Blind, unquestioning loyalty has long been a prerequisite for serving in the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Any administrator, of course, expects his appointees to be loyal, and rightfully so. There’s no argument at any level with that basic principle of employment, whether one works for a bicycle shop or the President.
Generally, though, an intelligent CEO will seek candid input from subordinates—even if that input differs from his management philosophy. The free exchange of ideas is, after all, the foundation for growth and progress in any organization.
Except with the Jindal administration.
At least a dozen firings/demotions have documented the belief that if you don’t drink the Jindal Kool-Aid, if you so much as give a flickering thought to dissent, you will be teagued.
Teagued, of course, is the term born of Jindal’s firing of state employees from rank and file workers to state board members to university presidents and cabinet officials and of the demotions of at least four legislators from their committee assignments.
To this point, the firings and demotions have been limited to state employees and legislators.
Now there may reason to believe the Jindal retaliation team has reached into the private sector and the perpetrator is none other than Superintendent of Education John White.
The latest victim may be Sue Lincoln, formerly a reporter for Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB), and a veteran of 35-years’ reporting experience.
Lincoln, who lives in Baton Rouge, is careful not to say outright that White had her fired, but the evidence is pretty convincing.
The Southern Education Desk, headquartered in Atlanta, GA., is funded by a multi-million dollar grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and reports on education news from five states—Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana. While Lincoln worked for LPB as a reporter for the Southern Education Desk, her salary was paid from the grant.
It is, or was, a two-year grant administered through Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) and involved eight stations—five National Public Radio and three Public Broadcast System television stations. They included WLPB-TV and WRKF Radio, both Baton Rouge stations.
Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) President Chas Roemer feigned surprise and/or ignorance of reports of manipulations of student test scores by the Department of Education (DOE) during a Senate Education Committee hearing last week but the truth is Lincoln first reported on the department’s suppression of data as early as February 12.
It was that report that most probably ended her reporting tenure with LPB and the Southern Education Desk.
The report cited studies by Mercedes Schneider, Ph.D., a teacher in St. Tammany Parish which called into question dramatic jumps of up to 25 points in high school standardized test scores.
Lincoln noted that Herb Bassett, who holds a master’s degree in mathematics and who teaches in LaSalle Parish, also saw major discrepancies in statistics released by DOE. Bassett is the same one who at last week’s Senate Education Committee accused DOE and White of releasing fraudulent data.
It was that data about which Roemer denied any knowledge but promised he’d “look into it.”
Immediately after we posted Roemer’s denial, Schneider emailed LouisianaVoice to say, “I have a document that proves he (Roemer) is lying.”
She promptly followed that email with a copy of a letter she sent to White and BESE members (including Roemer) on Dec. 1, 2012 in which she called attention to what she said was “scoring bias” in the 2012 school performance scores. (We will elaborate more on the contents to that and other documents in subsequent posts as our coverage of this growing story continues.)
White apparently turned up the heat on Lincoln and her bosses in Atlanta in an effort to kill the story.
He first told Lincoln the story was “too complicated for television” and that “Even the New York Times doesn’t have enough ink and paper to do it justice,” Lincoln said. “He accused me of sucking up to Diane Ravitch.” Ravitch is research professor of education at New York University and a leading opponent of current education reform trends.
“He told me to ‘check with people over you to be sure this is the right thing to do,’” Lincoln said
A series of emails between Lincoln and White is even more revealing.
At 1:28 p.m. on Jan. 23, as White prepared for a weekend in New Orleans with his wife (She has never moved to Louisiana from their New York home, which should say something about White’s long-range plans for remaining in Louisiana), Lincoln emailed him:
“John, thank you for your call and the copy of the letter you sent out. After conferring with my editors here and in Atlanta, they want me to go ahead with the story. Please don’t let it affect your evening with your wife, but I will be coming down to N.O. to interview you at 10 tomorrow morning.
“I’ll give you a statement instead,” White tersely replied six minutes later.
As Lincoln delved further into the questionable data, she sought a comment from White who, instead of addressing the apparent problem, went on the attack.
Two days later, at 8:51 a.m. on Jan. 25, Lincoln emailed White: “Due to an electrical fire at LPB Wednesday night (Jan. 23), we were without video-editing capability for the majority of the day Thursday. As a result, the airing of my story on the 2012 SPS (school performance scores) analysis has been pushed back to Feb. 1.
“Because of this delay, I have to ask again—would you consider going on camera to make a statement?”
Four minutes later, at 8:55 a.m., White, apparently not having read Lincoln’s email asking for an on-camera statement, wrote: “Your source knowingly distorts facts in print, but you are using her as a source on the very issue about which she distorts facts.
“This story is pure innuendo and drama—a fiction—under the guise of investigative reporting.”
Then, 19 minutes later, at 9:14, White, sent another email saying, “Sue, take a look at what your source has written here. First she lies about my experience working in schools. But more than that, she goes out of our (sic) way to assert that my administration created this formula regarding graduation rate bonus points and such.”
Finally, at 9:29 a.m., 38 minutes after Lincoln asked him to appear on camera, White responded: “No thanks. If reported accurately, this is a story of a formula and a calculation by way of that formula. The number and the formula can speak for themselves.”
“I can’t say for certain that the story is the reason I’m no longer reporting for the Southern Education Desk,” Lincoln said. The grant is currently under consideration for renewal but LPB informed Lincoln they were “going in a different direction” should the renewal be approved.
WRKF was not a partner in the initial grant, but has asked to become a partner if there is a third year of funding.
“The Southern Education Desk managing editor at GPB was unfailingly supportive of doing investigative stories,” Lincoln says. “And he was insistent that there needed to be a ‘firewall’ between the financial and political concerns of LPB management and what Southern Education Desk reporters covered.”
So why would LPB crater to White’s demands?
First, there is the factor of Course Choice providers. Described by DOE as “an innovative educational program that provides Louisiana students with access to thousands of high-quality academic and career-oriented courses,” the program simply allows practically any provider to offer online courses to students—on the state’s tab. Not only may just about anyone, private or public sector, offer courses, but they also are free to charge just about whatever they want.
Bottom line: there’s big money for Course Choice providers.
One of the approved providers is Louisiana Public Broadcasting.
Follow the money.
Second, LPB has a contract with the Iberville Parish School Board to provide certain curriculum and instruction to the parish system. Elvis Cavalier is the Iberville curriculum director, or Chief Academic Officer. He also serves as Director of Academies, also known as principal of the little-known Math, Science and Arts (MSA) Academy.
Little is known about the school because it flies under the radar. It does not exist for all practical purposes. It is not listed among Louisiana public schools and its student scores are not reported to DOE or to the federal government.
Known informally as a “shadow school,” scores for its 1200 students are spread out among the other public schools in Iberville Parish. This allows Iberville School Superintendent Ed Cancienne to boast—and he does—that Iberville’s performance score “has grown.” He neglects to add that that growth is primarily the result of infused scores from the “non-existent” MSA Academy.
Lincoln said she began investigating that story and her editors at LPB kept telling her to get additional information. “When I’d get that, they’d want more. It kept on that way until I was finally informed there would be no story,” she said.
Follow the money.
“I can’t prove that I was terminated because of pressure or implied threats from White regarding the Course Choice program or because of the shadow school story,” Lincoln said.
“All I can do is connect the dots.”