The one thing that is clear to anyone who’s attempted to read Mercedes Schneider’s blog is that she’s angry: angry at John Merrowangry about Common Core, angry about evolution, and angry at Teach For America, along with a whole host of other things. However, she reserves her greatest fury for the Recovery School District’s effort to improve public education in New Orleans.

The reasons behind Schneider’s rage at the RSD are difficult to discern. She never taught in New Orleans schools and currently teaches high school English (paradoxically, for someone with a Ph.D in statistics) in St. Tammany Parish, one of the highest-performing school districts in Louisiana. Schneider isn’t a product of New Orleans schools, either; as she notes on her blog, she was educated in neighboring St. Bernard Parish. Whatever her motives, there’s no question that Schneider has spent untold hours and tens of thousands of words to unfairly malign the RSD, and lately, her efforts have been gaining wider visibility in the world of social media. For example, Schneider has become a favorite of Diane Ravitch, who has frequently brought attention to her blog posts in recent months. It was no doubt Ravitch’s embrace that caught the attention of the Huffington Post, which has published several of her diatribes on their site.

It was on Huff Post that I came upon her most recent rant, 2013 Louisiana School Letter Grades: Recovery School District Gains Nothing, which, in keeping with her hallmark style, is a seething, widely meandering attack on the RSD. Declaring that it’s “time to once again deconstruct a lie,” Schneider attempts to debunk the latest School Performance Scores (SPS) released by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) because they demonstrate that New Orleans schools continue to improve. However, as I show below, the only thing that Schneider manages to debunk is her own credibility. Schneider’s post begins with a caustic attack on State Superintendent of Education John White, one of her favorite targets for abuse, before turning to the SPS data:

“In this 2013 spreadsheet of SPS scores, I found information useful to the public in understanding that the ‘new’ 2013 SPS and letter grades are not ‘rigorous.’ Indeed, use of the 2013 calculations makes the Recovery School District (RSD) appear to have made gains that are nothing more than artifacts of a new scale and new calculations.”

Yet in the very next paragraph, Schneider goes on to directly contradict this statement, without batting an eye:

“In the spreadsheet released on October 23, 2013, John White included two sets of SPS/letter grades: those calculated using the new 2013 formula and based on the new scale, and those calculated using last year’s formula and scale.”

So just to be clear: in one breath Schneider claims that the new grading scale is an attempt by LDOE to create the false impression that schools have improved, while in the other, she admits the department intentionally released SPS scores using both the old and new calculations so that direct comparisons could be made. In truth, when Superintendent White announced LDOE would issue two sets of SPS scores back in March, he emphasized to members of his Superintendents’ Advisory Council, “This is a common sense proposal so that the public understands that we are changing the rules of the game.” Clearly, if LDOE wanted to deceive the public, they wouldn’t have made the effort to release two sets of SPS scores for each school, but such logic is lost on Schneider. [More information on the old formula here and a line-by-line breakdown of how the formula changed here.]

Although Schneider claims the LDOE is trying to deceive the public, all evidence to the contrary
Mercedes Schneider claims the LDOE is trying to deceive the public, all evidence to the contrary

Schneider continues:

“In order to help readers easily make comparisons between last year’s calculations and the two sets of scores offered by White this year, I created this spreadsheet of SPS/ letter grades. It includes information on all RSD-NO schools included in both the 2012 and 2013 LDOE releases of SPS/letter grades.”

Actually, Schneider’s spreadsheet inadvertently exposes the slapdash nature of her so-called “research” since it includes Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School, which is located in East Baton Rouge Parish, not New Orleans. One would think that Schneider would have caught the error seeing that the school is clearly labeled “Recovery School District – LA” (as opposed to “Recovery School District – NO”) in her own spreadsheet. Still, Schneider fervently believes that her simple spreadsheet reveals all sorts of sinister double-dealing by the RSD. For example she says, “I was able to capture some of the ‘charter churn’ hidden pretty well from all but local public eye.” “Charter churn” is one of Schneider’s oh-so-clever euphemisms (and she has many) for LDOE/RSD’s policy of closing low-performing charter schools. From the very beginning, the LDOE and RSD’s message has been clear: charter operators that fail to improve low-performing schools will lose their charters and those schools will be handed over to a new charter management organization. Furthermore, this isn’t a message that’s been hidden from a national audience. Former State Superintendent Paul Pastorek couldn’t have been more blunt about this policy when he spoke with Paul Tough for a 2008 New York Times Magazine cover story on New Orleans’ public school transformation:

“Over the long haul, the R.S.D. becomes an instrument that evaluates existing schools, supports existing schools, recommends the closure of schools and recommends the best operator to come in and take over, or the best operator to come in in place of that school. We put people in business, and we take people out of business.”

Note to Schneider: when public officials have something to hide, they usually don’t go on record about it in the New York Times. This is just one of many instances when education officials have stated loud-and-clear that failing charters will be (and have been) closed.

“The churn is evident where data is available for only 2012 but not 2013 and vice-versa (true of 14 entries). It is also evident in cases where schools have the two-year-allowed “T” (transition) in place of a letter grade. (In the case of one school, Fannie Williams, one sees that there is a “D” for 2012 then a “T” for 2013 — evidence that Fannie Williams has been handed over from one charter operator to another just this year.)”

Again, in her desire to excoriate LDOE & RSD, Schneider gets her facts wrong – or in this case, just makes them up. To start, Fannie C. Williams has not changed charter operators; it is still managed by the same non-profit board – Community Leaders Advocating Student Success – that was granted a charter to run the school in December 2010. In addition, Fannie C. Williams should have received a “T” in 2011-12, not a “D” as she claims. In her defense, I did find a report card on the LDOE website that lists F.C. Williams as a having a “D” in S.Y. 2011-12. Although it’s unclear why the school went from a “D” in 2012 to a “T” in 2013, it definitely wasn’t due to a change in operators; Schneider just pulls that explanation out of thin air and presents it as fact. Yet even when Schneider has the facts in front of her, there’s no guarantee that her readers are going to get the truth, as she demonstrates in her year-to-year comparison of performance:

“On my spreadsheet, I first list the 2012 SPS/letter grades that established RSD-NO as a “D” district in 2012. (See the 2012 SPS here.) Then I list the 2013 scores calculated if the formula and scale had been kept the same in 2013 as it was in 2012. This is the only meaningful way to compare SPS and letter grades from one year to the next. To change formulas and scales is to obliterate any meaningful comparison — exactly what reformers like White desire. Finally, I include White’s “new” 2013 SPS and letter grades — which are often higher than those of the former, 2012, calculation.”

Again, Schneider didn’t have to list the 2013 scores calculated as if the formula and scale had been kept the same in 2013 as it was in 2012; the LDOE already did this for her when they released the scores. Second, LDOE intentionally released two sets of scores (based the old and new calculations) to allow people to make comparisons, not to “obliterate” them. But hold on, it gets better (or worse, if you’re Mercedes). Schneider, who goes out of her way to remind everyone that she has a Ph.D in statistics, makes a huge error that further exposes the sloppiness of her work. A closer look at Schneider’s spreadsheet comparing SPS scores from 2012 and 2013 shows that instead of making a meaningful comparison, she’s actually comparing apples with oranges.

Bear with me for a moment while I explain: The old SPS formula actually produced two calculations: a Growth School Performance Score and a Baseline School Performance Score. Growth SPS represents a school’s actual performance during the academic year, while Baseline SPS is calculated based on a school’s performance over a two-year period. Therefore, in order to accurately compare performance between the two years, one should look at the Growth SPS scores from 2012 and 2013. Instead, Schneider compares the Baseline SPS from 2012 with the Growth SPS from 2013 – in short, she bases her entire analysis on two totally different calculations, as shown below.

Schneider compares apples to oranges and in the process undermines herself
Schneider compares apples to oranges and in the process totally undermines herself

This is the kind of error that one would expect from a freshman in Stats 101, not from someone with a doctorate in the field. Furthermore, one would think that Schneider would triple-check her work given the fact that she is basically accusing LDOE and RSD of lying on Huffington Post, one of the most popular online news platforms in the country. The fact that she is willing to make such brazen accusations without ensuring that her supporting evidence is valid speaks volumes about her lack of credibility. At one point in her piece, Schneider speaks of “competent psychometricians and statisticians” who “are allowed to calibrate formulas before ever considering applying them to high-stakes situations.” Well, let the record show that we can’t count Mercedes Schneider as one of those “competent statisticians” and we certainly can’t trust her judgment on the performance of the RSD in New Orleans.

At the end of the day, there is really no question that public schools in New Orleans have vastly improved since the RSD took over nearly the entire district in 2005. That’s not to say that our city’s schools still don’t have a long way to go and it doesn’t mean that the RSD’s efforts have been perfect. Nevertheless, Schneider refuses to concede that New Orleans schools have made any progress in the past eight years:

“I realize that John White, and Caroline Roemer Shirley, and Leslie Jacobs will broadcast the 2013 RSD-NO results as Proof That the Reforms Are Working. However, the truth is in the spreadsheet I composed as part of this post. The ‘reforms’ aren’t working. They require the choreographed release of a carefully guarded shaping of limited information in order to produce the veneer of success. This post is my bullseye aim at shattering that veneer.”

In short, Schneider believes that the RSD has managed to pull off the most successful, longest-running government conspiracy in American history. She believes the respected academics and research institutions who have documented the improvements in our public schools are either liars or dupes. She believes that the parents of New Orleans public school students who claim the system has improved since Hurricane Katrina are suffering from mass delusion. The only thing more warped than Mercedes Schneider’s view of the world is the fact that the Huffington Post would publish such rubbish. I guess Diane Ravitch’s endorsement gives Schneider’s lies a veneer of validity. Consider this my bullseye aim at shattering that veneer.

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Sharif El-Mekki
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About Those ACT Scores… | PE + CO
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crazycrawfish
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I kind of feel sorry for you. I will address issues in my own time after my own research. Wouldn’t want someone like you saying I produced something without my evidence, now would I? Of course no matter what I produce it will fail to meet your high standards of slander so carry-on with your. . . work. It’s bound to get you something, a pat on the head perhaps? A shame you have to defend such cowards though. . . Show me the data, oh, you can’t? Right. LDOE spends years and court and tens of thousands of dollars fighting anyone from getting the exact same data they turned over to CREDO. I’ve already gone into the methodology and manipulation with CREDO, my friend as well as Leslie Jacobs. A pity you are unable or unwilling to grasp it. Get yourself some bonus followers and some bonus clues and perhaps you will matter. I hear White is passing them out to all his favorite patsies.

crazycrawfish
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Peter,
I can tell my ignoring you has made you angry. I know you get angry very easily and which is why it so amusing you attacked Mercedes on such a personal level over what you claim are her anger management issues. I asked you to stop commenting on my blog if you were unable to behave civilly to my commenter’s and visitors. I don’t mind if folks insult me as much as visitors since I invite it and that would make me hypocritical to some extent. You obviously were unable to make valid arguments there and felt you had to resort to personal insults, and hyperbole, as you do here and left. I do go after politicians with insulting caricatures, I consider John White, Bobby Jindal and BESE members politicians. I rarely go after folks outside of the spotlights on a personal level unless they have done so first. Attacking people personally who disagree with you is your go-to modus operandi. You did so to me when I disagreed with one of your attacks on LFT or LAE. Nevertheless I talked to you privately offline when you seemed more reasonable.
I decided not to continue to respond to you because I decided you were not worth my time, on a movement/persuasion level. You have already decided what is right and what is wrong, and you don’t care to see beyond what you “Believe” to be true. I can’t change a person’s beliefs and am not about to try. When I referred to your personal stake and tireless support of this agenda I was not referring to money, but to something more priceless, your identity and soul. To convince you what you are doing is wrong would actually mean destroying you as a person and devaluing everything you worked for. That’s not an easy task and not one I plan to undertake intentionally. This movement has come to represent everything about who you are, and what you believe, and how you have dedicated your life. I think you have noble intentions, I disagree with your ends justifies the means approach, as I told you privately. I also am privy to more info than you will ever allow yourself to see or understand. Anything I tell you will be twisted and intentionally misinterpreted, any defect will be highlighted to try and draw attention away from looking at the core of our arguments and evidence. I fully expect that from you. However, your audience and you are not the ones I need to spend my time convincing. You have already committed and convinced yourself to a place beyond reason or objectivity.
1) Those report cards are a mess. The grades are meaningless with all the mangling. The reports published in the newspaper, by Leslie Jacobs and LDOE show the counts based on new scoring system, not old. A researcher can deduce what is going on and inform the public, which is what happened, the general public was misled. Sorry you disagree.
2) See previous
3) Bonus points were unnecessary and stupid. They inflated the scores. Schools did worse across the state this year under the reform agenda since last years grades would have been higher under same formula. VAM was manipulated with bonus points per the Seabaugh solution which raised scores of teachers teaching high performing students to detriment of teachers teaching lower performing ones. I got this from folks who did calculations and quit as a result of this perversion of their work and I have a tape of Seabaugh and White conspiring to do just this and confirmation this is what was done at this legislator’s request. I don’t care if you believe me, it’s what happened.
4) The reason they were sitting on them is to recalculate the scores over and over and over again using as many different variables that were not defined in policy or which could not be disproven. The original calculation was set up beforehand. When they came in low for charters and New Orleans, the games were on. Are you really trying not to see this point? You know the reason to get them ahead of time was to give parents “choice” to transfer to other schools (before school started not in october), and away from underperforming charters, which you in principle agree with. Not so much it seems. 3 months into the school year is too late to offer parents choice. You know that, don’t waste my time denying or excuse making. And a single researcher can produce these numbers in his spare time after schools. LDOE has hundred of employees and million it contracts for everything else. Besides, I’ve already heard the stories from folks who work there and are leaving or have left about this very situation, so this defense is particularly sad, and one of the reasons I chose to start ignoring you from now on. Failing to conceed this point render you to nothing but a mouthpiece.
5) 5 years is a lifetime for any periodical. Charter churn is not reported in a transparent way. Show me a report that shows schools closed each year and the replacements in a the same spot from year to year and I will retract this statement. Saying you are going to do this, but not informing the public, publicly, is deceptive and creates an environment where mistakes and questions will occur. If you/they are not ashamed of this charter churn why is it not prominently displayed?
6) This is what was submitted to the Feds at one point, I have no idea what they call them today, but there were originally termed “turnaround schools”
2.) T’s for Takeover
a. State policy now says
Ҥ1105. Turnaround Schools
A. If a turnaround operator takes over an entire school that was labeled “F” in the previous school year, including all previous grade levels and all former students of the “F” school, then the school’s grade shall be reported as “T” for the first two years of operation..” I have not located mention of letter grade T in the federal waiver.
§1601. Entry into Academically Unacceptable School Status
1. BESE may, during times of transition in the accountability system, waive schools meeting certain conditions from receiving the
AUS label and/or from implementing certain remedies and sanctions.
I am concerned about the impact of T. There is no indication as to what sanctions will be implemented or which list, if any, a school with letter grade T ends up on. An additional concern is that schools will switch operators culminating in a cycle of “takeover” and continuous letter grade Ts, ultimately leaving many of these school unaccountable for significant periods of time.
For example: the attached excel spreadsheet indicates a sample of schools that for 2011 were in the recovery school district and earned a letter grade of F. For 2012, regardless of the data these schools, per new policy, would get letter grade T. In our policy there is no definition of responsibilities for schools with a T, however, an internal email indicates that these schools are to be exempt from all sanctions and lists as long as they remain a T.
7) Thanks. You made that point for me as I expected you would. Those are the same schools CREDO and other “friendly” researchers use in their report to classify charter schools as better than traditional public schools, which they define as RSD. Many of your “good” charters selectively unenroll students with discipline and other underhanded policies.
8) I answered this in my opening paragraphs.

I also don’t like to comment on your blog because it requires lots of credential inputting every time and gives me lots of errors and fits.

crazycrawfish
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Actually, Peter, John White, Stand for Children and Leslie Jacobs all got previews of this data (all groups responsible for the creation of RSD and formula change) and released glowing reports of how Louisiana and RSD were doing. Releasing the old scores, but ignoring them and characterizing the new scores as indicative of progress IS misleading. This outcome was predicated last year by Herb Bassett based on the new calculations. If anything the there are fewer C and B schools than he predicted based on last year’s data which indicates schools may actually be declining. Show me anywhere White explained that. The new scale is how LDOE is reporting the school grades on their website. The grading scale is ridiculous, the fancy colors of the “new” scale and greying out of the old scale is juvenile and condescending to Louisiana parents. The “bonus points” are absurd, but not unprecedented as that’s also been his favorite way of skewing other scores like those for teachers under VAM.
I concede Mercedes may have made a few mistakes on a few schools. However LDOE sat on these numbers for 6 months, lined up their research, press releases and provided info to friendly organizations for a media blitz with little advance warning. The window for commenting in the heavily slanted discussion is very narrow. LDOE had 6 months and hundreds of folks available to spin these numbers as their full time job. Mercedes and others had hours in after the real jobs to get in on the conversation.
Not seeing or referring to an obscure article from 5 years ago is simply a bizarre observation. It also ignores the then expressed intent that RSD schools were to be returned to original school districts which has never happened. The “charter churn” is ignored by most “friendly” organizations, concealed by LDOE. One has to refer it from seeing which schools are classified as “T” or turnaround schools, which exclude them from having to get a school grade for 2 years. When a school goes from a grade to a T school, that is supposed to indicate a school has changed charter hands. Your example of Fannie C Williams is not a mistake of Schneider’s, but either a mistake of LDOE or an intentional abuse of their own “T” school classification scheme, which is not officially approved by the US department of Education as part of Louisiana’s NCLB waiver, but is approved for local consumption. While I agree it is probably a fault of Mercedes’ to assume LDOE data is correct and reliable when that is rarely the case, there is only so much you can verify and I can’t fault her for assuming LDOE was not intentionally misinterpreting their own policy by classifying a school as a “T” school that does not qualify for that designation by their own misleading policy.
I do have to question whether the schools have “vastly” improved since 2005. The schools doing the best are the schools in the Orleans parish portfolio that RSD did not take over actually. Does that mean by comparison purposes we should be looking at Orleans parish? RSD performance is actually terrible to what terrible Orleans is now accomplishing on their own. How do you explain that, Pete?
The research institutions, like CREDO, are completely and totally biased for charters. I doubt seriously this is the longest running conspiracy that has ever been pulled off, and since we have been calling attention to this fiasco since the start I don’t think you can say they are “pulling anything off.” The rich and powerful are succeeding in abusing government power to oppress poor people, but that is nothing new. That’s a story as old as the entirety of human history. What’s disappointing is your adamant and unflinching support for it. But we both know, unlike Mercedes and myself (as you admit in your opening paragraph), you have a very personal stake in this outcome, don’t you? We are just trying to draw attention to the abuse of others because we feel it is wrong, you are tirelessly supporting this agenda, because in so doing you are supporting yourself and your colleagues at the same time.

norm scott
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Talk about having a dog in the race: “Peter Cook Engagement Manager
Pete manages the turnaround work in the Jefferson Parish Public School System in Louisiana. Prior to joining Mass Insight, Pete developed and implemented teacher performance management systems for The New Teacher Project. Pete began his career as a Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has been a math and science teacher and middle school administrator. He is a graduate of Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.”
What dog does Mercedes have in the race? Arf!

Just a teacher
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Just a teacher

Your vitriolic harangue at the expense of a St. Tammany Parish teacher, Dr. Mercedes Schneider, is disgusting. You have a history of taking cheap shots at Dr. Schneider and others who dare to question your cozy little kingdom. I find it enlightening that you always attack the professional credentials of those you browbeat, yet there is no information about you on your own blog. Why the hypocrisy?
You pretend to be a statistical expert, yet your criticism consists of baffling us with B.S. You bend and twist information so much that no one can follow it. You play with the facts and bully those who disagree.

My favorite part of your blog is when you demean Dr. Schneider for being a mere English teacher. You write, “She never taught in New Orleans schools and currently teaches high school English (paradoxically, for someone with a Ph.D [sic] in statistics) in St. Tammany Parish, one of the highest-performing school districts in Louisiana. Schneider isn’t a product of New Orleans schools, either; as she notes on her blog, she was educated in neighboring St. Bernard Parish.” Is this supposed to be some sort of put-down?
You, Mr. Cook, are a bully, and the only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him. Hence…your actions have shown that you are simply another one of the many carpetbaggers that New Orleans has historically had to endure; we have seen throngs of you with your transparent agendas of furthering your careers at our expense. Unfortunately, the students and teachers of New Orleans will bear your scars. It is time for you to go back home. We do not need your help. I have often said that teachers are underestimated. You have met your match in Dr. Schneider, and you have proven my point. By the way…clever title.

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