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

Monday, May 29, 2006

A Con, A Quack, and the Whitney International University System

Here is a quote from Randy Best’s website that has many of the appearances that would otherwise indicate a legitimate business enterprise:
Best Associates has a strong commitment to the education industry and a track record of exceptional results. The market is huge, with the U.S. spending more than $700 billion annually. Internationally, more than 30 million qualified students cannot find space in universities. Half the world’s population is under age 20, and there are two billion teenagers driving demand for expanded education services.

The for-profit education sector will continue to grow rapidly over the next decade. Best Associates is investing in both the K-12 and postsecondary markets here and abroad. The firm acquires companies with proven leadership and a global vision, and founds companies in the sector.

Global vision, indeed. Randy has come a long way from selling cheerleading equipment to Texas high schools or pushing his “patented reading programs” to former Governor Bush and the penitentiary-bound former State Supt. Linda Schrenko of Georgia. Best, a Pioneer giver in 2000, learned while Bush was governor of Texas how to leverage his dollars where they are likely to produce more. Was it just a coincidence that 45K in campaign funds to Bush ended up producing a multimillion-dollar contract for Best’s company, Voyager, the reading/test prep outfit that Best eventually sold to ProQuest for $350 million.

Now Best is on to bigger and more dangerous things, as Peter Campbell’s posts have explored recently. And Randy has recruited several stars to help him realize a vision of creating for academia what Blackwater is to the military mercenary business. Randy's for-profit university/consulting firm is known as Whitney International University System (WIUS), and here are some of Randy’s key players:
  • Reid Lyon, phonics code-breaking quack and former Bush reading czar,
  • Rod Paige, former ED Secretary whose incompetent and crooked cronyism needs no further elaboration,
  • former University of Maryland President and online-ed delivery enthusiast, Gerald Heeger, who will surely buy Best and his sales staff the credibility that they cannot achieve otherwise. A Best buy, indeed.

Best has a double-barreled aim with his new scheme, one part domestic and the other, international. Last week he sent former Voyager exec, Vernon Johnson, to Paris deliver the Best/Lyon vision at an OECD conference on globalization:
Training existing or new teachers to implement scientific research-based instructional methods and strategies which are directly linked to improving student performance. Improving a country’s overall student performance will increase its capacity to meet its economic goals and compete in the world economy. Having a literate population is essential to economic and social growth of the country.

Providing mass access to the highest-quality, lowest-cost post secondary education in harmony with the economic needs of each country. Ensuring that more people are prepared for work that is aligned with the economic needs of the country will accelerate the growth of the individual and national economy.
Through the Whitney-owned American College of Education, run by TruthMaster Reid Lyon, Best hopes to offer an alternative to the colleges of education that Lyon would rather blow up than compete with. Oh, well, even TruthMasters have their limitations. But the Best plan does not end there. Through Bush's and Boehner's influence, for-profit and online diploma mills are positioned to make a killing in the short term, using federal tuition assistance to line the pockets of the Bests of the world--at least until regulators find out that the American taxpayer has again been had by corporate crooks.

But Best has a plan that even challenges Whittle's audacious grandiosity. His intention is to replace the university with information factories intended to serve the demands of international capital. This is from Johnson's presentation (pdf here) in Paris, and as you read it (only 3 pages), ask yourself if Spellings' Commission on Higher Ed has received copies of this nitemare vision:
. . . . Universities as historic institutions are more than a thousand years old. Throughout history, universities have been designed for a few, privileged individuals. Adapting the university for the demands of a global economy and for the needs of the many people who must have a quality education to succeed in life is not a mysterious process of happenstance. It is the result of thoughtful planning, of relevant and effective teaching, of applying proven technologies, and of challenging outdated ideas. That is the goal of Whitney International University System.

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