Putting More Profit Before Education
The United States Department of Education has been rightfully drawn (but not yet quartered) in Congress for failing to prevent the kickbacks, payoffs and self-dealing recently uncovered in the student loan business. Now it turns out that the department also mismanaged the federal Reading First initiative, the cornerstone of the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires states to improve reading instruction in exchange for federal education dollars.
The failures, laid out in scalding reports by both Congress and EducationÃ¢€™s inspector general, go back to the very beginning, when the Education Department created the panels that evaluate state reading programs. Those panels were immediately hobbled by a lack of transparency and documentation Ã¢€” and especially by the departmentÃ¢€™s failure to fully enforce conflict-of-interest policies. Profit mongers who were eager to exploit ties to the program for gain were given plenty of room to do so. In a particularly egregious case, a senior Reading First official signed contracts with a textbook publisher while working for the program. He attended conferences and actually lobbied the government on one publisherÃ¢€™s behalf.
Worse still, officials at the Education Department may have known about the conflicts and ignored them. As the word got around, some state and local officials naturally assumed that the federal government was more interested in shilling for favored book publishers than in improving reading instruction for the nationÃ¢€™s children.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings claims to have revamped this troubled program and to have made the conflict-of-interest rules crystal clear. But the only way to make sure that things have actually changed is for Congress to write the new rules and procedures into law.
New York Times
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