Friday, December 21, 2007

Bush Profiteers collect billions from NCLB - Part 1

This is the first piece of a 23 part (so far) series. Kathy Emory attended the high stakes testing conference John Lawhead and I attended in Birmingham. Al. in 2003.

All parts accessible here:


Bush Profiteers collect billions from NCLB

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 Bush’s 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 Bush’s NCLB by tapping billions of dollars in standardized testing and in "supplemental education services" funds since its passage in 2001. They’re 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 isn’t Bush himself, but advisor-turned-lobbyist Sandy Kress, the architect of Bush’s 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. She’s published and presented and given workshops and been interviewed on testing and assessment and good education practices, so she’s 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."
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, governor’s 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 Roundtable’s state-by-state strategy.
Emery quotes Gene Hickock, the under-secretary of education assigned to implement NCLB, speaking to CEOs at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference in 2003: "One of the virtues of NCLB is leverage, leverage at the state. . . at the local level . . . We don’t 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 Hickock’s 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.
It’s clear to me that the fact that its system fails millions of American kids doesn’t 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 isn’t 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 don’t learn the kinds of skills that would allow them to challenge the direction the Business Roundtable CEO’s 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 CEO’s 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 here
Dunham’s 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 Bush’s Texan education brain trust, and Bush’s 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."
Here’s a sample of the guru’s 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 Bush’s 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 didn’t measure up. Kress’s solution reflected Kress’s power in Bush’s 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 House’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, Time magazine’s James Carney wrote that Washington watchers wondered why Kress hadn’t done the same already. But Kress was a different animal altogether, Carney observed here "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 here 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."

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