"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Hauling Away the Federal Treasury

Bush Co. came into office with a plan inspired by the corporate fascism of Grover Norquist (click here for audio quote). Elegant, the mathematicians might call it.

Move to privatize those elements of government that do not meet strong resistance by appointing cronies and contributors to key posts who will craft policies that will initiate a giveaway of Federal assets to other cronies lined up at the feeding trough. At the same time, gain short-term political advantage by increasing government spending on entitlements that balloon the deficit, while cutting taxes for contributors and cronies--which exacerbates the deficit even more. Eventually, as Grover would have it, a Government spending crisis could only be averted by slashing the federal budget in half, thus achieving the desired end. In the meantime, the Federal treasury will have been raided like a Baghdad bank, and the corporate state becomes positioned to replace the democratic republic.

All of this is contingent, of course, on Grover and the bands of robbers staying out of jail. With the dots connecting that show a picture of "conservative" luminaries such as Grover, Ralph Reed, Jack Abramoff, and David Safavian in the cozy embrace, who knows if the neocon economic dream might not be interrupted by some down time in those stylish orange jumpsuits. See NY Times story here and Raw Story here for details on Safavian, "who oversees [oversaw] $300 billion of annual federal purchasing as director of the Office of Procurement Policy, has been arrested for three criminal charges relating to obstruction of a federal investigation. He resigned quietly last Friday."

Of course, ED is simply a large and significant piece of this unprecedented tapestry of corruption where political cronies are drafted to write rules and regs that limit Federal handouts to insiders and supporters. If that doesn't completely get the job done, then "consultants" are trained by the same insiders and sent out across the land to assure compliance to the chosen orthodoxy as packaged and sold by cronies and contributors. See Education Week, Sept. 7 for "States Pressed to Refashion Reading First Grant Designs."

We know that there was good reason for educational publishing and testing corporations to celebrate the Bush Administration’s arrival in Washington. After looking at the President's planned initiatives for state testing high-stakes name taking, the chief executive of Pearson Education, Peter Jovanovich, quipped to Education Week (2/21/01): "This almost reads like our business plan."

Now, in fact, McGraw-Hill, the Bush family favorite, is taking on a more assertive tone in public financial pronouncements—or is that just a cozy confidence that they will have their way on Capitol Hill. They tout their "broad base of knowledge about what is happening across state lines." Indeed, they should, as Stephen Metcalf clearly shows in his research on the Bush-McGraw/Hill connection that goes all the way back to joint family beach vacations during the Depression (The Nation, 01/28/02) And they are obviously proud of their overlapping roles as congressional advisor, grass roots consultant, policy expert, and psychometric high priest:

“While we have no interaction in creating general social policy, we do have conversations with members of Congress advising on technical issues. We work across all states, and are a contractor [sic] for 23 different states, so have a broad base of knowledge about what's happening across the nation for anyone drafting legislation at this time. As states and districts implement NCLB--in the earlier grades and potentially at the high school level--we encourage educators, administrators, and policy makers to consult with us. CTB/McGraw-Hill can provide valuable policy resources, technical assistance, and advice. We are not only the leading publisher of educational assessments in the United States; we are also a key resource for information on standards and testing. Our national team of Evaluation Consultants is involved at a grass-roots level in each state-- meeting with educators, helping districts and schools understand the impact of the new law, and offering solutions that meet both the letter and spirit of the law--to improve teaching and learning” (CBT/McGraw-Hill Inform-Online, Spring 2005).

If favored educational publishers are excited about the billion dollars of Reading First money pouring from the US DOE coffers each year, then double that yearly allocation and imagine how thrilled the tutoring company execs must be with their target set on the $2 billion a year jackpot awaiting them as a result of NCLB tutoring (Supplemental Services) requirements for students of failing schools.

The tutoring requirement became the late-inning replacement for the favored privatization pitch, school vouchers, pulled from NCLB in the late stages of the negotiations that eventually assured passage in 2001. School privatization would have to take a more subtle route, embedded in the increasingly-draconian sanctions that would surely result from impossible test performance demands as 2014 approaches. In the meantime, the best that could be arranged for the eager education industry was a massive giveaway in the form of tutoring contracts to private ventures that have sprung up or ramped up since NCLB passage.

Unlike the strict oversight of schools receiving federal funds to stringently implement the neo-traditional phonics orthodoxy pushed by Reading First, there are no federal accountability enforcements for the companies who are now collecting the carloads of cash from NCLB's tutoring program.

And carloads there are. The Baltimore Sun (7/25/05) reports that a local company, Educate, Inc. saw profits jump 402% in 2004, as more and more urban schools failed to meet their mandated testing targets for the third year, thus requiring these schools to set aside up to 20% of their Federal Title I funds to for tutoring students who request extra help.

In a recent study conducted by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the American Institute for Social Justice, researchers found that Louisiana is the only state that monitors the effects of the private tutoring services on test score performance. The study, which examined 91 separate districts, found that $300 million was paid to tutoring companies in one year “with almost no scientific evidence that this spending has contributed to academic achievement."

As the draining of Title I funds continues, The Center for Policy Alternatives reports these interesting facts, some of which are from the same ACORN study cited above:
Of the 1,000 tutoring providers on current state approval lists, 63 percent are private companies. In future years, the market for in-school services by for-profit companies is estimated to be $20 to $30 billion. One of the biggest tutoring companies, Sylvan Education Solutions, expected to tutor 20,000 students in 2004, at $20 to $40 an hour. Some companies try to take unfair advantage. In one case in North Carolina, a tutoring company submitted an invoice for providing 48 students a total of 56 hours of instruction at a cost of $37,455—a rate of $674 an hour.
It would seem, then, that NCLB's impossible demands that are advertised as accountability, and the draconian sanctions that are offered as remedies, really only apply to those public institutions that are perceived to be in need of extremist makeovers or outright replacement. Left immune from these relentless, bare-knuckled policies are those who are sure to profit from the resulting carnage of what was once the American public education system.

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