Recently a New Orleans publication called New Orleans Magazine published a piece that included a shoutout to me that was less than flattering and arguable libelous. This article was written by someone I had never met or heard of, and someone who never tried to contact me for her story. Nevertheless this “journalist” felt she knew enough about me to write fictitious things she quite likely just made up to fuel her misguided narrative, malign my character and question my motives and knowledge on school reform issues and data. This person is named Dawn Ruth (Wilson), and you can find her article here if you are curious. Perhaps you can send her an e-mail asking her about her expertise in these matters, her connections to Leslie Jacobs (who she writes adoringly about in many of her pieces) and which public schools in New Orleans she sent her kids too. Heretofore this cowardly bully has failed to respond to me to either explain herself or apologize: Typical for the breed. As far as I can tell she has no kids and only a cat and a poodle to educate, yet nevertheless feels qualified to tout the success of New Orleans schools based on what people, that created the reforms, tell her. (Incidentally she calls herself a journalist although from her piece on me and others I reviewed she does not appear to investigate anything, and appears to be nothing more than an ignorant reform propagandist.)
In addition to claiming to be a “journalist” she also claims to be a published writer. To illustrate how one does research, I researched her writing credentials a little bit.
This claim of being a published “author”appears to be accurate insomuch as she has published one book by a publisher named Fleur de Lis Press that has the primary mission of publishing previously unpublished authors.
The primary mission of the Fleur-de-Lis Press is to publish first books of authors who have appeared in The Louisville Review. The press currently has thirteen such books in print, described below
Not exactly a publishing powerhouse, but a step up from self-publishing I suppose. Dawn’s book is called “The Nightwalker’s Song” which was compared rather unfavorably to toilet paper by one of her reviewers on Amazon.
1.0 out of 5 stars Very expensive toilet paper…, November 8, 2013
This review is from: The Night Walker’s Song (Paperback)
I would only suggest this to elderly people as a bathroom read. It can also double as toilet paper, which is what I had to use this for. It’s such a dull read that everytime I merely cracked it open I found myself drifting off to sleep.
Of course she had a few more reviews that seemed to read like jacket blurbs, so I thought I’d investigate a few of the other commenters. As of my last check she only had 4 reviews. Of those reviews, one said her work was expensive toilet paper and I thought the other posters might be from relatives or her publisher (as Geezenstack actually accused when writing his review), and I discovered that was not far from the truth. While the negative reviewer had other reviews for a wide variety of products over a period of time, (some positive, some negative) Dawn’s other reviewers had not reviewed anything else but her book. When I looked up the names they left I discovered Barbara Ewell was a New Orleans university professor, like Dawn, and a devoted promoter of local female writers, not a random purchaser. She reviewed the book a few days ago and has gone out of her way to specifically sponsor female issues and authors work in New Orleans as “Feminist Foundation Article” indicates which contains quotes of Barbara references to Dawn Ruth.
The other reviewer with a name is Mary R Arno. Mary is another New Orleanian “author” (she may be living in Cali now) of a single book called “Thanksgiving” (which I was not able to find for sale or reviewed anywhere), feminist, and blogger well known to Mrs. Dawn Ruth, who even comments on her blog from time to time.
Suffice it to say, while it appears Dawn Ruth is an author, in that she wrote a book that was published, it does not appear to be a very popular one except among her feminist friends. (I have nothing against feminists, but a group of New Orleanian feminist writers/professors seems like it would be a small circle of folks.) So writing books may not be Dawn’s forte or primary career (if it was it might explain why she got so much airtime. Celebs with opinions never seem to run out of places to run their mouths, if only for the circulation they can bring), but what about journalism?
So let’s get back to her latest article that prominently features me. How many errors can you find with this passage?
The DOE’s latest press release, for example, says that in New Orleans “only 5.7 percent of students now attend a failing school – down from 65 percent in 2005.” Everyone in the state should be rejoicing, but soon after the news came out, Jason France, a fired DOE employee, began discrediting it in a blog he calls the Crazy Crawfish.
First of all, the press release that I discredited was not DOE’s (actually LDOE) but Leslie Jacob’s press release. You can see my post here. You can also see Leslie Jacob’s release from her propaganda group “Educate Now” here.
“As soon as the news came out” is debatable. I posted that article on the 27th after analyzing some data and discussing the results with various colleagues with more in the mathematics department that yours truly. What I actually posted first on the 23rd was this post:
You see, I was completely insulted and amused at the same time how the newspaper actually produced a story that said the new scale being used was so much better than the old scale (without providing any explanation other than showing the old scale in grey tones and the new scale as a bright, happy, multicolored image with dashes outlining it to emphasize excitement I suppose.)
Figure 1 Example of how today’s “journalism” sucks
The scale was actually changed to make comparisons by folks like me more difficult and to confuse the public, but it was spun as something parents were clamoring for and would find easier to understand . . . basically just changing SPS scores from a 200 point scale to a 150 point scale (and adding bonus points that primarily aided schools in New Orleans, especially RSD schools). I really could not believe LDOE had the audacity to do this, and that the newspapers printed that, in all its garishly colorful glory. Most folks that follow these things with any level of competence (even ones that disagree with me) found that release to be cringeworthy. What it showed to me was the absurdity of the love affair traditional media has with all things “Education Reform.” Results, accuracy, and details don’t matter to folks like Dawn Ruth, that follow Reform rhetoric with all the skepticism as a starving stray dog following a juicy steak being waved in front of them, luring them into a dog catcher’s carriage. I write my posts to identify folks who are not baffled by bullshit, and who can see the irony and absurdity of today’s “media” and self-styled “journalists” like Dawn Ruth.
When Dawn says everyone in the state should be rejoicing, she might as well say we should all be slipping on our identical blue Nike’s and drinking the Kool-Aid; so we can all be blissfully happy and ignorant as her I suppose?
Dawn also reported I was a “fired” DOE employee. This came as some news to me. I’m pretty sure all my employee reviews were exemplary, including my last one which stated I was more than eligible for rehire (The CIO actually stopped me on the street a month later during the St Patty’s Day parade and before I revealed my identity as the Crazy Crawfish and asked me if I would consider coming back.) I quit to reveal the corruption and lies being spun by John White and his reformer ilk, lies that Dawn Ruth in all her willfully ignorant glory fervently spreads at any opportunity under the guise of journalism. (I posted a comment on the article that refuted this “fact” and other parts but it took about 2 days and numerous phone calls and e-mails to the editor to get them to print a retraction and post my comment.) Let’s take a further look at her journalism, shall we?
In the blog, he [that’s me] questions Jacobs’ published analysis of DOE figures, claims state Superintendent of Education John White is hiding data that would discredit DOE’s statistical results and further clouds the issue with his own clever and but apparently tongue-in-cheek reasoning. Of the three, the latter could prove the most effective way of providing fodder to the doubters, whether he intends it or not.
Apparently a few lines later Dawn finally caught on that Leslie Jacobs (considered the “mother” of the RSD, Louisiana’s Accountability System and the Reform movement in New Orleans) is the author of the report but still doesn’t realize, despite what must have been her careful reading of my post, that many of the numbers Leslie pulls out of thin air and are inventions and interpretations of her own, and not LDOE.
Leslie has been engaged in education reform for more than twenty-five years, including twelve years on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). Leslie is considered the architect of Louisiana’s accountability reform, and was instrumental in passing the constitutional amendment that created the Recovery School District.
A helpful tip for “journalist” Ruth, when people that devise, publish or invent something and are evaluated and compensated based on how well that something is perceived, they may not be the most objective people to obtain your figures and interpretations from.
I am not just “claiming” John White is hiding data. I’ve testified (or been subpoenaed to testify) in cases where LDOE and John White is doing just that. They provide data to organizations with a vested interest in their agenda and pay people to provide favorable reports, while denying the same data to independent evaluators, even going to court to prevent the release of the same data to the Department of Justice. But don’t take my word or the Federal Government’s word for it. Just as for the data yourself. If you get it you can give it to me and prove me wrong.
My reasoning was not “tongue in cheek”, although it was a variation of exactly what Leslie Jacobs was doing, and an illustration of how numbers can indeed be used to say anything anyone wants, as Dawn’s intro quote to her piece implies. She clearly missed my larger point that John White, Bobby Jindal and her Reform allies say whatever they want to advance their agenda, even if it is completely contradictory. Since understanding subtlety is not one of her strong suits, let me explain. Leslie Jacobs is claiming her non-failing grades are awesome. I was pointing out that LDOE, White and Jindal still claim grades of C and below are “failing” schools and a reason to offer vouchers. Another embedded irony in this argument is that the voucher schools almost all perform significantly worse than the public schools children are leaving. This is not a cause for alarm to Reformers but a reason to celebrate! Parents are exercising their “Choice” for shitty educations for their children on the taxpayer’s dime! If Reformer toadies like Dawn Ruth ever actually read their own statements and work with any degree of intelligence and circumspection they would surely see the inherent and absurd paradoxes. I can only assume they are blindly repeating what they are told, or so corrupted by money and power that truth and children mean nothing to them.
The heading on one of his [me again] blogs is: “New Orleans SPS [school performance score] reveals 69 percent of students now attend ‘failing schools’ according to Bobby Jindal (compared to 62 percent in 2005).”
A reader must read a long way down to discover that the “69 percent” failing rate is a satirical reference to Gov. Jindal’s signature voucher program, which allows low-income students once attending “C,” “D” and “F” rated public schools to attend non-public schools with public funds. France’s satire points out that if “C” and “D” schools are bad enough to warrant giving students a free ride at taxpayer expense to a private school, then those schools are the same as “F” schools in Jindal’s political world view.
In other words, France uses Jindal’s political definition for a “failing” school, not the DOE’s definition.
Heaven’s to Murgatroid! What kind of unfathomable witchcraft is this! A reader must read past the title to understand a title! (If only people ever spoke or published in 120 character Tweets, right?) What kind of injustice is this, to expect people to actually read?!?! It’s clear that reading is not one of Dawn’s strong suits (along with writing or reasoning.) Dawn. did you know the definition of a “failing school” is not well defined, and constantly changes based on context and need? Leslie Jacobs, in her own fluff piece, clearly explains that she took some liberties in defining a failing school, since the grading scale has changed every year but one it’s kinda hard to make comparisons without taking liberties.
* SPS Assumptions and Calculations (From Leslie’s press release)
Comparing 2005 to 2013: In 2005, schools were given stars (1 to 5) not letter grades. For the purpose of comparison, Educate Now! equated 4 and 5 stars with an A, 3 stars with a B, 2 stars with a C, 1 star with a D, and the 2005 rating “Academically Unacceptable” with an F.
I’m guessing Dawn didn’t read past Leslie’s title before defending her and didn’t read past mine before deciding to attack me.
Dawn clearly misses an opportunity to investigate something she admits to not understanding.
No matter how many statistics come from the Louisiana Department of Education showing the substantial gains in student achievement in New Orleans schools since 2005, there’s a stubborn knot of naysayers who insist that the stats are the result of a conspiracy by a dishonest government and power-hungry reformers.
I would not have to be one of a “stubborn knot of naysayers” if folks publishing in traditional media would do their job, and do the questioning themselves, rather than the parroting they currently do. The fact is, I make no money from my work, and I am not defending my legacy as John White, LDOE, and Leslie Jacobs are doing. Because of their conflicts of interest (a term Dawn should probably learn if she ever wants to try being a real journalist) they are not the most reliable sources. I have children in public schools that I believe will be adversely impacted by these “Reforms”. Most Reformers do not, but they do profit directly from their policies in the form of high paying jobs, access to wealthy individuals who profit from their policies, large political donations and donors, etc. In contrast I am more reliable source. I have children who would benefit from these Reforms, if I believed they were as beneficial as Reformers claim (for other people’s children.) If I believed these were good policies and I was so active in opposing them for no reason other than to create a worse education for my children I would be a horrible and illogical person. Unlike Dawn, I have a background in statistics, data analysis and with this particular data as a former (not fired) analyst for the Louisiana Department of Education, with direct responsibility for collecting and reporting on many of these numbers for almost a decade, I have the authority and experience to speak about them. I also have working relationships with numerous education analysts, current and former LDOE employees and many dozens of school district IT folks and personnel. Unlike Dawn and John White, I get zero compensation from anyone for my work (and actually spend thousands of my own dollars, hours and precious vacation time researching issues, publishing articles, and attending events), and actually put myself in some jeopardy speaking out about what I’ve seen and what I believe. Dawn tried to insinuate I was fired and speaking out as a form of revenge, I suppose. I’d still like to know if someone told her I was fired, or if she just made that part up because it sounded better, but I have not gotten a response from her or the editors at the New Orleans Magazine. If you see her on the street, please ask her and get back to me.
Dawn misses another opportunity to address another obvious disconnect she points out herself.
They seem to mourn the chaotic, inept, even corrupt system of schools that existed before Katrina finally gave state officials an excuse to seize most of them. Last spring, for example, Leslie Jacobs, a former local and state school board member, went on WBOK radio to discuss school improvements. She says she spent most of the program defending good news to a disbelieving audience. These same opponents protest school system changes in front of her house from time to time.
“Critics don’t believe the statistics,” she says. But each year the statistics get better and better and “it’s getting harder and harder to deny the improvement.”
When I reread this part I shook my head in disbelief. Dawn completely misses it. She points out I am one of a stubborn knot of naysayers, implying we are few in number and not particularly influential or fact driven. (She’s probably right about fewness and lack of influence. Almost every single media outlet and most politicians in this state buy into the Reform dog and pony show. Many folks have been bribed handsomely in campaign contributions or large grants from Bill Gates and the Waltons to unquestioningly endorse the reform agenda of Common Core, charter schools, and 5 week trained teachers supplanting experienced ones.) She then proceeds to attack random New Orleanians listening to WBOK, parents and citizens who actually have kids in these schools. She says Leslie defends the news to a disbelieving audience, but somehow links that disbelief to me and my stubborn group of naysayers. This is rich in irony. People like me are simply repeating and reporting on what actual folks on the street are telling us. I don’t attend or work in schools in New Orleans, but many of my sources and readers do, and they report things to me that traditional media refuses to print or cover. I am just reporting what the man and mother on the street sees happening to their children and their neighbors children and grandchildren, not the bullshit stats that Leslie Jacobs is telling to a disbelieving audience that sees and lives the reality, not the pretty pictures and graphs Leslie and LDOE portray, and Dawn, The Advocate, LPB, Times Picayune, New Orleans Magazine and others dutifully report from the press releases they are handed (wrapped in fistfuls of advertising dollars and donations I’m guessing.) I am doing what people like Dawn refuse to do, because they prefer to deny the reality and I’ve decided I have an obligation to my community and children to do something about it.
Believe it or not, Dawn, I do not mourn the chaotic, inept, and corrupt system of schools that existed before Katrina. I’m not sure I know anyone who does. I object to the chaotic, inept and corrupt system of schools that has taken its place, the children that are lost, the parents that feel trapped and hopeless, the teachers that are abused and treated like disposable napkins, and the Reformers like you that seem to profit off this disaster and relish the waste you see happening all around you but choose to ignore.
Incidentally, I offered to write a guest piece for the New Orleans Magazine, but I did not get a response from that offer. If any of my readers are readers of that little periodical perhaps you would consider writing their editor and suggesting it?
Haley Adams is their web editor and the only person courteous enough to finally wrote me back and agree to print this correction.
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated Jason France was a fired DOE employee. France was not fired. France also worked in data management, not accountability. We apologize for these errors.
Associate Editor, all publications
Editor, New Orleans Bride
Haley Adams graduated from Indiana University with a degree in journalism and a minor in French. She grew up in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Missouri, but now calls New Orleans home. She interned at Boston Magazine and the Columbia Daily Tribune, then worked at Inside Columbia Magazine in Columbia, Mo., before joining Renaissance Publishing in August 2012. Haley is a news junkie who loves fashion, social media and rom coms. You can reach her at (504) 830-7259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of course, New Orleans Mag may be more comfortable with someone who invents facts on the fly and supports the status quo. I’m certainly not a “journalist” like Dawn Ruth, so they probably wouldn’t be interested in someone like me. . . and who needs researched stories when it’s so much easier to just print whatever happy, colorful reports LDOE and Leslie Jacob hands you, especially when you can simply make up convenient details to support the story they’d prefer or have been told to tell?