In 2002 Stephen Metcalf documented the financially incestuous relationship between the Bush family and McGraw-Hill that resulted from a long-established familial system of mutual back-scratching and "cross-pollination and mutual admiration" between the the two fiefdoms. Today that system of good ole boy corruption, cronyism, and corporate welfare continues in State Houses and governors' mansions around the country, and Tennessee, once again, is in the middle of it all.
We know, of course, that TN's Commissioner of Ed, Kevin Huffman, is a proud member to Jeb Bush's
Cheats Chiefs for Change, which takes all the self-serving corporate education ideas that the conservative think tanks can dream up and packages them for state-level implementation across red state America. The Chiefs are part of Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is funded by Bloomberg, Gates, and other oligarchs supportive of turning American education into corporate revenue streams, i.e., rivers of cash, through privatization and corporate welfare schemes such as charter schools and online colleges. Beyond this connection, however, is a deeper ideological tie between the kinder and gentler brand of American neo-fascism represented by Bill (Pilot Oil) Haslam and the Bush family. The Haslam Brothers were among top fundraisers for W in 2000 and 2004.
On January 14, 2013, the successor to the Bush dynasty, Jeb Bush, was in Nashville to talk up charter schools, vouchers, test-based teaching, and the Common Core Corporate Standards. What was not on the public agenda was another money maker that is dear to Jeb's heart: Western Governors University and the potential billions attached if WGU gets sewn into the fabric of American public higher education. Due to corporate and political connections of its presient, Robert Menhenhall, WGU has experienced exponential growth in recent years, moving from 5,500 students in 2006 to over 30,000 today. Mendenhall is a former IBM exec, who was IBM's K-12 general manager (1992-1999) during the heyday of Lou Gerstner, who was the corporate alpha dog in Charlottesville in 1989, when Bush I put a handful of governors and business CEOs in charge of reforming American education.
Fast forward a bit to 2010, when President Menhenhall was named a winner of a McGraw Prize, a signal honor for anyone with aspirations to get rich in education. Less than two years later, WGU signs a deal with McGraw-Hill to purchase McGraw-Hill etexts and its LearnSmart system for its "competency-based" learning systems. Competency-based at WGU, then, means stuffing down "learning" materials without the expensive burden of a professor to get in the way with boring lectures and that sort of thing. Look mom, college with no campus, and no professor. Now that's efficiency.
. . . a landmark agreement to establish a "pay-for-performance" model in which McGraw-Hill will receive variable compensation for those WGU students who use MHE technology and services for a particular course and pass.Through the partnership, McGraw-Hill Education will provide e-books and access to industry-leading adaptive learning tools including McGraw-Hill LearnSmart to Western Governors University's (WGU) online courses. Under this new pricing structure, the university will pay a significantly discounted flat fee for McGraw-Hill's course materials. In addition, WGU will pay McGraw-Hill a premium for each student who uses the materials and passes the course (a passing grade at WGU is equivalent to a letter grade of "B" or better). Through this new pay-for-performance model, universities and learning companies share in the accountability for student success and students gain access to premium educational materials while keeping costs low.
Then in November 2012, Jeb was commencement speaker for WGU in Atlanta, where just 375 of the thousands of diploma mill graduates showed at the Phillips Arena (seating capacity 18,000+).
Which brings us back to Tennessee just a few weeks later to January 14, 2013, when Bush met with Haslam to talk corporate ed reform. Something obviously clicked at that meeting, for less than a month later Haslam was doing the following informercial on YouTube to promote a sweetheart deal to hand over $5 million in public money to set up an office for WGU in Tennessee., with Gates kicking in $750,000. This public largesse for an out-of-state corporate diploma mill comes at a time when public universities and community colleges can't pay the light bills or cut the grass. Please watch (it's short):
Could there ever be a sweeter corporate welfare deal? Move right into the State, with taxpayer support and become a state university overnight!
How do Tennesseans react? About the same way they have reacted to the ongoing FBI fraud investigation involving the Haslam Bros. oil businesses. Not so much. If Haslam were a Democrat, he would have already been tarred and feathered and sent packing. Nevertheless, Haslam is damaged goods in terms of national politics, which may help to explain why he is getting in on the ground floor of the online college caste system by using state money to set up shop for his out-of-state friends in TN.
A clip from one of dozens of recent articles on the tribulations of the Haslams:
First published @theChalkface August 2013.It is already clear that the FBI investigation into allegations that Pilot salesmen bilked customers out of millions in rebates has tarnished the sterling reputation of Pilot, the company Haslam’s father started and which remains closely tied to the family.. . . .Haslam, who cast himself as a businessman as well as a political executive, will not be able to trade smoothly on Pilot’s good name any more. The FBI says Pilot salesmen deliberately deceived customers by telling them they were owed smaller rebates than they’d been promised.The FBI quotes sales executives describing how they cheated individual companies out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In one instance, a top executive was asked by a customer to pay off the debt on an airplane after getting caught. The incident became a recurring joke for Pilot executives.