A report from the Department of Education’s Inspector General says the government broke the law in how it promoted particular programs through its Reading First program. The director of that program:
repeatedly used his influence to steer money toward states that used a reading approach he favored, called Direct Instruction, or DI. In one case, the report says, he was told a review panel was stacked with people who backed that program.
“That’s the funniest part _ yes!” he responded in e‑mail dating to 2002. “You know the line from Casablanca, ‘I am SHOCKED that there is gambling going on in this establishment!’ Well, ‘I am SHOCKED that there are pro-DI people on this panel!’ ”
While this may seem obscure, you may recall that George W. Bush himself is transfixed by this approach. On September 11, 2001, he sat and waited until a classroom finished reading “The Pet Goat,” from an instruction book that uses this same approach. The New Yorker reviewed the system a few years back.
D.I.‘s fortunes began to change in 2001, when Bush introduced his No Child Left Behind legislation, which mandated that only “scientifically based” educational programs be eligible for federal funding. And here’s where Michael Moore missed an opportunity. No Child Left Behind has meant big profits for the publisher of the D.I. curricula, McGraw-Hill. So it’s easy to imagine one of Moore’s hallmark montages, spinning circumstantial evidence into a conspirational web: a sepia-toned photograph from the thirties of, say, Prescott Bush and James McGraw, Jr., palling around on Florida’s Jupiter Island; a film clip from the eighties of Harold McGraw, Jr., joining the advisory panel of Barbara Bush’s literacy foundation; Harold McGraw III posing with President George W. Bush as part of his transition team; and, to tie it all together, former McGraw-Hill executive vice-president John Negroponte being sworn in as the new Ambassador to Iraq.
The program leaves no room for teachers to innovate. Every word of a lesson is scripted for the teacher. As such, it’s unpopular with teachers, and researchers are divided over the effectiveness of the system.
The ranking Democratic member of the House committee, George Miller, responded to the revelation:
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. 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.
The director himself recently ended his service, but others involved continue to direct national educational policy (to the extent that such a thing exists).