Thursday, March 09, 2006

Education dollars are scarce — except for private companies with lots of pull.

This piece by Betty Brink is a real eye-opener. I just tracked it down in the FORT WORTH WEEKLY. It addresses the purchase by Dallas ISD of a reading curriculum for middle school special education children called, "Voyager," alongside an alleged ethics violation by Marsha Sonnenberg, a staff person in charge of the district's reading program. Specifically, Sonnenberg had recommended that the district buy a reading program produced by a company (SOPRIS West Educational Services) for which she was a consultant and for whom she had previously worked. Here are some pertinent quotes from this piece.

"When schools in the state of New York bought Voyager under pressure from Lyon, Big Apple public advocate Betsy Gotbaum blasted the state’s decision as one that chose what was best for a company rather than “what’s best for our children.” After observing it in the Birmingham schools for a year, University of Alabama professor Fran Perkins called Voyager’s curriculum “the best example of the worst reading program for young children” she’d ever seen.

Others see Voyager as part of a larger right-wing push to privatize public education. In the October issue of the Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, university researchers Patricia Hinchey and Karen Cadiero-Kaplan wrote that by “putting public funds into private pockets” with its blatant promotion of companies such as Voyager, the Bush administration is setting the stage for a widespread acceptance of for-profit charter schools funded by public money, a threat “not only to public education, but democracy itself.” Ultimately, the authors wrote, the No Child Left Behind initiative is designed to fail, and when it does, public school teachers will be the “scapegoats” and the private sector will become the rescuers....

And in spite of all of the millions that have poured into the district for new reading programs since 1998, reading scores for most Fort Worth students have not improved.

Larry Shaw, head of a local teachers union, noted the same trend when he commented a few years ago on the schools’ sale of “branding rights” to private companies, allowing them to put their names on auditoriums, football stadiums, and the like. When a visitor shows up on one of these campuses, Shaw said, “he better not bend over, or a Pepsi-Cola banner might be slapped across his backside....”

Entrepreneurs of every stripe, it seems, have realized in the last decade or so that schools are not just places where scholars and future presidents are made. They are places were fortunes can be made — especially with a few friends in the right places."

Check it out.


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