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NCLB Outrages

Bush Profiteers collect billions from NCLB, Part 1 and 2

by Mandevilla

Much was said about George W. Bush’s fundraising prowess in 2000 and 2004, when he created labels like "Bush Pioneers" to identify those who shook down donors and bundled the lucre for his campaigns. But hard on the heels of his inauguration, he might’ve just as appropriately created a new label, "Bush Profiteers," to identify those who first turned his decayed ideologies into law – inventing new spigots through which Bush’s businessmen-backers could suck federal funds – and who then vacated public service to collect their own lucre as lobbyists for those businessmen and their companies.
If you needed a perfect example of this model of lawmaking-turned-moneymaking, you might consider Bush̢۪s vaunted No Child Left Behind. And if you needed a perfect example of the Bush Profiteer, you might consider the first "senior education advisor" he imported from Texas, the architect of NCLB himself.

I offer a simple thesis: Several large corporations and their lobbyists have profited from Bush̢۪s NCLB by tapping billions of dollars in standardized testing and in "supplemental education services" funds since its passage in 2001. They̢۪re lining up now to expand their profit margins for the next six years as NCLB is being re-authorized. And the one man who stands to personally profit the most this year isn̢۪t Bush himself, but advisor-turned-lobbyist Sandy Kress, the architect of Bush̢۪s old high-stakes testing model in Texas and the overhaul of ESEA in 2001.

As Bush himself might put it, Heck of a job, Sandy. Ahem.

KATHY EMERY KNOWS something about educating kids. Her resume, found here, documents a 30-year career as a history teacher-turned-education researcher. Credentials impeccable. She̢۪s published and presented and given workshops and been interviewed on testing and assessment and good education practices, so she̢۪s got skills. And she writes, "When Ted Kennedy and George Bush agree on something, one needs to worry about who the man behind the curtain is. After doing research for my dissertation (which is now a book) it became clear to me that the men behind the curtain are the members of the Business Roundtable."

In a speech given in January 2005 to the San Francisco State University faculty retreat in Asilomar, California, she detailed the convergence of two heretofore unconjoined worlds: the world of big business, and the world of educating kids. The convergence was given birth in the passage of NCLB, she says, but the pregnancy was more than a decade long. Its unsuspecting mother was the Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), first adopted under Lyndon Johnson’s administration in 1965 in partial fulfillment of John Kennedy’s domestic agenda. Its father? "...a bipartisan bandwagon of standards based advocates – a bandwagon built in the summer of 1989 by the top 300 CEOs in our country."
Emery's speech is here.

At this meeting, the Business Roundtable CEOs agreed that each state legislature needed to adopt legislation that would impose "outcome-based education," "high expectations for all children," "rewards and penalties for individual schools," "greater school-based decision making" and align staff development with these action items. By 1995, the Business Roundtable had refined their agenda to "nine essential components," the first four being state standards, state tests, sanctions and the transformation of teacher education programs. By 2000, our leading CEOs had managed to create an interlocking network of business associations, corporate foundations, governor̢۪s associations, non-profits and educational institutions that had successfully persuaded 16 state legislatures to adopt the first three components of their high stakes testing agenda. This network includes the Education Trust, Annenberg Center, Harvard Graduate School, Public Agenda, Achieve, Inc., Education Commission of the States, the Broad Foundation, Institute for Educational Leadership, federally funded regionally laboratories and most newspaper editorial boards.

By 2000, many states legislatures, however, were balking at the sheer size and scope of what corporate America was demanding. The Business Roundtable took note of this resistance when publishing, in the spring of 2001, a booklet entitled Assessing and Addressing the "Testing Backlash": Practical Advice and Current Public Opinion Research for Business Coalitions and Standards Advocates. My guess is that the timing of this renewed effort to "turn up the heat" involved getting federal government into the act by aligning the federal educational policy with the Business Roundtable̢۪s state-by-state strategy.

Emery quotes Gene Hickock, the under-secretary of education assigned to implement NCLB, speaking to CEOs at the Milken Institute̢۪s Global Conference in 2003: "One of the virtues of NCLB is leverage, leverage at the state. . . at the local level . . . We don̢۪t mind being the bad guys... I am very concerned that we will . . . underestimate the potential that we have to redefine everything."

And Emery pays special attention to Hickock̢۪s desire to "redefine everything." She sketches briefly the intent of the "corporate business class" to control public education systems beginning the 1890s and continuing through "modern comprehensive schools, an important part of which was the introduction of standardized, norm-reference tests."

Why the interest of the "corporate business class" in standardized tests? Emery tells us: "Since the 1890s, these tests, along with the factory like conditions of public high schools, have been central to fulfilling one of the major purposes of our public schools. In an industrial economy, working class students need to be tracked into vocational education and middle class students into college prep courses. This is one reason why we find standardized tests to be more strongly correlated to socio-economic status than to any other variable."

Emery suggests that the corporate climate in the 1980s – pressure from the emergence of Japan, for example – lit a fire beneath America’s corporate interests to accelerate the education process, she surmises; hence, the Business Roundtable’s meeting in 1989 and its development of a "high-stakes testing" model for schools.
It̢۪s clear to me that the fact that its system fails millions of American kids doesn̢۪t deter the leaders of the Business Roundtable: Its goal of marrying the world of big business with the world of educating children has yielded its primary objective, the profit margin. How so?
Education itself isn̢۪t a profit-making venture; no teacher, lunch lady, janitor, principal or bus driver is getting "rich" from "the system."

Any dividends on public investment aren’t realized until a child graduates, matures, and becomes a contributing member of society. But a small cottage industry of education support programs has always existed in the private sector, and it included everything from single-subject tutors to after-school or summertime programs for remedial readers. NCLB, the shotgun marriage of Lyndon Johnson’s ESEA with the Business Roundtable’s "high stakes testing" agenda, created a brand-new spigot through which that cottage industry in the private sector could siphon federal education funds. The result: Instant profit – and instant profiteers. What once was just a cottage industry has become a corporate giant.

Says Emery:

Not only do working class and poor students, especially those of color, not learn to read and write, they don̢۪t learn the kinds of skills that would allow them to challenge the direction the Business Roundtable CEO̢۪s are taking this country. Throughout American educational history, there have been educators and activists who have argued against education as merely legitimizing the sorting of students into job categories. Some have created schools based on the joy of learning, or the need for students to be life-long learners. Others have created schools that taught students how to be active agents of social change, or to be skilled citizens in a democratic society. One effect of high stakes testing, one that I am sure the CEO̢۪s are pleased with, is that the historic public debate over what the goals of education should be, a debate going back 2500 years, has been eliminated. Instead, raising tests scores has become an end in itself...

PRESIDING OVER THE SHOTGUN wedding that Emery describes – the forced marriage of ESEA to the Business Roundtable’s agenda – was none other than Sandy Kress. "Pressure" from not-yet-Secretary Margaret Spellings – then still known as Margaret La Montagne – and Kress, "former head of the Dallas school board, seems to be paying off. Already, the Business Roundtable has pledged to air TV ads promoting testing," wrote Richard Dunham in the March 19, 2001, edition of Business Week magazine.

Dunham̢۪s puff-piece on La Montagne/Spellings said the duo was "counting on business leaders such as Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, AT&T CEO C. Michael Armstrong, and Texas Instruments CEO Thomas J. Engibous to lobby Congress on behalf of Bush's cherished annual performance tests..."

Mere weeks later, columnist Robert Novak credited Kress as half of Bush̢۪s Texan education brain trust, and Bush̢۪s emissary to Congress at a time when the legislative branch was still evaluating its untested executive. "...Who convinced the president to build this bridge for the enemy? Republican House members finger two White House aides brought from Texas: Margaret LaMontagne and Sandy Kress."

"Kress, who was a Democratic activist in Dallas backing Michael Dukakis for president when I first met him, told me Tuesday the White House did not support even Kennedy's version of Straight A's because ‘to have a bloodbath on the House floor is not worth it’," wrote Novak on May 23, 2001, here .

But by July, Kress had left La Montagne/Spellings behind and earned a high-profile spread of his own in New Yorker magazine, thanks to writer Nicholas Lemann. In addition to sketching Kress’s history, Lemann cast Kress as Bush’s brain on education. Inscribed in "a flimsy little drugstore notebook, green, maybe four by six inches" was a text by Kress dated 1999 and called ‘A Draft Position for George W. Bush on K-12 Education’." It was this draft, apparently, that led to Kress’s "temporary assignment as the White House's chief lobbyist on education."
Here̢۪s a sample of the guru̢۪s amazing composition: "Unhappily, after spending billions and billions of dollars on education, the federal government has made virtually no meaningful difference in helping educate our children. As a result of this cynical, shameful, and wasteful behavior, other politicians have decided that there should be no federal role in education at all. Our citizenry, which regularly says that education is the nation's most important cause, needs to understand the sharp contrast between Governor Bush's vigor and the utter sloppiness of the keepers of the status quo."

If anyone could lead Bush̢۪s crusade into education, it would be Kress, who, in addition to being "former president of the Dallas School Board and one of the architects of the Texas education reforms, is a Democrat, but he and Bush had been working together successfully for years."

"Sandy Kress's notebook lays out the essentials of the Texas education reform," Lemann writes. It’s not rocket science: State-adopted standards feed into state-adopted tests, with scores "used to rate the performance of schools." The magic, Lemann understates, was in the marketing: "the promise to ‘leave no child behind’ and to eschew ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations’." And Kress was the perfect marketer for the purpose, as Lemann describes here:

In the early stages of the Presidential campaign, I watched Gore, in Dallas, make a speech on education to a group of African-American mayors, in which he tried, without much evident conviction, to cast Bush's record on education in a bad light. Sandy Kress was there to run an after-the-speech spin room for the Bush campaign, which entailed publicly opposing the Presidential candidate of his own party. The intense loyalty of Bush's close aides can be startling -- is there something there that they see and we don't, or do we see Bush more clearly from a distance than they do up close? In one of my conversations with Kress, when he was talking about an early Bush maneuver on behalf of the bill -- nothing terribly unusual, just chatting up some members of Congress -- a wave of emotion came over him and, with a murmured apology, he started to cry.

Kress won his victory, sure enough. Without ever convening a hearing on the bill, the House passed it 384 to 45. "The last thing the White House wanted was a long, slow period of national debate in which the many interest groups involved in education could marshal lobbying campaigns," Lemann explains. In the Senate, progress was slower, getting snagged on the consequences to schools whose scores didn̢۪t measure up. Kress̢۪s solution reflected Kress̢۪s power in Bush̢۪s world: "One Saturday afternoon, word spread instantaneously within this group (while the world slumbered on): Sandy Kress had just rewritten the A.Y.P. formula," Lemann says.
Just like that.

WHEN JOHN DiIULIO DITCHED the White House̢۪s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, Time magazine̢۪s James Carney wrote that Washington watchers wondered why Kress hadn̢۪t done the same already. But Kress was a different animal altogether, Carney observed, "Not only is Sandy Kress a Democrat, but he's also the lead negotiator and chief policymaker for Bush's education-reform plan. Together with his faith-based initiative, education reform undergirded Bush's claim to be a compassionate conservative. Like DiIulio, Kress was chosen because Bush hoped his Democratic credentials would attract bipartisan support. In Kress's case, it worked. But after the education-reform bill clears Congress, expected next month, Kress will pack his bags. Kress will at least be able to claim victory when he leaves."

And it came to pass, as reporter Diana Jean Schemo wrote on December 18: "The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill today that would dramatically extend the federal role in public education, mandating annual testing of children in Grades 3 to 8, providing tutoring for children in persistently failing schools and setting a 12-year timetable for closing chronic gaps in student achievement. The 87-to-10 vote capped a tumultuous year for the bill that began with President Bush's postinaugural unveiling of his education plan, [and] continued through a springtime of wrangling over issues like how student progress would be measured..."
Kress himself, Schemo writes, "watched the vote from the Senate gallery, as did Education Secretary Rod Paige."

Part 2

In Part 1, White House senior education advisor (circa 2001) Sandy Kress presided over the shotgun wedding of the old Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Business Roundtable̢۪s high-stakes testing agenda, creating George W. Bush̢۪s No Child Left Behind. He ushered it through the U.S. House of Representatives in the summer of 2001 without a single public hearing on the bill, and even re-wrote its infamous and complex "adequate yearly progress" formula himself to ease its passage through the Senate that December.

As its architect, Kress invented new spigots through which Bush Profiteers – only a slight variation of the old Bush Pioneers label – can suck federal funds. In fact, since its passage in 2001, several large corporations and their lobbyists have profited from Bush’s NCLB by tapping billions of dollars in standardized testing and in "supplemental education services" funds. And at this very moment, they’re lining up to expand their profit margins for the next six years, as NCLB is being re-authorized. It turns out that advisor-turned-lobbyist Kress himself stands to collect significant coin from his "contribution" to the nation.

LESS THAN EIGHTEEN months after NCLB̢۪s enactment in January 2002, Kress was found describing his "integral involvement in the development of NCLB" to more than 150 employees of Educational Testing Service at that company̢۪s annual "issues forum." Not coincidentally, Kress told these employees that their company had "the knowledge and expertise needed to help the states fully implement NCLB."

I don̢۪t know much about ETS, but I looked here... and found these notes:

Educational Testing Service is the world's largest private educational testing and measurement organization and a leader in educational research. The company is dedicated to serving the needs of individuals, educational institutions, and government bodies in almost 200 countries. ETS develops and administers more than 12 million tests worldwide.

Traditionally, ETS's primary purpose has been the development of tests and other assessment tools to provide information (including test scores and interpretative data) to test takers, educational institutions, and others who require this information. ETS is now poised to broaden its scope beyond the U.S. measurement space into the worldwide education and training space.

By building on existing capabilities, ETS is increasing its presence in certain education markets (K-12, occupational testing and training, and the international arena-Europe, Asia, and Latin America), allowing the organization to offer a broader array of assessments, ones that focus on placement, instruction, and adherence to standards-in addition to those that focus on selection and licensing.

Had Kress become a lobbyist for ETS by March 13, 2003? Maybe, maybe not. He might have been caught in that anti-revolving-door waiting period established by the Clinton administration for public servants inclined to lobby for corporate interests. The public record about his "end date" as White House senior education advisor isn’t crystal clear. But it’s certain that Kress was selling something to the ETS crowd, as explained here... "Calling ETS a ‘leader’ in the field of assessment, Kress emphasized that states need help in developing and utilizing assessments that are sophisticated and allow for the comprehensive testing of standards based on the curriculum," according to the press release tucked away in the ETS issue forum archive.

"There will be a huge hunger to improve schools by utilizing data, and this is a key area where ETS can step in," he advised his audience.
But a year later, the public record is much clearer: Kress was recruited by K12, Inc., a brand-new company plying "a ‘cyber-enriching’ elementary and secondary curriculum" to the public schools of Texas, according to George Mason University education researcher Gerald Bracey, K12’s founders were none other than Ronald Reagan’s Education Secretary Bill Bennett, Yale computer scientist and Unabomber victim David Gelernter, and former U. S. Congressman Ronald Packard. But Bennett and company weren’t the fledgling corporation’s only heavy hitters, Bracey explains:

The upper echelons of K12 are staffed with people from a variety of professional backgrounds, but most come in from the political right. Packard, a vice president for KU, has assumed the mantle of CEO for K12. Among eleven vice presidents are Charles Zogby, Education and Policy; David Niemi, Testing and Assessment; and Gregg Vanourek, School Division.

Zogby was an aide to Tom Ridge when Ridge was governor of Pennsylvania. When Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Eugene Hickok, departed to be George W. Bush’s Under Secretary of Education, Ridge appointed Zogby as secretary. In his various positions, Zogby championed vouchers and charter schools and was particularly enthusiastic about—and active in bringing in—for-profit Educational Management Organizations, such as Edison Schools, Inc., to take over some schools in the Philadelphia public school district.

Vanourek has teamed with Chester E. Finn, Jr., Bruno V. Manno, and Lou Ann Bierlein in a number of articles and books about charter schools, such as Charter Schools in Action. He was a vice president at Finn̢۪s Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

Niemi also holds a position with the Center for Research in Evaluation, Student Standards and Testing (CRESST). Niemi̢۪s presence suggests that K12 will invest more in assessment and program evaluation than other private companies have done to date. Edison Schools, for instance, presented annual reports with testing results that one presumes Niemi or any other psychometrician would not accept. The analytical methods gave Edison every advantage to look good. When New York Times reporters Jacques Steinberg and Diana Henriques applied Edison̢۪s techniques to the Cleveland Public Schools, they found a higher percentage of Cleveland schools than Edison schools performing well.36

Niemi sees no conflict between his role as a professor in a public university and as a vice president in a for-profit firm. By phone, he invoked Educational Testing Services (ETS) as an example of a firm that makes money and conducts quality research. As long as K12 conducts research of the same standard as disinterested researchers, there should be no problem, he feels.

Bracey writes that K12’s vision was so foreign to the public education in Texas that a new law was necessary to allow its implementation. Enter Sandy Kress: "K12 hired 11 lobbyists, variously described as high powered and highly paid, to make its case. Sandy Kress, former Bush adviser and principal creator of the No Child Left Behind legislation, signed on for up to $10,000 (when Texas lobbyists register, they must state the maximum they can be paid by their patron). Other salaries ranged up to $99,000 for Andrea McWilliams, a Bush ‘Pioneer’—the title given to any person who had raised more than $200,000 for Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. Earlier, McWilliams had served as a lobbyist for Kenneth Lay and Enron."

The new legislation was introduced three times in 2003, Bracey reports, and it was defeated each time. At the time of his report in April 2004, the issue was "dead."

DESPITE THAT POOR PERFORMANCE as a lobbyist in Texas, however, Kress’s own fortunes were very much alive, and looking up; he delivered the keynote address on June 11, 2004, to the "EduStat Summit" sponsored by "SchoolNet." I learned here http://www.edustat.com/... that this year’s "EduStat Summit" is the fourth annual such event sponsored by "SchoolNet," and since it specifically brings together the education-business community and "administrators" of the education community, the "EduStat Summit" appears to be one of the many children borne directly from NCLB. I learned a little about the company here http://www.schoolnet.com/... but was most interested to learn that its "vice chairman and chief academic officer," Denis Doyle, is a product of, among other think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation – a strange provenance for this context.

Opening his keynote address, Kress seemed to chafe at being called the "architect" of a program whose implementation was admittedly "rocky." He spread the wealth, as you can read here http://www.edustat.com/... saying, "I appreciate and am humbled by the introduction that somehow I am an architect in this thing, but to the extent that I was an architect there were other builders. And there were the purchasers, of whatever we were architecting."
Purchasers, indeed.

Although NCLB had been "architected" to funnel federal funds to private enterprises who offered testing and "supplemental education services" in grades three through eight, Kress and various corporate interests were already imagining an extension of the market into high schools. He invited his audience, then to "become part of the change."

"I think part of the discussion is going to be about more rigorous high school tests. Tests that are closer to measures, work readiness and college readiness. It seems to me that this is coming upon us and rather soon. You can see it in states like Massachusetts and Texas. I̢۪ve been a part of the reforms in Texas and I have to tell you, it̢۪s anxiety-producing to say the least, but necessary to begin to look to secondary schools," he said.

"It seems to me somehow we ought to be thinking about policy in the secondary area, policy in the relationship between college and high school and reforms in college. Significant amounts of money spent on remediation."

And, driving home the point again before leaving, he closed with this: "It is absolutely imperative if we̢۪re going to provide opportunities to those young people for whom there are no opportunities today, we have to radically change the business we do."

"Change the business we do," Kress said, rather than changing American education priorities – or committing to the ones already adopted.

CHAFING OR NOT, KRESS was so identified with NCLB that when Bush̢۪s first education secretary, Rod Paige, fell out of love with his job and announced his resignation, Kress̢۪s name surfaced as a successor alongside the name of his former White House partner in NCLB affairs, Margaret Spellings. On November 12, 2004, a writer at this weblog http://educhange.blogspot.com/... quoted Karl Rove saying that anything Spellings wanted, she could have, though the Fort Wayne News Sentinel pinned its hopes on Kress. Its editors wrote, as Education at the Brink quoted, "Sandy Kress should become education secretary. The former Dallas school board president has worked alongside Bush on early reading programs and higher school standards since the Bush governorship. He also shepherded the president's big education bill through Congress. The Democrat knows how to build coalitions, which the president needs if Washington's going to improve special education classes. They're the next education cause."

Whether or not Kress was offered the job and rejected it is unknown; Spellings was nominated on November 17, 2004 and confirmed by the Senate the following January. Given what is known of Kress̢۪s career path since then, he may already have had his eye on something slightly more lucrative than a Cabinet secretary̢۪s pay package. Something having to do with the new market that reporter Karla Scoon Reid described in Education Week magazine that December, maybe?

"For-profit education companies are ramping up their businesses to tap into millions of federal dollars set aside to provide tutoring for students attending struggling schools," Reid wrote here http://www.platformlearning.com/... "With an estimated $2 billion potentially earmarked for tutoring nationwide, what traditionally has been considered a cottage industry is being reinvented."

Reid quoted Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy, "Millions of dollars are being spent and nobody knows what̢۪s happening."

Among the highlights of Reid̢۪s reporting are these notes:

Executives with for-profit companies say they̢۪re eager to have their programs independently reviewed. They acknowledge that the validity of their own data would be questioned. Many of the nation̢۪s leading for-profit education companies are willing to take that risk, although some have delved more slowly into the supplemental-services market than others.

Catapult Learning, formerly Sylvan Education Solutions, saw its enrollment in tutoring programs under the No Child Left Behind law quintuple from about 5,000 students in 2002-03 to 25,000 students in 2003-04. The Baltimore-based company, whose corporate parent is Educate Inc., is projecting further significant enrollment growth this school year.

Platform Learning, founded in 2002, has more than quadrupled its No Child Left Behind Act supplemental-services business, from 12,000 students in 2003-04 to an estimated 50,000 this school year.

Huntington Learning Centers started providing services under the law with 1,000 students in 2002-03. Although the company is an approved provider in 33 states, Huntington expects to tutor only some 10,000 students this school year.

Not everyone was happy at the sudden explosion of this new market, of course. Reid learned from Liz Wolff, national research director for ACORN, that "private companies aren’t being required to show progress on the state tests that ‘everybody else is indicted by’." And "Steve Fleischman, the director of the Supplemental Educational Services Quality Center and a principal research scientist at the AIR, said he believes that because districts are actually tutoring more students than outside providers are, they should both be held to a common performance standard."

Even Seppy Basili, vice president of Kaplan Educational Services, "acknowledged that it would be difficult to isolate the academic effects of tutoring programs."

But that wouldn̢۪t stop the federal dollars from flowing, thanks to Kress̢۪s work on NCLB.

(Stay tuned for Part 3.)

— Mandevilla


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