (01/25).  I also have a commitment from the Shreveport Times for next week.

I also submitted rebuttals to the St. Tammany News (my own district) and the American Press (Lake Charles).  I have not yet heard from either paper.

A second (and possibly, greater) story is in the resistance of the Baton Rouge Advocate toward publicizing my rebuttal.  Editor Bill Bankston has posted my letters in the past, including one on the failure of the RSD to publish its school performance scores.  However, despite even BESE member Lottie Beebe’s pointed request that the letter be published, I have heard nothing from Mr. Bankston.  Ms. Beebe sent the following email to Mr. Bankston yesterday (01/24):

Hi Mr. Bankston,

I am most impressed with the rebuttal offered by Dr. Mercedes Schneider (provided in the attached article) to Ms. Leslie Jacobs, former BESE member.  I humbly ask you to publish Dr. Schneider’s  response to the inaccuracies cited by Ms. Jacobs.  Dr. Schneider has devoted much time and effort to providing the results of her research. 
 
I am also concerned with the appearance of “resistance” from some media sources to offer “fair and balanced” reporting.  Perhaps the Advocate can take the lead in providing an opportunity for discussion (debate) that should be available to all stakeholders as we move forward with education reform.  I support both sides of the debate and believe that both should be extended to the public.  I am hopeful that you share this view. 
 
Thank you in advance for your consideration of my request.
I appreciate Lottie Beebe.
It takes a lot of time and energy to edit articles to a number of abbreviated lengths in order to meet the requirements for op/eds in the various papers.  The Advocate allows for 450 words.
Not wanting to have wasted my efforts on an unpublished Advocate rebuttal and now having my own space to publish whatever I wish, I offer to my readers my 450-word version rebuttal of the Leslie Jacobs “look, the reforms are working” lie:

In her January 19th letter, Leslie Jacobs informs the public that “we have closed the performance gap” in New Orleans’ schools and that it happened two years ago, in 2010-11.  However, according to the 2012 district letter grades publicized by LDOE in October 2012, RSD-NO received a district grade of D, despite White and BESE’s lowering the graduation rate necessary for high schools to earn so-called “bonus” points.

How then is the performance gap closed, yet RSD-NO remains a “failing” school district?

How, indeed.

Jacobs refers to USDOE high school completion rates and notes that the state percentage of students graduating in four years (2007-08 to 2010-11) is 70.9%.  Her shining moment is that “in New Orleans, 76.5% of our students graduated on time.”

First, the vague term, “New Orleans.”  There is Orleans Parish Schools; its 2010-11 graduation rate was 93.5% (LDOE website).  This begs the question: Why focus on 76.5% as the evidence of “success” instead of OPS’s 93.5%?  Furthermore, OPS received an A on its 2012 district report card. 

Why not highlight the achievements of OPS?  Jacobs cites “the failure of New Orleans Public Schools” later in her writing.  Why not note a beautiful recovery (pun intended)?

The answer: OPS success underscores the failure of the state-run RSD-NO.

LDOE does not report a district percentage for RSD-NO 2010-11 graduation rate.  How Jacobs arrived at 76.5% is a mystery.  Offering this 76.5% certainly paints a fairer picture than does the detailed account actually posted on the LDOE website. Only eight RSD-NO high schools reported 2010-11 cohort graduation rates:  Thurgood Marshall, 87.8%; Abramson, 81.2%; O. P. Walker, 74.6%; Algiers Tech, 67.9%; Walter L. Cohen, 53.6%; John McDonough, 45.6%; Sarah Towles Reed, 49.6%, and G. W. Carver; 55.7%.                                                  

Jacobs’ enthusiasm is sales-pitch fluff.  When one observes that actual graduation rates for the eight RSD-NO schools, there is quite a gap.  Three of the eight schools are above state average; however, the remaining five are below, with half, four of the eight, woefully below. 

Jacobs also sensationalizes the “rise” in ACT score average from 17 in 2005 to 18.2 in 2012.  At this rate, it would take 23 years for the ACT average to reach 22, the score necessary for acceptance into LSU.

Finally, Jacobs cites the improved rates of “New Orleans public school graduates” qualifying for TOPS scholarships.  She writes that 39% qualified.  This statistic comes from page 31 of the Cowen Institute 2012 analysis of New Orleans schools; this 39% is for the subgroup of OPS charter schools; the rate for New Orleans schools overall is 24%, a 1 % decrease from the OPS statistic she cites from 2005.

From the evidence (clearly and correctly) cited in this letter, Leslie Jacobs is just another peddler of glossy yet factually-twisted “reformerspeak.”  Do not buy her product.

And so, the truth prevails in yet another venue.  I thank God for the power of the blog.

 

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