Wresting the Public’s Rights: Lawsuits Against White, LDOE et al.
Corporate reform thrusts ahead with little regard for what is legal or even decent. Privatizers are just fine with forcing those whose lives they callously damage to spend both money and time in litigation in order to gain what they were legally entitled to in the first place.
I’m sure Eli Broad would be proud. He probably offers Make the “Non-talented” Waste Their Resources on Needless Litigation as a course at his (We Are Anything But) Superintendents Academy.
At the conclusion of my update on John White and InBloom, I mentioned that I would write a post in which I discuss lawsuits filed against White and LDOE for their withholding data and violating open meetings laws. Let me add BESE and Superintendents Advisory Council Chairman Michael Faulk to the list of those being sued. Also, in addition to withholding data, let me add withholding other public documents to the list.
In this post, I focus on three lawsuits. I will address them chronologically.
The first of these lawsuits was filed in October 2012 by the New-Orleans-based group, Research on Reforms (ROR).
Research on Reforms Sues LDOE
Research on Reforms was developed because of the urgency to collect data and analyze the findings to determine if the educational reforms of 2005 were working.
The 2005 Louisiana Legislature enacted laws that allowed experimentation in the public schools, and recognized that experimenting with the lives of children and youth must only be allowed if the “experiment results are analyzed, with the positive results repeated or replicated, and the negative results identified and eliminated.”
It has been several years now and the mandate, of researching the positives and negatives of this extensive educational experiment, has not been realized.
Research on Reforms, Inc. is a nonprofit, dedicated to conducting scholarly research to study the effectiveness of the state takeover of failing New Orleans public schools, which occurred following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
I want to say a word regarding four levels of data as determined by the amount of detailed student information included in the data. I will start with the most specific: Data that includes detailed information on individual students, including information that can be traced back to a specific student (name, address, phone number, social security number). This is the kind of data White has released to InBloom.
The second level of data also involves information on individuals; however, any identifying information has been removed. For example, this data set does not include student-specific information such as names and social security numbers, but it retains information such as school, grade level, gender, parents’ income, and ethnicity. This is the level of data requested by ROR for conducting its research.
The third level of data involves what LDOE used to include on its website until 2012: Detailed data by school, not by individual. Thus, any identifiers were not on the individual level but on the school level. Specific counts of students for a number of characteristics were included, such as number of students on free lunch, number of graduates, and number of teachers classed as “highly qualified.” A researcher could still conduct research on this data set, but the possible analyses are more limited than if student-level data were available.
The final level of data is what White and LDOE offered in 2012. No individual student or faculty counts were available, only percentages on a limited number of student characteristics. Replacing actual counts with percentages makes this data set virtually useless to researchers. I firmly believe that delivering to the public a virtually useless data set was John White’s goal. Furthermore, White’s decision to “redesign” the LDOE website because of nonexistent complaints is nothing more than a ploy to make locating LDOE information (including data from the current year) more difficult. Also, the new website no longer includes data sets from previous years.
Remember, White is the man for “muddied narratives.” (In September 2012, the Monroe News-Star had to initiate legal proceedings to access the “muddy narrative” emails on White’s/LDOE’s haphazard voucher school vetting process, which was really no process at all.) He’s also the guy for once-useful data now made virtually useless– or nonexistent.
In its lawsuit, ROR is suing for access to de-identified student data, or data that cannot be traced to specific students (the second level noted above). ROR is not asking for the detailed, individual data White has taken upon himself to deliver to InBloom without BESE approval.
In the world of statistical research and analysis, it is considered not only a courtesy but also ethically sound practice for a researcher to de-identify his or her data so that other researchers might conduct analyses examining the veracity of his/her claims. A study with findings that cannot be replicated should not be trusted. In refusing to release the de-identified data used to produce its findings, including 2012 school and district performance scores, White and LDOE are purposefully shielding themselves from any accountability regarding 2012 school and district performance scores, and for any other outcomes they declare that are supposedly founded on sound research.
On behalf of ROR, Dr. Barbara Ferguson explains the reason for filing the lawsuit against LDOE:
In the years immediately following the state takeover, i.e., the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years, Research on Reforms, Inc. requested and received de-identified student level data from the Louisiana Department of Education. The research conducted, using that data during those years, did not always demonstrate that the state takeover was effective.
Following the 2006-07 and 2007-08 years, the LDOE has refused to produce the de-identified student level data to Research on Reforms, Inc. In addition, the LDOE is becoming increasingly less transparent through its recent actions to modify its website, removing historical databases and removing actual current school enrollment counts. [Emphasis added.]
Thus, the ROR lawsuit against LDOE is one of seeking redress for LDOE’s refusal to release public records:
Because Louisiana’s state takeover of public schools was an experiment in how to improve failing schools, data had to be collected, aggregated and analyzed to determine whether the experiment was working or not. While the Louisiana Department of Education collected, and continues to collect, the raw student level data needed for analysis, the LDOE has developed its own rules for releasing this data.
It is anticipated that through this lawsuit, the LDOE will be compelled to release the raw deidentified student level data to Research on Reforms, Inc. for analysis. Additional information on this lawsuit will be made available at the time such information can be disclosed. [Emphasis added.]
For comments or questions, email:
Note: Second case removed as per attorney request.
Louisiana Voice Sues White/LDOE
Tom Aswell of the Louisiana Voice blog has had to initiate legal action against LDOE in order to gain access (even partial access) to records that should otherwise be readily made public. At the absolute last minute (months overdue, by law), White yielded in part. Still, Aswell had to push White/LDOE for complete information, only to discover that White had originally lied and that the sought-after emails (in this case, complaints about the former LDOE website) did not exist.
On April 24, 2013, Aswell did follow through on a lawsuit against White and LDOE for a number of unanswered requests for information, including one for the letter or email officially requesting cancellation of the data sharing agreement White made with InBloom. Here is Aswell’s list. All requests are dated from April 2 to 19, 2013:
Pursuant to the Public Records Act of Louisiana (R.S. 44:1 et seq.), I [Tom Aswell]respectfully request the following information:
Please allow me to review all contracts, purchase orders and authorizations to hire, executed and/or signed by [LDOE Chief of Staff] Kunjan Narechania from January 1, 2012 through April 1, 2013. In providing these documents, please do not omit the signature page(s).
Please allow me to review all forms, including literacy, high school redesign and accountability authorized and/or signed by Kunjan Narechania from January 1, 2012 through April 1, 2013. Please include all signature page(s).
Please allow me to review all contracts, purchase orders and authorizations to hire executed and/or signed by [LDOE Deputy Superintendent] Michael Rounds since his employment with DOE. Please include all signature page(s).
Please allow me to review all contracts, purchase orders and authorizations to hire executed and/or signed by [LDOE Deputy Superintendent] David “Lefty” Lefkowith since his employment with DOE. Please include all signature page(s).
Please provide copies of all travel records/travel documents/travel reimbursements for David “Lefty” Lefkowith since his employment with DOE.
Please provide signed time sheets verifying David Lefkowith’s presence in the DOE offices since his employment with DOE.
Please provide me with copies of any and all emails and other written communications, memorandums, letters or notes FROM and TO [LDOE Deputy Superintendent] Hannah Dietsch dating back to the date of her employment as Assistant Superintendent of Workforce Talent which contain ANY reference to Value Added, Value Added Model, or VAM.
Please provide me with a list of all Recovery School District (RSD) employees who have received pay increases of 15% (fifteen percent) or more dating back to Jan. 1, 2012.
Please provide me with any and all emails, letters, notes and memorandums from John White relative to holidays for unclassified employees of RSD.
Please provide me with copies of any and all emails and other written communications, memorandums, letters or notes FROM and TO Superintendent of Education John White dating back to Jan. 1, 2012 which contain ANY reference to Value Added, Value Added Model, or VAM.
Please provide me with the opportunity to review the official letter or email that you sent to inBloom to cancel the data storage.
John White says that he canceled the agreement with InBloom. InBloom says that he has not. Surely the easiest way to resolve the matter is for White to produce the document proving that his “partnership” with InBloom is off.
I think this document is among the ranks of those emails of complaint about the old LDOE website: It simply doesn’t exist.
I also believe that Aswell’s requests for information should prove soap-opera revealing.
Education Steeped in Litigation
Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch started her blog one year ago this week. Ravitch’s posts cover educational issues nationwide, with her average number of posts for all completed months (May 2012 to March 2013) at 329 (the number of postings ranges from 120 to 475 per month), a remarkable number by any standard. Thus, Ravitch’s blog has proved to be both an invaluable source of information to and a means of networking for teachers across the nation.
Teachers, parents, administrators, students, and others negatively affected by the current reformer agenda of privatization at any cost need a place like Ravitch’s blog, where we can learn about battling the opposition.
We are being cornered. We are being forced to sue.
Education reform is undeniably steeped in litigation. This is no accident; it is by reformer design, particularly ALEC design, which instructs state legislators to first push privatization-friendly legislation through before the public knows what hit them, without regard for legality. In Louisiana, this strategy resulted in the two major ALEC-friendly education bills, Acts 1 and 2, both declared unconstitutional in the lower courts and tied up in the Louisiana Supreme Court.
And Louisiana is far from alone. Education lawsuits, whether considered, or threatened, or filed, are the modern public education order of the day.
I counted the number of Ravitch’s blog posts connected to the keyword “sues” over the past year. The total was an astounding 319 posts.
In essence, Ravitch, who is the most prolific blogger I know, could have written for a solid month solely about who in modern education is suing whom, or who risks being sued, or who has been sued, or the outcomes of suits. No other topic, just education litigation.
Herein rests both our burden and our hope. We must continue to sue.
It is time for us to corner them.