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

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Princeton Review Nailed for NCLB Tutoring Fraud

If there are any educational historians around in a hundred years to examine the records from this generation of corporate reform efforts to privateer public schools into corporate revenue streams, No Child Left Behind will stand out, no doubt, as one of the most useful tools in their arsenal.  To those less disposed to celebrate the demise of democratic institutions, NCLB has, thus far anyway, proved itself as the most expensive, toxic, and damaging federal education policy in the nation’s history. 

Based on the ideologically-driven faux science of the National Reading Panel, NCLB created Reading First, which poured $7,000,000,000 into phonics-based direct instruction (parrot learning) reading efforts that set a course for ineffective, unbalanced literacy programs for years to come in the early grades.  The U.S. Dept. of Education’s own study in 2008 tersely concluded that "Reading First did not produce a statistically significant impact on student reading comprehension test scores in grades one, two, or three" (p. xv).  Why? Could it have something to do with the fact that reading instruction was aimed as much at behavioral control as it was reading, and children spent an inordinate amount of time being tested on how many nonsense syllables they could recognize in 60 seconds—something called decoding and DIBELS testing? 

What did children get out that kind of reading-in-a-straightjacket experience? Again from the Federal study: “Reading First produced a positive and statistically significant impact on decoding among first grade students in one school year (spring 2007).  The impact was equivalent to an effect of 0.17 standard deviations” (p. xv).  Not bad for $7 billion.

In another study from ED, the only literacy method that got positive results in all four domains of reading literacy was Reading Recovery, a balanced program that had been demonized as “whole language” and essentially eliminated from consideration by the Reading First officials who were deciding who would get the Reading First grants. 

Another example of waste and fraud occurred when more public billions were allocated for NCLB tutoring, or supplemental services (see here, here, here, and here) with the greatest beneficiaries being the privateer tutoring companies that operated for over five years without any federal oversight or evaluation studies to determine the effect of their overpriced tutoring on student achievement.  When school vouchers were finally stripped out of the NCLB bill prior to passage, advocates of privatization settled for charters and tutoring as the road to more privatization, while hoping for vouchers to be passed in future reauthorizations of NCLB.  Quoting from Elizabeth Debray’s book:

        . . . Senator Gregg saw another advantage to supplemental services.  As one aide who preferred anonymity recalled about the meeting with Republican Senate committee members right before the committee voted: “Gregg was explaining why they should vote for the bill . . . and he said: ‘Well, the supplemental services are a foot under the door for vouchers.  They’re going to show that these schools aren’t working properly, and we’ll finally be able to show that the schools aren’t doing well. The assessments are going to prove the same thing.’”

Supplemental services operated for 5 years without any oversight whatsoever. When they finally got around to it, ED’s own research found that
     —Private providers accounted for 88 percent of all state-approved providers in May 2008, an increase from 60 percent in May 2003.
     —Expenditures for Title I supplemental educational services varied, $192 million to $375 million per year.
     —By 2007, only eight states had databases containing student achievement and participation information that would permit rigorous evaluations of achievement effects of providers on a statewide basis.

So today’s story in the New York Daily News comes as no surprise.  It simply provides another bit of evidence that historians will collect into their massive database that will contain the voluminous records of corruption, deception, thievery, and dehumanization of public education that occurred in our era, all under the bogus banner of accountability and high standards.
Test-prep firm Princeton Review swindled the federal government out of millions by falsely claiming it tutored needy city kids, the Manhattan U.S. attorney charges. 
From 2006 to 2010, Princeton Review was reimbursed for tutoring services that were either faked or inflated, said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office filed a civil fraud suit Tuesday. 
“The Princeton Review and its employees were supposed to tutor needy students, not cheat a federal program,” said Bharara, who didn’t specify how much money is involved. 
During those years, city education officials paid Princeton Review $38 million for tutoring funded by the federal government under No Child Left Behind, the suit says. 
During that time, Princeton Review staffers submitted phony attendance forms and invoices for thousands of hours of instruction, the suit claims. 
Bharara said staffers changed hundreds of kids’ absent marks to present — in one case falsely signing in a student named Dontae as “Donate.” 
The company billed for sessions with kids who were on vacation and gave some site managers bonuses of up to $9,600 for reporting high daily attendance, the suit says. . . .  

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