Saturday, January 08, 2005

Diggin' the Scene with a Pedagogical Lean 

You didn't think Armstrong Williams was the only one making a sweet buck off No Child Left Behind, did you? Our esteemed colleague Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend put us on the trail of the following Democracy Now! transcript from March 2004:
[No Child Left Behind] has become one of the most contentious policies of the Bush presidency. Bush considers it to be his crowning achievement in education policy, saying it will improve Americas schools. Critics, mainly parents and teachers, who are opposed to privatizing education, say its about shifting resources from public schools to corporations. In a moment, we will have a debate on No Child Left Behind. But first, we're going to look at who's profiting and who stands to profit.

We'll begin by looking at the Bush family. Everyone knows the president's brother Jeb is the governor of Florida. But, less well known is his second youngest brother,
Neil Bush. Years ago, he hit the front pages for his role in the Savings and Loan scandal. He was director of the Silverado Savings and Loan when it collapsed in 1988, costing taxpayers more than $1 billion. As a result, he was banned from banking activities. So when Neil Bush was banned from banking, he banked on education . . . .

Neil Bush's company [Ignite, Inc.] sells software to prepare students to take comprehensive tests required under "No Child Left Behind." Schools that fail the tests will face termination of federal assistance. The contracts for these test programs are very lucrative. Ignite is currently running a pilot program at a Middle School in Orlando, Florida--where Neil's brother Jeb is governor. The company hopes to sell the software throughout Florida at $30 per pupil per year.

In mid-February, Houston school board members unanimously agreed to accept $115,000 in charitable donations that would be funneled to Ignite. The Houston Independent School District trustees had initially delayed a vote on the matter in December, saying they were concerned that Bush's Austin-based company might be benefiting from his family name. But in February, the nine board members approved the funding without discussion . . . .

STAN KARP: In some ways, [No Child Left Behind] sort of marries the privatization agenda of the conservatives and standards and testing the agenda of the business round tables and the governor's education summits of the past 10 years, and it imposes -- it is a dramatic extension of federal control over local schools through a testing regime that does open up many holes to the education market, which is a $500 billion market, even though the federal government only supplies about 7% of all education funding and even though this law is under-funded on its own terms and falls very short of what would be needed to reach its unrealistic and under-funded mandates, it does in a number of ways provide opportunities for profiteering by corporations.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Stan, historically the republicans have always represented getting the government out of local education and, in fact, at one point several years back, wanted to eliminate the Federal Department of Education. Yet now we have President Bush leading an unprecedented extension of federal power into what the local schools in the country are doing.

STAN KARP: Right. And that is one of the reasons the law is running into an incredible amount of blowback because of the breadth of the constituencies who have been alienated by this law. It is a bad law for schools and teachers and in many respects for parents and certainly a bad law for states who are facing hard budget times and are now facing very strict mandates that would be costing billions of dollars more to meet than they could possibly fund at the levels at which they are currently funding education. There are a number of places where corporations, in particular, have attempted to profit from the law. One is simply the publishers of the tests, this law dramatically increases the number of tests that schools may give. And the educational implications of that are actually much more serious than the corruptive corporate influence implications of that. But it is true that, for example, the McGraw-Hill company, which has very close and historic ties to the Bush family, in particular, benefited in Texas from the Bush education plan which required certain reading curricula to be adopted that included McGraw-Hill products like the “Open Court Reading Series” and the “Distar Reading Series”. There is an estimated increase of almost 200 tests, state tests that would have to be given as a result of No Child Left Behind, which could cost as much as $7 billion in terms of the testing profits to be made from that. And then there are certain aspects of the law which open the door to privatization. There are ways in which the testing sanctions open up schools to requirements to allow supplemental tutorial funders services to be provided by private companies and similar other kinds of privatization steps.
Would it surprise you to learn that an American educational software venture had drawn investors from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, the British Virgin Islands, Taiwan, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt? Somehow we thought not.

And if you're wondering what sort of academic instruction those millions of lucky Florida schoolchildren might expect to receive for their thirty bucks a pop, we are reliably informed (by Ethel the Blog) that Mr. Bush is a great believer in the educational potential of hip-hop:
It was 55 delegates from 12 states
Took one hot Philadelphia summer to create
A perfect document for their imperfect times
A lot of cats
Who used to be in the Continental Congress way back

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