“ If there was any piece of legislation that I could pass it would be to blow up colleges of education.” — Reid Lyon, Chief, Child Development and Behavior Branch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, NIH, speaking at a major policy forum held November 18, 2002 by the Council for EXCELLENCE in Government, titled “Evidence-based Education Forum with Secretary Page.Before Reid Lyon could carry out his higher ed demolition mission for the Bushies, however, he became embroiled in the Reading First corruption scandal, where the OIG's report pointed to Lyon as mentor to the young, attractive thug and Director of Reading First, Chris Doherty, who was eventually canned for forcing states into the Lyon and Carnine approved reading programs, which were authored by the same folks who put together the guidelines for Reading First. Think of the oil companies making energy policy, and you get the picture.
As ED's own Inspector General's reports have shown, states that applied for Reading First grants were manhandled into choosing reading programs aligned with the Lyon and Carnine back-to-brutality phonics orthodoxy. And if grantees ended up off the direct instruction reservation, Reid Lyon's Reading First Director, Chris Doherty, could simply pull the plug, as he did in Rockford, Illinois:Doherty was fired and Lyon slunk back to Texas, where his mission to blow up colleges of education took on a new form. He became Executive Vice President of a new for-profit edu-venture for teacher preparation, the American College of Education (ACE). ACE was owned by the infamous Randy Best, who had become fabulously wealthy by selling off one of those companies, Voyager, in 2005 for $350 million. Voyager had gotten very fat, of course, from the aforementioned corruption. From Mother Jones, September 2, 2008:Mr. Doherty then directed the state to freeze the district’s funding, and ultimately to withdraw the grant. Those actions prompted another e-mail from Mr. Lyon: “wow – Talk about a guy with smarts, integrity AND balls,” he wrote. “I am talking about you Chris.
Best and Lyon were joined at the new venture, the American College of Education (ACE), by Rod Paige, who now sits on the Board of Directors and serves a chief commencement speaker. ACE is designed to 1) make money, 2) counter the "liberal agenda" of real teacher education programs, and 2) indoctrinate ed students in the crackpot science of Engelmann and Carnine's direct instruction scripted phonics approach to literacy, which has now been supplemented by reading codebreaker, Reid Lyon. You see, Lyon's junk science begins with the proper programming of the proper code at the neuronal level, which then will control children's behaviors. The following quote is from a promotional video that Lyon did for ACE, which has since been scrubbed from the site.
. . . . Voyager was Best's first foray into the business of education. After three decades of making money the old-fashioned way, the serial entrepreneur says he caught the philanthropy bug. He launched Voyager as a nonprofit that offered after-school programs as a way to keep latchkey kids engaged in learning. Yet after two years of sluggish growth, he switched to a for-profit model and hired school superintendents from Dallas and a nearby suburb to pitch the program to their former colleagues. Business picked up, and Best became a believer in a market-driven approach to social problems. "If you become a for-profit, then every single person in the organization is incentivized to do what you are trying to do," he explains. "Their rational self-interest is at stake; it is not just always trying to do something for the greater good."
Voyager enjoyed an enviably cozy relationship with its customers. After Texas' education commissioner intervened to help the company dodge child care regulations, competitors complained that it had cashed in on its connections. In 1998, Best and his investors donated more than $45,000 to Bush's gubernatorial reelection campaign. (Best says they supported Bush "because he was billing himself as the education governor," not because they expected anything in return.) That August, Bush dropped in on a Houston elementary school and spoke in front of a Voyager banner. Touting the benefits of for-profit after-school programs, he called for $25 million to fund them across the state.
Voyager's friends in high places were not enough to make it profitable. But by staying close to Bush and his allies, Best learned of new, bigger opportunities. In the mid-'90s, Charles Miller, a Voyager investor and Bush campaign donor, worked with the governor's office to design a new state reading program, the Texas Reading Initiative. Miller's team—"this small little mafia," as he puts it—included Bush's adviser Margaret Spellings and several others who would go on to occupy key positions in Bush's Department of Education in Washington. By 1998, Best had reinvented Voyager as a reading program, hiring researchers who'd worked on the Texas Reading Initiative or had ties to its designers.
Best says the idea for the new direction came from his own experience as a dyslexic and his interest in cutting-edge literacy research. "I think Voyager copied from a lot of the things we did with our reading initiative," Miller says. "Voyager saw that and just got in the draft, so to speak."
In 2000, Best and Miller signed up as Bush Pioneers, pledging to raise at least $100,000 for the governor's presidential run. When Bush entered the Oval Office, his education team included several people with connections to Voyager—and some who went on to work for Best. They set out to implement a revolutionary new policy that, despite the talk of smaller government, essentially put Washington in charge of setting state education standards. Miller helped select former Houston schools superintendent Rod Paige, a longtime Voyager booster, as secretary of education. Bush made G. Reid Lyon, a reading researcher who had consulted on the Texas Reading Initiative, his unofficial reading czar. Lyon cowrote the section of No Child Left Behind that created Reading First, a $6 billion program to fund state literacy curricula that drew upon "scientifically based reading research"—exactly what Voyager had been selling back in Texas. . . .
. . . . Best's education company became, in his words, "a selling juggernaut," earning roughly $25 million a year from Reading First alone. (See "Best Practices", for more on Voyager's success in landing education contracts.) According to Best, Voyager benefited from "really good timing." . . .
What I learned at NIH and what guides our course development at American College of Education is that children's brains can literally be molded, changed, by the teaching they receive. Our goal now is to close the gap between our science tells us about learning and what our teachers apply in the classroom. A graduate degree from American College of Education means that teachers know the science behind how children learn . . .Just as the Latin grammar school masters of 19th Century New England saw Horace Mann's new-fangled import, the whole word approach to reading, as a challenge to their tyrannical pedagogy and iron-fisted classroom control, so now does Lyon and his cabal view the balanced approach to literacy as particularly unfit for the poor, who require the behavioral brainwashing that goes hand in glove with his brand of code-breaking phonics on steroids. (See KIPP). Ironically, it was one of those balanced approaches that he detests, Reading Recovery, that received the highest marks for effectiveness by Spellings' own research shop.
Legitimacy for ACE came when Best and Co. were able to close a deal to buy Barat College from DePaul University in November 2005, along with Barat's regional accreditation and library holdings. Instrumental in that deal was DePaul's Executive Vice President and former board member of Randy Best's Higher Ed Holdings, LLC. , Scott Scarborough.
This is where our Secretary, Call-me-Arne Duncan, becomes important in the ACE story. Early in 2006, Duncan made a deal with ACE to drum up business for the Lyon-inspired Masters degrees in both C&I and Ed Leadership. CPS would pay a portion of CPS teacher tuition for the programs, while offering classroom space to run the classes. Thus, Chicago teachers, hungry for a raise and professional development, would become the guinea pigs in experiment to replace teacher education with the methodological fundamentalism and social conservatism of the Texas ed gang. From the Dallas Morning News 5/29/06:
. . . .Most colleges of education get their students the traditional way: Students hear about their programs and decide to enroll. ACE plans to get most of its business by contracting directly with school districts, which would supply the students and pay a portion of their tuition.
Wave of retirements
Arne Duncan, Chicago's superintendent, said the coming wave of baby-boomer retirements would require the district to train dozens of new principals. "Obviously we're early on, but I'm hopeful it will work out well," he said of the district's deal with ACE. "The feedback I've gotten from our aspiring principals has been very positive so far."
Mr. Duncan said he was introduced to ACE by Dr. Paige. "We talked once or twice" after he left office, Mr. Duncan said, "then he started to put this team together. He was getting something going very interesting."
About half of the program's course content is taught in spare Chicago school classrooms, after the regular school day. The other half is delivered online, through documents and discussions that students access at home.
Danusia Gerlach is a math specialist in Chicago schools and one of the students in ACE's inaugural class. She said she was initially hesitant about taking education classes from a company based in Texas, known in some circles for a test-heavy approach to education. "I don't have a real positive view of Texas," she said.
But she said she has been happy with her experiences. "I really enjoy the classes, actually," she said. "The instructors share their experiences and really tie things into practice. It's very well-presented." The online component has been good for collaboration and getting feedback from classmates and instructors, she said.
Ruby Everage, a math and science specialist, said she liked the convenience ACE's classes offered. The first course in the master's program, taught by former Woodrow Wilson High School principal Judy Zimny, was outstanding, she said – but a more recent course was lackluster.
"It's a great bargain," she said. "I do plan to continue, and I am satisfied."
Since ACE has only been in operation since October – and on a very small scale – it's too early to judge its quality. There's not enough data, Dr. Lyon said, and "we're all about analyzing data."
ACE is only one player in a competitive teacher-education market in Chicago, with several established universities offering similar master's degree programs. But ACE's tuition, at $1,000 a course, is slightly below most in the market, and the idea of a new approach to training educators appeals to many districts.
"Like most districts across the country, we are aware that the master's degree programs for administrators need to be revised," said Nancy Laho, who leads Chicago's principal-training programs. "There has to be some connection made between the theory and what it looks like when you're standing there in that role."
ACE believes it can do that, and at a profit – even though it plans to offer cut-rate tuition.
Teacher training programs are traditionally moneymakers for colleges. At the same conference where he made his famous comments about colleges of education, Dr. Lyon noted their profitability. "We talk to deans and presidents all the time, and of course they have a business situation with colleges of education," he said.
"Those colleges of education generate a heck of a lot of credit-hour production, tuition dollars. Those tuition dollars pay the physics professors where you don't have a lot of money going in there, studentwise."
Master's degree programs, in particular, are known as cash generators for colleges of education. That's because school districts generally pay their teachers more if they have a master's. (In DISD, the annual pay bump ranges from $1,000 to around $6,000, depending on a teacher's experience.) Some districts even require teachers to pursue a master's.
ACE's own budget projections, filed with Illinois regulators, reflect the company's optimism. It expects to be generating $4.6 million in revenues annually by 2009. And it expects a profit margin of around 21 percent.
But Mr. Best said that even the relatively low tuition ACE currently charges in Chicago would be cut severely when the company expands. Because ACE will use public-school classrooms instead of a traditional campus – and because it plans to rely heavily on online learning – he expects tuition to be around 20 percent to 25 percent of what other colleges charge. ACE plans to make up the difference in volume.
"Our dream is to be truly the first national college of education," Mr. Best said. ACE officials expect to have operations in Texas this fall and are in talks with districts in at least three other states.
When ACE officials met with Texas regulators last fall, they produced a document titled "The Big 'To Do' List." It outlines the company's plans to expand, including offering a full bachelor's degree program.
Then comes an expansion "in all 50 states" and a broadening of ACE into other subjects, from engineering to law. The final step on "The Big 'To Do' List," the only item in bold print: "Expand everything internationally."
In addition, ACE has hired two lobbyists from the Dallas law firm Locke Liddell & Sapp to work on its behalf in Washington, particularly on the Higher Education Reauthorization Act. The version of that bill passed by the House in March includes $300 million in federal grants for teacher training programs – many of which ACE could be eligible for in partnership with states and school districts.. . .
In January 2009, 450 Chicago teachers were granted Masters Degrees from ACE. Rod Paige spoke, of coure, and he took the opportunity to read a congratulatory letter from Arne Duncan.
Now Randy Best has his eye on a new target, this time a public university: the University of Toledo. Making the task of buying a big chunk of a public university would be more difficult, no doubt, without a "market-driven" university president and a new University of Toledo CFO by the name of Scott Scarborough (remember the DePaul deal?). The story (so far) from Inside Higher Ed:
Meanwhile, Arne Duncan couldn't agree more as he continues his support for the kind of chain gang urban work camps that result when the Carnine and Lyon methodologies are implemented--which, by the way, would never, ever, be used on children of the leafy suburbs.February 26, 2009
Tension is mounting at the University of Toledo, where administrators are exploring a partnership with a private company known for churning out quick and inexpensive degrees.
Toledo officials are considering a deal with Higher Ed Holdings, a Texas-based company that would help deliver online masters-level education courses to students in exchange for a share of tuition revenues. The company, founded by Dallas entrepreneur Randy Best, already has a similar arrangement with Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.
The potential partnership with a for-profit company comes at a time when faculty in the Judith Herb College of Education are increasingly skittish about the administration’s apparent affection for the private sector. Those concerns were stoked in part by the circulation of a letter, obtained by Inside Higher Ed, in which the university’s president outlined the parameters for finding a new interim dean to replace Thomas Switzer, who is retiring. In the Jan. 27 letter, President Lloyd Jacobs told his provost that a “business orientation” – not a background in education – was essential.
“I strongly suggest a person outside the JHCOE: indeed, a person outside the ‘educational establishment,’ ” wrote Jacobs, who is a medical doctor. “I have some ideas I would like to share with you.”
Efforts to reach Higher Ed Holdings Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Gregory Stone, an associate professor of research and measurement, said he’s worried about the implications of the partnership with the company, as well as the broader notion of running a public university like a private corporation. “The problem is education can’t be entirely run as a business,” he said. “It’s not as clear cut as making widgets and selling them, and unfortunately the notion of quantity over quality within the business world seems to be paramount.”
Details of the potential partnership with Higher Ed Holdings are still sparse, but Provost Rosemary Haggett said Wednesday that Toledo is not looking to outsource curriculum development.
“They would be our degree programs taught by our faculty members,” she said. “Where HEH comes in is they would provide a distance learning platform.... This is a way to take these [programs] to scale, to reach a large number of individuals in the state.”
“What’s important to us is to maintain the high quality of our programs,” she added. “These remain our degree programs.”
Under the roughly outlined agreement, Toledo faculty would continue to teach online courses through video lectures, but students would be assisted by “coaches” employed by Higher Ed Holdings. Toledo faculty say they’re unsure what the credentials of the “coaches” would be, and that’s a source of discomfort.
“They would be hired by HEH, [but] we would have the opportunity to decide whether or not the coaches were adequate,” Haggett said. “We have the opportunity to say ‘No, this isn’t working.’ ”
“The way I’ve thought about these coaches is they are sort of like graduate students, which we use in our face-to-face classes all the time,” she added.
The American College of Education, a subsidiary of Higher Education Holdings, LLC, describes the coach as “the primary contact person for students’ concerns and questions.” Furthermore, the coach is charged with evaluating students’ performance and participation after “training by faculty.” The professor, on the other hand, has the responsibility of maintaining course quality and serving as the “role model for students as well as the professor of academic record.”
The arrangement, as it’s been described, stands to undermine quality, according to one faculty member who asked not to be identified.
“If I’m a talking head on video, I would have very limited contact with my students,” the faculty member said. “The only people who would have contact would be ‘coaches,’ who have a masters degree – or not; who would understand – or would not understand – [course] content or the province that I have in my classes. It’s probably the worst case scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”
Apart from concerns about the model, faculty say they’re troubled by the choice of Higher Ed Holdings for a number of other reasons. Best, who runs the company and served as a major fundraiser and contributor for George W. Bush, endured charges of cronyism when he received lucrative contracts connected with the No Child Left Behind program. Voyager, one of Best’s companies, sold for $380 million after its program for remedial students was employed in Reading First, a $6 billion federal initiative designed to help low-income schools meet federal NCLB requirements. Charges of conflicts of interest plagued Reading First, particularly after a federal report demonstrated that participants weren’t reading any better than those who didn’t participate.
“We’re concerned about the quality of our educational programs, given that this guy’s first company, [connected to] Reading First, was pretty questionable,” said one Toledo education faculty member, who asked not to be identified.
Best, who denied that his connections to Bush helped him win contracts, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Asked if she thought Best’s history was a source of legitimate concern, Haggett said “No. I do not.’”
A few moments later, however, Haggett sought to clarify her statement: “We intend to do due diligence about the company, certainly if we want to pursue anything with them.”
The decision to pursue anything, however, will happen “in a matter of weeks rather than months,” she said.
Toledo CFO sat on Company’s Board
It’s no coincidence, professors say, that Higher Ed Holdings ended up on Toledo’s radar. Scott Scarborough, the university’s chief financial officer, has a history with the company, and once sat on its board.
When Scarborough was executive vice president of administration at DePaul University, he helped broker a deal with the American College of Education. In a controversial agreement, the college acquired DePaul’s Barat College, and – more importantly – Barat’s accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Toledo officials concede that Scarborough’s history with American College was what started the conversations with Higher Ed Holdings. They dispute, however, any notion of a conflict of interest.
“This company has no direct connection to our CFO,” Haggett said. “He happens to know who they are.”
In an e-mail to Jacobs, Toledo’s president, Scarborough sought to dampen any suggestion that he had a stake in the negotiations with the company now courting the university.
“I have no financial ties to Higher Ed Holdings,” he wrote in a Feb. 20 e-mail. “I do know the people who work at Higher Ed Holdings and admire the quality of their work.”
Scarborough went on to explain that while at DePaul he was the university’s representative on the company’s board of directors, but he vacated that position when he “left DePaul.” Scarborough, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, was questioned by faculty about his ties to Higher Ed Holdings even during the DePaul negotiations. In a statement provided to the Faculty Council in 2006, Scarborough said he was given $1,750 for attending four board meetings – a fact he said he disclosed in conflict of interest papers.
If DePaul faculty had a primary concern about Scarborough, however, it was his tendency to allow financial concerns to override academic priorities, according to Anne Clark Bartlett, who was president of the Faculty Council in 2006-07.
“Academic decisions were being driven by financial parameters and protested vigorously [by faculty],” said Bartlett, chair of DePaul’s Department of English. “That was definitely the historical view [of Scarborough].”
A business-driven approach to academics, however, appears to be in keeping with President Jacobs’ desires for the College of Education. In his letter last month to the provost, Jacobs stressed that a business focus was essential to the college’s future, and that the search for a permanent dean should be conducted with that goal in mind. While a search committee will be formed to help select candidates, Jacobs insisted that “we will not approve the selection of a [search] firm from the ‘educational establishment.’ "
“The search should emphasize the need of fresh thinking, creativity and new paradigms,” he wrote. “A business orientation is essential.”