Take the Money and Run for Office

If you’re not a regular listener to This American Life (I’m not), you still need to hear their program from last weekend, Take the Money and Run for Office.

Produced by the people behind the essential Planet Money podcast, this is a rather depressing hour about how US congress critters spend their time raising money to run for office (more time, in many cases, than on their actual jobs) and what it buys for those contributors.

That flow of money traded for influence has long since moved from the exception to the rule.

That’s our system. If a congressman went in front of a town hall meeting and said, for $5,000, I’ll sit down with anyone of you and have breakfast. You can tell me exactly how you’d like me to vote. He’d be booed off the stage.

But that’s the case for pretty much everybody in Congress. They don’t even have to say it.

I think the worst part of the hour, however, was listening to the incredible hypocrisy of John McCain, co-author of the last major piece of legislation to address campaign finance, as he whined about a situation he continues to wallow in.

Anyway, spend the time to listen and then pass it along to friends and family. If you teach US Government or American History, play it for your students and ask for their responses.

Now, I’m not naive enough to believe one public radio program is going to change anything. But it would be nice if more people paid attention to this crap instead of naively believing the old Schoolhouse Rock version of the legislative process is still the way things work.

Cronies First, Reading Second

From it’s inception, the primary focus of No Child Left Behind was supposed to be improving the reading skills of American students.

And, as part of that effort, the law required the use of “scientifically-based research” to find the methods that would best accomplish that goal.

While those were the high-minded concepts written into the legislation, things quickly went off track.

From the beginning, W and his friends at the Department of Education were pushing schools to use a system called Reading First, claiming it was the best instructional program available.

Except, according to a recent report, they didn’t have any of that “scientifically-based research” to back them up.

Children who participate in the $1-billion-a-year reading initiative at the heart of the No Child Left Behind law have not become better readers than their peers, according to a study released today by the Education Department’s research arm.

“There was no statistically significant impact on reading comprehension scores in grades one, two or three,” Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences said in a briefing with reporters.

However, there’s so much more to the Reading First story than just it being a not particularly effective (and rather expensive) instructional program.

Turns out it’s also another in the long line of “mismanagement and financial conflicts of interest” generated by the current administration to benefit it’s friends (aka contributors).

Five years later, an accumulating mound of evidence from reports, interviews and program documents suggests that Reading First has had little to do with science or rigor. Instead, the billions have gone to what is effectively a pilot project for untested programs with friends in high places.

Department officials and a small group of influential contractors have strong-armed states and local districts into adopting a small group of unproved textbooks and reading programs with almost no peer-reviewed research behind them.

The commercial interests behind those textbooks and programs have paid royalties and consulting fees to the key Reading First contractors, who also served as consultants for states seeking grants and chaired the panels approving the grants. Both the architect of Reading First and former education secretary Roderick R. Paige have gone to work for the owner of one of those programs, who is also a top Bush fundraiser.

So, we have another five billion or so paid out to friends of W with little to show for it.

But the really sad part of this latest report is that it’s just one small piece of the incredible record of educational malpractice racked up by the Department of Education and NCLB since 2003.

Leave No Scandal Behind

In an administration plagued with scandals in many different departments, why leave out Education?

The Attorney General of the State of New York testified before the House Education Committee today that the Department has basically looked the other way when it comes to the student loan industry.

Mr. Cuomo recounted instances of colleges receiving payments from lenders based on the amount students borrowed; of financial aid administrators receiving trips and other benefits from lenders; and of loan companies operating call centers on their behalf. Such relationships are not disclosed to students, said Mr. Cuomo, whose inquiry began in January.

In response to questions, he said that some of his findings could result in criminal charges.

He said there was “significant evidence” of abuse in the federal loan program. He said that a Columbia University financial aid officer now on leave had obtained stock in a federally subsidized lender which was placed on the list of loan companies recommended to students.

The Committee wants to hear from Margaret Spellings on the matter early in May.

Maybe while she’s there the committee can ask her about the “allegations of financial conflicts of interest and cronyism” with Reading First.

Also, it would be nice if someone inquired into why she seems to ignore her own department’s studies showing that many of their policies (like pushing the privatization of the public education system) are not effective, despite their stated requirements for “research based” educational programs.

I mean, how are we going to learn anything unless we ask questions?

Can You Spell ‘Corruption’?

A scorching internal review of the Bush administration’s billion-dollar-a-year reading program says the Education Department ignored the law and ethical standards to steer money how it wanted.

The government audit is unsparing in its view that the Reading First program has been beset by conflicts of interest and willful mismanagement. It suggests that the department broke the law by trying to dictate which curriculum schools must use. It also says that program review panels were stacked with people who shared the director’s views and that only favored publishers of reading curricula could get money.

Just how is that different from the policy at any other federal department being run by this administration?

education department, corruption