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

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

More Corruption at ED

Those readers who were floored by the allegations that the US Department of Education would fund their own school privatization campaign through paying off high-profile commentators like Armstrong Williams, hold on to your seats. The $240,000 that Williams garnered for his NCLB PR efforts is chump change compared to the $4,686,574 shoveled out ED's doors to a number of groups to carry the school privatization message and the public school failure message across the country, especially into minority communities. Here is a story run on Sept. 3 by USA Today.

Even though the Inspector General's report on the investigation does some fancy parsing to avoid the conclusion that ED engaged in "covert propaganda," anyone reading the report, besides Maggie Spellings and her lawyers, may conclude that the 4.5 mil went to do just that.

The following excerpt from the Inspector General's report (Word version) shows that Paige and Hickok were looking for organizations to front their message before they had even printed the stationery for the OII (Office of Innovation and Improvement):
Although we did not find evidence to conclude that Department officials awarded grants with the intent of influencing public opinion through the undisclosed use of third party grantees, or directly approved or encouraged the specific activities that resulted in improper expenditures, the level of involvement from the Secretary’s office in the approval of unsolicited proposals and the oversight of unsolicited grants in the FIE program raised some concerns. The Department procedures in place at the time stated:

If the unsolicited application proposes activities that can be funded by the Fund for the Improvement of Education (FIE), the Senior Officer should immediately forward the application to [the] Deputy Under Secretary in the soon-to-be-created Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII). OII will then notify the applicant and process the application under the above procedures. FIE supports nationally significant programs to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education.

The “above procedures” referenced in the preceding quote did not indicate that the Office of the Secretary was to be directly involved in the process of screening unsolicited proposals. However, the Secretary and his senior staff appear to have made the significant pre-award decisions on many unsolicited applications received by the FIE program, including determining which initial proposals deserved further consideration. The Secretary, or staff in his office, also determined which unsolicited proposals were to receive funding. Once the grants were awarded, FIE program staff provided the Secretary’s office with monthly progress reports from grantees. (pp.17-18)
So even though ED did not engage in the legal definition of "covert propaganda," they were given monthly reports from these outfits on how well they were doing in spreading the education gospel according to Bush and the privatizers. That seems to a difference that doesn't make much of a difference.

Nonetheless, ED did not get away with this entirely. Most of the grantees listed in the Inspector General's report published propaganda without the required EDGAR disclaimer, which requires the granting agency to recover associated expenditures:
The Department’s grant regulations at 34 C.F.R. § 75.620 require grantees to include a disclaimer on any publication: “the contents of this (insert type of publication: e.g. book, report, film) were developed under a grant from the Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.” If a Department grantee uses grant funds for publications and does not include the required disclaimer language, such activity would violate the condition of the grant and the Department should, if appropriate, recover associated expenditures. (p. 5)
Tomorrow I will publish the list of offenders, but for now here is the Inspector General's conclusion reached on just one grant to the Oquirrh Institute and the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) worth $677,318. It provides a chilling view of how these organizations planned to infiltrate the mainstream media with their propaganda. It is interesting to look at the Board members of these organizations--one can begin to see some familiar names (Doug Carnine, for one) associated with other areas of education profiteering:
We did find that the Oquirrh Institute and the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) initially submitted independent proposals to the Department. A senior official in OII contacted NCTQ and suggested that it work with the Oquirrh Institute because both focused on teacher quality issues. NCTQ confirmed that this conversation occurred and stated that the OII official did not help with the content of the proposal. NCTQ subsequently decided to submit a joint proposal with the Oquirrh Institute.

In each instance the grantee was provided with a copy of the EDGAR regulations. The failure of these grantees to include the required disclaimer appears to have resulted in an improper expenditure of grant funds that should now be recovered.

ß Grant U215U030007-04, Oquirrh Institute and National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) (Appendix A, Item 1)

The Oquirrh Institute and NCTQ submitted a joint proposal with three clearly stated goals: 1) increase the American public’s exposure and understanding of the research and full spectrum of ideas on teacher quality; 2) advance the research on teacher preparation and licensure processes, broadening the nation’s experience of and perspective on these issues; and 3) help state policymakers make the necessary reforms to their licensure systems. According to the proposal, the grantee’s strategy for accomplishing the first goal included “widely publish[ing] op-eds on teacher quality issues” with an ultimate objective of having “at least 100 published works, reaching every state” (p. 21). Further, the proposal narrative, on page 14, specifically states:

[W]e will tailor our writing to the issues that a particular state or community is currently debating … Our preference will be to persuade newspapers to publish our writing as op-eds but, if not, we will also submit letters to the editor.

In the monthly progress reports provided to the Department, we found that the only grantee activities associated with the first goal involved the production of, and attempts to publish, op-eds.

According to the grantees’ monthly progress reports, they were able to publish op-eds in at least 11 newspapers. We have been able to obtain copies of only three. Kate Walsh, the president of NCTQ, authored the three op-eds published in the Mobile Register (Alabama) on 11/21/04, in the Grand Island Independent (Nebraska) on 12/02/04, and in the Sacramento Bee (California) on 02/06/05. Each focused on proposed changes in teacher reform and NCLB.

The op-eds can be construed as advocating a particular point of view. In the op-ed published in the Mobile Register, Walsh states that the NCLB requirement that all teachers be rated “highly qualified” in the subjects they teach “is not overly demanding or unfair.” She later states “[t]he inability to reach consensus over these minimal requirements signals a resistance, however unintended, to putting the needs of children first.”

Similarly, in the other two op-eds, Walsh advocated policy positions. In the op-ed published in the Grand Island Independent, she advocated changes in teacher qualification requirements in Nebraska. In the op-ed published in the Sacramento Bee, Walsh states: “[p]utting merit pay decisions in the hands of states or even school districts [sic] officials still will lead to excessively complicated formulas that suppress the potential benefits that merit pay could achieve.”

None of the op-eds we reviewed disclosed the role of the Department. Prior to the initial publication of the op-eds, a Department grants specialist reviewed a draft op-ed and reminded the grantee that the Department’s regulations at 34 C.F.R. § 75.620 require a disclaimer on all grant publications. The grant specialist did not know why the published op-eds did not contain the disclaimer.

As these op-eds were published without the EDGAR disclaimer, the funds used to produce them may have resulted in an improper expenditure of grant funds. If all of the produced op-eds are similarly silent on the role of the Department, then all of the expenditures associated with goal one of the grant may have been improper.


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