Although this latest expose of the direct use of a federal program to funnel money into the hands of Bush's friends in the corporate world, shows a less capital-intensive scheme than say, the selling-off of Iraq, it's still pretty damn scandalous. A dept. of education audit revealed that:
the conferences promoting Reading First were overtly biased toward two particular approaches to reading instruction: Direct Instruction, an intensively structured literacy program, and a related program known as Open Court. Both teaching methods are marketed by publisher SRA/McGraw Hill. The report concluded that the Department of Education had violated prohibitions to control or endorse any specific curriculum.
Surprise, surprise, the people getting the cash at McGraw-Hill are big Bush donors.
According to public records, the McGraw and Bush families are longtime friends. McGraw company head Harold McGraw III served on President Bush’s White House "transition team." And Voyager’s co-founder, Randy Best, has been a major financial supporter of Bush.
Another, more in-depth piece at San Francisco's "BeyondChron" points out that
The impropriety not only clearly breached ethical norms, it serves as a clear example of the privatization goals of NCLB and of the underlying philosophy that profit making is of greater importance than educating our society’s kids.
All this is happening just in times for the major assessment of the NCLB act as a whole. Bush is touring the country trying to sell his "standards" package, while ten senators have just called for the law to be significantly revised. The folks at the Forum for Education and Democracy are also holding a conference on "Fixing NCLB" in Washington, DC next week.
Bush's latest craven cronyism doesn't refute the general testing philosophy of the NCLB program (you can find that here), but it certainly undermines any effort by Bush to proclaim that his law is well-intended. It also reveals a larger pattern in educational reform policy that dates back before NCLB. Most education reform efforts could be better called schemes than programs.
These schemes, such as Edison schools, typically are private initiatives that promote "fix-it" curricular solutions that can be plugged in with relative ease. They are popular because they involve less federal spending than larger, more expensive comprehensive strategies emphasizing such global issues such as economic inequality, and system-changing solutions such as support for teachers, smaller class sizes, integration efforts, intensive early education programs, and they certainly make messier, more creative, more student-directive and more long-term learning/teaching efforts nearly impossible in public school environments.
Every few years, I hear from my friends in the public schools about some new curriculum that they are supposed to use to revamp their classes. These curricula are meant to help them pass the new methods of "assessment" (ie, tests) on which their future increasingly hangs. This superficial approach does little but throw money at testing institutions and textbook companies, while limiting the freedom of teachers and stressing-out generations of school kids.
Let's hope that the recent expose of Bush's malfeasance will fire up congress to take meaningful action to change our federal education policies.