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NCLB Outrages

Bush Profiteers collect billions from NCLB, Part 10

For links the parts 1-9, go to the url below. This is not new material, but here is a reminder that we must continue to pay due diligence.

Thanks to the dogged determination of education researcher Gerald Bracey, we added a few more names to the list of those lucky few who benefit mightily from No Child Left Behind, the private-sector profit engine drafted and pushed into law by former White House senior education advisor Sandy Kress. In addition to presidential brother Neil Bush, presidential family friend Harold McGraw III and former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, we found U.S. Commissioner of Special Education Edward Kame’enui, former Voyager President Randy Best, former Voyager Senior Vice President Jim Nelson, and Voyager Vice President Karen Nelson – and the companies they serve – collecting buckets of profit from Kress’s re-write of Lyndon Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Kress himself, meanwhile, collects significant coin on his own after turning from public servant to corporate lobbyist. In his new life, Kress guides his corporate masters to the many spigots flowing with federal funds from his crowning achievement in lawmaking.

Bracey also pointed us toward an initiative called "Reading First," which he said sucks up $1 billion annually from NCLB funds. To find out more about Reading First, I found this report by Andrew Brownstein and Travis ... and learned more than I needed to know about the Bush administration’s resolution to the question of phonics versus "whole language" theory in teaching reading. Coincidentally, I also saw a lot of familiar names – names like Sandy Kress, Reid Lyon and Randy Best – so I concluded I must have been in the right place.

Brownstein and Hicks tell us that in the 1970s, young reading-researcher Doug Carnine discovered that publishing companies were in business to make a profit, and that unless his research added value to someone̢۪s bottom line, it wouldn̢۪t be read. So he left that field and went into "changing policy," he told the reporters in 2005.

Why try to change policy? Brownstein and Hicks write, "...publishers were reluctant to change, Carnine found, until policy forced them to. ‘They would fund whatever was popular,’ he said. ‘But I’ve found that if there’s accountability for results, then there’s interest in improving results. And if there’s interest in improving results, then there will be interest in quality research on how to do that’."

Who is Carnine, and what part does he play in the story of those profiteering from the Bush-Kress NCLB? Brownstein and Hicks explain that Carnine is "a trusted education adviser to the Bush administration. Before that, he advised California and Texas, under then-Gov. George W. Bush, on the restructuring of their state reading programs — both of which served as models for Reading First. At Oregon, he directed the National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators (NCITE). His goal was not only to create a more welcome climate for reading science in academe, but to win the hearts and minds of publishers — in other words, to create a market for scientifically-based reading research."

So Carnine̢۪s inspirations as another one of Bush̢۪s education tutors in Texas led to the development of "Reading First," the billion-dollar program that Bracey mentioned in our last chapter, the same "Reading First" that has come under investigation by the Education Department̢۪s Inspector General̢۪s office in recent years, which is a little like saying that the foxes guarding the henhouse have come under investigation by fox superiors at the fox head office. The welfare of the hens isn̢۪t really part of the present question.

"As the Inspector General (IG) of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) investigates the Reading First program for possible conflicts of interest, Carnine̢۪s experience illustrates that the tension between research and commerce in the program was there from the beginning, and was perhaps inevitable," Brownstein and Hicks write.

Carnine’s path through the Bush White House and into NCLB history runs through the arcane debate between "phonics" and "whole language" theory in teaching reading, and Brownstein and Hicks try to hit the highlights without getting mired down in the weeds. Here’s the heart of it: In 1987, California adopted the "whole language" theory as its elementary reading curriculum. Five years later, when the first state-by-state scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress were released, California’s scores were next-to-lowest in the nation. "Phonics" proponents – and parents – went nuts.

Write Brownstein and Hicks, "Those seeking to overhaul California’s reading curriculum said that the use of phonics would not improve reading achievement if teachers could introduce it how and when they pleased. It needed to be ‘systematic and explicit.’ California adopted more scripted reading programs that sometimes diminished the traditional autonomy of the teacher. Whole language supporters derided what they called ‘drill and kill’ phonics and worried that such programs would destroy student interest in reading."

Phonics proponents got a boost, for better or worse, from another familiar name: Reid Lyon, then a developmental neuropsychologist at the National Institutes of Child Health and Development (NICHD). Lyon "became the unofficial ‘reading czar’ of the Bush administration," Brownstein and Hicks explain. "He sounded a persistent drumbeat for phonics — in California, in Texas, and later, in the halls of the U.S. Congress. He was particularly successful in shifting the terms of the debate from obscure pedagogical issues to the realm of public health."

Lyon left the Bush administration in July 2005, but we̢۪ll have more on that fact later.

For Carnine the researcher-turned-policymaker, however, the "phonics" versus "whole language" debate represented manna from heaven. Where his proposal of a "scientifically-based reading research" – SBRR for short – had earlier met with "blank states," it now found an eager audience. "The reading initiatives in the nation’s two largest state school systems led textbook publishers to place a greater emphasis on research," the reporters write.

And that was before the findings of the National Reading Panel in 2000: "The 14-member team spent two years reviewing existing research on reading and concluded that the most effective reading instruction involved phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency and comprehension."

This "14-member" panel intended for its findings to "end a war" but the result wasn̢۪t that clean, Brownstein and Hicks write.

The goal of the panel, according to member Timothy Shanahan, a reading researcher at the University of Illinois-Chicago, was "to end a war." In broad policy terms, it did just that. With the advent of Reading First – passed as the centerpiece of George W. Bush’s signature education reform package in 2001— national reading policy would rest firmly on the shoulders of the NRP. But the report also sparked lingering doubts on the role commercial publishers played in framing the debate.

Panel member Joanne Yatvin, then a school principal in Oregon, wrote a minority opinion that accompanied the NRP report. In an interview, she said that Reading First should not have been based on the panel̢۪s findings. "The National Reading Panel did a partial job," she said. "There were too many topics of concern and interest and traditional involvement in the teaching of literacy that were never examined."

Others noted discrepancies between the 449-page final report and a 32-page summary that most non-specialists read. For example, Elaine Garan, a literature-based theorist and professor at California State University-Fresno, noted in her 2004 book In Defense of Our Children: When Politics, Profit, and Education Collide that the NRP summary said, "Across all grade levels, systematic phonics instruction improved the ability of good readers to spell." The full report, on the other hand, said: "The effect size for spelling [for children in 2nd through 6th grade] was not statistically different from zero ... [Phonics was] not more effective than other forms of instruction in producing growth in spelling." Skeptics also noted that the summary was written in part, and promoted by, Widmeyer-Baker of Washington, D.C., the same public relations firm that represents curriculum publisher McGraw-Hill. Widmeyer-Baker also produced a video about the panel that showed students using McGraw-Hill̢۪s Open Court Reading program.

Concerns about commercialization heightened in early 2002, when ED introduced Reading First to states in a series of Reading Academies. Presenters flashed a series of slides that gave examples of programs that would meet Reading First’s requirements for core, intervention and supplemental programs. The programs highlighted included Harcourt’s Trophies, Houghton Mifflin Reading, and Open Court Reading — now among the most widely-used texts in Reading First schools.

Regardless of whether anyone had a financial interest in the programs cited, the academies left the impression on many in attendance that ED had endorsed such programs. In its second of its four applications for Reading First funds, Louisiana, for example, gingerly referred to some programs as being "on the USDOE list." The concerns were so widespread, in fact, that then-ED Secretary Rod Paige wrote a letter seeking to assure states and districts that there was no such list.

So, again, a tutor of George W. Bush developed a program/policy that imposed a structure on America̢۪s public schools that further complicated the practice of educating children, while funneling federal funds to the profit margins of... friends of George W. Bush.

And how does "Reading First" benefit the private sector, and Bush̢۪s profiteers? Brownstein and Hicks explain:

Despite its size—roughly $1 billion a year, $6 billion total by 2007—and ambitions, Reading First had a remarkably small staff at the department. In addition to an assistant, the program essentially consisted of two people: Director Chris Doherty and Sandi Jacobs, a senior reading specialist. Susan Neuman, a well-respected professor known for her groundbreaking research on reading difficulties among inner city students and ED’s new assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, was another visible presence in the early days of the program.

ED had designed Reading First so that the bulk of heavy lifting fell to outside corporations. In fact, Reading First may be one of the most-heavily outsourced programs in the history of the department:

*A contract for $4 million went to the American Institutes for Research of Washington, D.C., to monitor states for compliance with the program.

*Two contracts worth $14 million and $3.4 million were awarded to the RMC Research Corporation of Portsmouth, N.H., to provide technical assistance to states on Reading First. After first overseeing consultants directly, RMC ceded primary responsibility to three ED-funded regional centers located at universities in Florida, Oregon and Texas.

*An additional contract went to RMC to oversee the creation of an eight-member assessment team at the University of Oregon that reviewed 29 tests for use under Reading First.

In an interview, Neuman explained that ED did not have the scientific expertise at the department to properly oversee every aspect of the program. "Technical assistance is something the federal government never does well," said Neuman, now back at the University of Michigan. Part of the rationale may have been a distrust of Title I, a program many researchers (and more than a few department personnel) blamed for the downward slide in reading scores. When she was secretary, Neuman was fond of saying, "Title I is the Chevy, and Reading First is the Cadillac."

During these early days of the program, various department personnel met with representatives of the major publishing companies — and some of the smaller ones — to urge them to beef up their programs and to reflect a greater emphasis on SBRR. It was a clear echo of Carnine’s earlier work with NCITE. By all accounts, the meetings were informal and well-received.

One of those meetings was a lunch in Washington involving the department and representatives of Scott Foresman of Livonia, Mich., publishers of a major basal textbook. Accompanying Scott Foresman officials was Sandy Kress, a close presidential adviser and one of the architects of No Child Left Behind, who had become a lobbyist for Pearson, Inc., Scott Foresman̢۪s parent company. The meeting was unremarkable save for the appearance of two faces then-relatively unknown in the nation̢۪s capital: Ed Kame̢۪enui and Deborah Simmons, professors and longtime colleagues of Carnine at the University of Oregon. Along with Sharon Vaughn, a reading researcher at the University of Texas, the pair had just signed with Scott Foresman to produce a new basal, scheduled for release in 2007.

What a web. Publisher Scott Foresman wants a federal contract under the Education Department̢۪s billion-dollar "Reading First" program, and Scott Foresman is owned by NCS Pearson. Pearson̢۪s lobbyist is Sandy Kress, the man who drafted NCLB for the Bush administration. To connect the dots for Scott Foresman, Kress has lunch with Ed Kame̢۪enui, a former professor of Carnine, the man who developed the billion-dollar "Reading First" for Bush̢۪s Education Department. Fox, meet fox, and together, behold the unprotected henhouse.

— Mandevilla


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