Saturday, September 23, 2006

Reading Last

Bush treats his education policies just as he treats Halliburton and his oil buddies: loyal contributors and cronies get the spoils
[Steve Benen] Reading First is not just another grant program in the Department of Education. According to the cabinet agency's website, it is "the academic cornerstone of the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act." Reading First, the Department of Education has argued "is a prime example of the No Child Left Behind law's emphasis on programs and teaching methods that have been proven to work."

As the "academic cornerstone" of its education policy, the administration has funding the reading program with some enthusiasm. Over the last four years, about 1,500 school districts have received $4.8 billion in Reading First grants.

All of this matters because, as it turns out, the Bush administration ran the program the same way it does practically everything — with incompetence, corruption, and disregard for the law.

A scorching internal review of the Bush administration's 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 review of how Reading First, a billion-dollar program each year, that it says has been beset by conflicts of interest and willful mismanagement. It suggests the department broke the law by trying to dictate which curriculum schools must use.

It also depicts a program in which review panels were stacked with people who shared the director's views and in which only favored publishers of reading curricula could get money.

The Bush administration? Manipulating a multi-billion program while breaking the law? You don't say.

In one particularly amusing example, Chris Doherty, the Reading First director wrote an email to a staff member, urging the aide to come down hard on a company he didn't support. "They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the (expletive deleted) out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags," Doherty wrote.

(By the way, Doherty told a Senate committee his program did not give certain publishers preferential treatment. He was lying.)

While Bush's Department of Education insists Reading First emphasized programs that have "been proven to work," today we learned that the curriculum pushed by the agency was suspect. So, why'd Bush's cronies push it to the point of illegality? Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has an idea.

The Bush administration pushed local school districts across the country to use a reading curriculum that had been developed by a company with close political and financial ties to the administration despite concerns about the quality of the curriculum […]

"Corrupt cronies at the Department of Education wasted taxpayer dollars on an inferior reading curriculum for kids that was developed by a company headed by a Bush friend and campaign contributor," said Miller. "Instead of putting children first, they chose to put their cronies first. Enough is enough. President Bush and Secretary Spellings must take responsibility and do a wholesale housecleaning at the Education Department. […]

McGraw-Hill's Chairman and CEO, Harold McGraw III, and its Chairman Emeritus, Harold McGraw Jr., contributed a total of over $23,000 to the Republican National Committee and to President Bush's campaigns between 1999 and 2006. The Bush and McGraw families have been personally and professionally close since the 1930's, according to published reports.

Some days, I'm amazed at the degree to which the Bush administration resembles an organized crime family.

The full report:

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