To reverse their fortunes, losers of arguments often attempt the tactic of trying to change the facts, demonstrated perfectly by a letter recently appearing on these pages by Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Lottie Beebe.
In response to an Advocate editorial noting educational gains made in Louisiana after recent reforms, Beebe argued that the data cited were untrustworthy. Instead, she repeated unverified conspiracy theories, often propagated by those with an ideological agenda opposing these reforms — or by people who were part of the unreformed system. They allege that the books have been cooked by reformers to make their case seem better than it is. Beebe implied that the Department of Education, over which BESE has authority, sold out to bogeymen who supported electing other BESE members, thereby somehow tainting these data.
Her BESE membership makes her charge incredible, since she’s one of DOE’s bosses. If anybody can give an order to DOE to produce something, it would be her and the other 10 BESE members. Yet, by her claim that the “real” data stay obscured — despite her ability to compel them to come clean — this means either she is ineffective as an elected official or deluded in her allegations.
Here’s another reason Beebe’s charges ring false. She also serves as superintendent of St. Martin Parish schools, meaning she turns in the raw data to DOE. If there’s any data distortion going on, she should be able to demonstrate it with her district’s raw numbers compared with what DOE disseminates. But instead of doing so, all she can do is echo asserted but unproven claims (which, nevertheless, she calls “credible”).
By employing rumor and innuendo as her standard of proof, she should understand that the same could be utilized in evaluating her own district. Observers could just as easily make the same claim that St. Martin’s slightly below-average performance came from fudging the numbers. In actuality, no evidence exists showing data manipulation at any level.
Additionally, noted research institutions such as Tulane University’s Cowen Institute and Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Options, using independently reviewed and quality analyses, confirm academic progress in Louisiana public schools that corroborates the related data used by DOE. These studies leave dissenters producing refuted critiques and unsubstantiated charges of researcher bias.
Understand that Beebe comes from a milieu, composed of those who care primarily about making their jobs easier and accumulating political power, that invested itself in the state’s previous Soviet-style model of education — no choice and laughable accountability standards. That system existed until recently and delivered the worst education in the country. These critics do not want a system that puts children’s needs before those of adults, and they want to reverse reform by any means.
Making ironic her claims about outside interests inciting data contamination, Beebe’s own 2011 election was bought and paid for by part of this cabal, teacher unions. She dramatically outspent Democrat incumbent Glenny Lee Buquet, who had to be cajoled into running again, and that led to a desultory campaign by Buquet. Beebe also cleverly called herself a Republican to take advantage of changing electoral tides, and she even got local party donations. But unions provided the bulk of Beebe’s contributed campaign resources (although the majority of her spending came from loans to herself), so it is no accident that she serves as the unions’ mouthpiece against reform.
So whom do we believe —– the state agency overseen by BESE and the Legislature whose results conform to independent research? Or a disgruntled politician acting as a handmaiden to special interests? More to the point, should voters re-elect an official who puts her ideological prejudices ahead of data-driven policy options?
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at LSU-Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics (www.between-lines.com) and, when the Louisiana Legislature is in session, another about legislation (www.laleglog.com). He may be reached through Twitter, @jeffsadow. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.