Monday, March 15, 2004

More amazing things about NCLB

As I write this on Monday, I'm wondering how much the educational landscape will change with DOE's proposed changes to NCLB being announced today.

Good timing, because two news stories came out late last week which makes my list of "amazing things about NCLB that the administration don't want you to know about".

First is the Democracy Now, partial transcript available, story about the Neil Bush connection with NCLB.
    Neil Bush's company sells software to prepare students to take comprehensive tests required under "No Child Left Behind." Schools that fail the tests will face termination of federal assistance. The contracts for these test programs are very lucrative. Ignite is currently running a pilot program at a Middle School in Orlando, Florida--where Neil's brother Jeb is governor. The company hopes to sell the software throughout Florida at $30 per pupil per year.

    In mid-February, Houston school board members unanimously agreed to accept $115,000 in charitable donations that would be funneled to Ignite. The Houston Independent School District trustees had initially delayed a vote on the matter in December, saying they were concerned that Bush's Austin-based company might be benefiting from his family name. But in February, the nine board members approved the funding without discussion.
Be sure to read the transcript that follows because it depicts a brief history of the money behind this company, which he started way back in 1999. Bill Berkowitz says it comes from the Middle East, all with names that are connected with the Carlysle people such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and then there's also the Far East connection, from China, Hong Kong, and Thailand. Remember the big todo about his business trips in the Far East? Juan Gonzalez raises the question on why.
    BILL BERKOWITZ: Well, I think we can only speculate and as Peter, I think, said pretty clearly, god knows why these companies want to get involved. But this is a family that, as Kevin Phillips has written about in American Dynasty, that is so tied up with Middle East interests that it took his book and it will take several more to unravel the puzzle here. But it’s clear that Neil Bush has traded in on the family name as has his brother, Jeb, and has George W. and managed to, in this case, channel the money into Ignite. I don't know that these folks in Saudi Arabia or Dubai have any particular interest in Neil Bush or even in his expertise. As I said, they keep inviting him over there to speak at conferences. But I think it is more the question of what kind of favor they can curry with the current administration and maybe future administrations if Jeb chooses to run.

The second item is a topic that could seriously take pages to write about: how the Walton family is funding the war on public education. The Black Commentator wrote about this a couple of weeks ago. Now I just noticed on Susan Ohanian's site that USA Today, of all places, has a story out on it. Of course, the title is spun differently as Susan Ohanian points out: the Walton family is interested in 'educational reform', those code words again.
    But the Waltons' giving could soar to as much as $1 billion a year as they shift more riches to charity. How much more? John Walton, one of founder Sam Walton's four children, says the family expects to donate as much as 20% of its $100 billion in Wal-Mart stock.

    The shift could spur far-reaching education reform, say experts on philanthropy and education. "That could totally transform public education in this country. It's a mighty thumb on the scale," says Chuck Collins, co-founder of Responsible Wealth, a group critical of the influence of the megarich.
    Walton money also extends to education politics. John Walton gave $100,000 to an election campaign in 2000 to support back-to-basics education reform in San Diego.

    Walton, 57, who is leading the family's giving, says improving education could have the broadest impact on the most pressing problems. "Everything from poverty to productivity to crime to standard of living," he says.

    Allies say the family's giving is injecting competition between public and private schools that will produce better-educated children, and so reduce unemployment, crime and other social ills. "There are so many great things that can happen when someone is well-educated," says Tim Draper, a prominent Silicon Valley investor who has spent millions to promote school vouchers.

    Critics say the Waltons could do the opposite: weaken public schools by encouraging the flow of tax dollars to less-regulated charter schools and to religious and other private schools through vouchers. The prospect of the Walton billions is "alarming," says Marc Egan, head of anti-voucher efforts at the National School Boards Association.
I think we have a new code phrase here: "we need a well-educated public". Did I hear Greenspan say this also?

Why all this work? Again I go back to this article on privatizing public education, under the joint auspices of the big biz and the religious right. It is an all out war that we aren't hearing too much about.

So we had more info last week about big money behind education: the Bush/Carlyle people and the Waltons. Anybody worried?