In Part 5, found here http://www.dailykos.com/... , we found evidence for the argument that Sandy Kress’s "No Child Left Behind" was never about giving kids an even chance, or at least guaranteeing that no kid got left behind. Instead, it appears that his rewrite of Lyndon Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act was always, from beginning to end, about diverting public funds to private enterprise, about letting big business circumvent federal anti-discrimination laws, about blurring the legal boundaries separating public schools and private or parochial schools – churches themselves, for that matter – or, in short, about making a profit. That perspective would explain the former White House senior education advisor’s turn from public servant to corporate lobbyist, having crafted George W. Bush’s signature education plan and now guiding his employers to the many spigots flowing with federal funds from it.
That funding now lines the pockets of several large corporations and their lobbyists, particularly those corporations specializing in standardized testing and in "supplemental education services," the same ones now lining up to expand their profit margins during the next six years, as NCLB is being re-authorized by this Congress.
While Bush’s longtime friends like Sandy Kress and Harold McGraw have made a killing from the implementation of Bush-Kress’s "No Child Left Behind," they’re not the only ones, by a long shot. The story of NCLB’s most amazing success story didn’t begin in any school building, anywhere in America; it began with the failure of the Silverado Savings and Loan of Denver, Colorado, in 1988.
(To review the series from the beginning, click here http://www.dailykos.com/... )
The Associated Press caught onto the story in Florida in October, 2002, not a full year after Bush signed Kress’s plan into law. It wrote, "A software company run by Neil Bush, a younger brother of Gov. Jeb Bush, hopes to sell a program to Florida schools that students would use to prepare for the test that is key to the governor's education policy. Texas-based Ignite Inc. makes software being used in a pilot program at an Orlando-area middle school to help students prepare for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which the governor has championed as a yardstick for school performance."
Neil Bush? "Ignite"? Since when did any of the Bush brothers have expertise in teaching or learning, or running a business successfully? And among the various Bush brothers, wasn’t Neil the one voted "least likely to succeed" at the family reunion?
The AP wrote here http://www.hereinreality.com/... , "...Ignite soon hopes to sell its early American history course to other Florida schools, at a cost of $30 a year per student. Ignite spokeswoman Louise Thacker denied the company had an unfair advantage because Bush, its founder and CEO, is a brother of Florida's governor."
But here’s the real scoop that no one would come to appreciate for a little while longer: "Gov. Bush's use of the FCAT complies with a law supported by another brother - President George W. Bush. The president's ‘Leave No Child Behind’ law forces states to use testing as a measuring stick for schools."
Democratic Party spokesman Ryan Banfill told the AP that Ignite’s marketing campaign looked strange in light of Florida’s school funding troubles at the time. "I don't know where the money's going to come from for this. These districts are hard pressed to pay for chalk, let alone to put money in the pocket of the Bush family."
That AP story included the following note on Brother Neil’s trip through the banking business, just this paltry little summary: "Neil Bush gained notoriety as director of the Silverado Savings & Loan in Colorado, whose failure cost taxpayers $1 billion and led to a grand jury investigation during the term of his father, President George H.W. Bush. Neil Bush was never charged."
But a year later, Washington Post reporter Peter Carlson put meat on those bones here http://www.washingtonpost.com/... , describing "the relatively charmed life of Neil Bush."
Carlson reminded readers of Silverado’s billion-dollar price tag to American taxpayers, and advised us of new developments in Brother Neil’s life: "Now Bush has embarrassed his brother George W. Bush with a made-for-the-tabloids divorce that featured paternity rumors, a defamation suit and, believe it or not, allegations of voodoo."
I’d love to reprint the whole story – it makes really great reading for entertainment – but there’s ground to cover so I’ll re-recommend the link http://www.washingtonpost.com/... instead.
Carlson tried to talk with White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan, and Poppy Bush and Barbara, and Neil’s brothers AND his ex-wife, but none of them – not one – would answer questions. Best he got from any of them was a "curt ‘no comment’" from Buchan at the White House. But Brother Neil himself would answer questions by email, so long as they weren’t about his divorce. Told Carlson he was "too involved with Ignite!, his educational software company, to pay much attention to media coverage of his misadventures."
"Seriously, I'm too busy being a good father and promoting Ignite! to worry about that kind of thing," wrote the good father to the Washington Post reporter.
So here’s a little bit about what’s consuming Brother Neil’s time nowadays:
For the last several years, Bush's main business interest has been Ignite!, the educational software company he co-founded in 1999. To fund Ignite!, Bush has raised $23 million from U.S. investors (including his parents), as well as businessmen from Taiwan, Japan, Kuwait, the British Virgin Islands and the United Arab Emirates, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Last year, Ignite! also entered into a partnership with a Mexican company, Grupo Carso Telecom. The partnership enabled Ignite! to lay off half of its 70 employees and outsource their jobs to Mexico.
"That's turned out to be great," says Ignite! President Ken Leonard.
But Ignite!, which pays Bush $180,000 a year, is not his only business interest. Last year, Winston Wong -- a Taiwanese businessman and an investor in Ignite! -- signed Bush to that $2 million consulting deal with Grace Semiconductor, the company that Wong founded in partnership with the Chinese government. Bush has not yet received any compensation because the contract calls for him to be paid after board meetings and, he said by e-mail, "I was unable to attend their one and only board meeting."
A spokesman for Grace declined to comment.
At least one renowned historian who wrote a book on the Bush "dynasty" – which does include Brother Neil – said that the youngest of Poppy and Barbara’s children might not have stumbled into such great luck in life if his last name had been Smith, for instance.
Historian and author Kevin Phillips said Brother Neil is "incorrigible. He seems to be crawling through the underbelly of crony capitalism."
Of course, Brother Neil denied that. He earned all of his riches the old fashioned way: inheritance of a wealthy family name, and a vast network of family friends willing to invest in his salary to keep their lucrative associations with that family. Or, as he put it, "I have never used my family name to 'cash-in.' Unfortunately, such ridiculous charges come with the territory of coming from a famous and public family."
And then, inexplicably, he tossed this grenade at public schools: "We create these prisonlike environments, then we take our hunter-warrior types and label them attention-deficit disordered and put them on drugs."
"Hunter-warrior types"? What would a practicing psychologist suggest about this comment? Is it plausible that Brother Neil, when reviewing the floating detritus of his life, laments that he was a misunderstood "hunter-warrior" in a post-Industrial-Revolution world? That he was a rebel-with-a-trust-fund, unhelmeted Johnny on a motorbike in a land of four-tired cars, footloose and fancy-free in a zipped-up, buttoned-down America? That if only social conventions like "school" had been tailored to suit his "hunter-warrior" instincts, he might’ve thrived, might even have become President of the United States like Poppy and Brother George? Or even Governor of a Big State like Brother Jeb? Or, that if only the social convention of "banking" hadn’t been so hung up on "rules" and "regulations," then Silverado Savings and Loan might not’ve cost Americans more than billion dollars? O, Brother Neil.
This is who was allowed to speak, in 2002, to one of the best public schools in American, Whitney High School in Cerritos, California. Not as an experiment subject to be observed by Whitney’s best and the brightest, mind you, but as a featured speaker, imparting his wisdom to those very best and brightest. He brought Ignite to them, wrote Carlson.
"Ignite! is designed, Bush said, to make learning fun for ‘hunter-warrior’ kids who don't like reading. It's a computer curriculum that uses music, graphics and animation to teach middle school kids. The program's first course -- eighth-grade American history -- was tested over the last two years in schools in a dozen states. Available commercially for the first time this year, it is being used by about 40,000 students in 120 school districts, mostly in Texas, at a cost of about $30 per pupil," Carlson explained.
Educators have their own perspective on Brother Neil’s animation software; they told Carlson it’s "dumbing down history."
Consider this example:
Among its controversial aspects is a lesson that depicts the Seminole Wars in a cartoon football game -- "the Jacksons vs. the Seminoles" -- the animated Indians smashing helmets with animated white settlers. The Constitutional Convention is taught in a rap song:
It was 55 delegates from 12 states
Took one hot Philadelphia summer to create
A perfect document for their imperfect times
Franklin, Madison, Washington -- a lot of the cats
Who used to be in the Continental Congress way back.
One can imagine the rimshot. At least, one hopes for the rimshot.
Brother Neil told Carlson by email that Ignite is "working well," saying, "Teachers and students have given anecdotal feedback that confirms the powerful impact our program is having on student achievement, student focus and attitudes, and teacher success in reaching all of their students."
Students at Whitney didn’t agree with those unnamed fans of Brother Neil’s Ignite. Instead, they felt "pretty strongly that what this was about was lowering the bar," one observer told Carlson, adding, "There was a lot of rhyming and games. It reminded me of what my son uses -- but he's in kindergarten."
And then there’s this:
When Bush spoke at Whitney, several students began arguing with him.
"He was very surprised," Humes recalls. "You had to see the look on his face when one young woman got up and said she liked calculus. He said it was useless. This is the branch of mathematics that makes space travel possible, and he said it was useless."
If Brother Neil says calculus is useless, then it must be useless – at least to all those "hunter-warrior" types out there who don’t have a use for space travel.
Special thanks, by the way, to PamInDurham, who discussed Brother Neil here http://www.dailykos.com/... in January, 2005, and to Carolyn, who covered him here http://www.dailykos.com/... a month later. I especially enjoyed these bits of Carolyn’s report:
...From the Tampa Tribune on Nov. 1, 2002:
"The Miami Herald reported this week that the family financial genius Neil Bush, who runs a Texas software company called Ignite Inc., is trying to position himself to sell a computer program designed to help Florida's public school students pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Perhaps Neil might have a computer program designed to help him understand the concept of nepotism. Or cronyism, too. One of Ignite's board members is Mike Eason, formerly the top technology officer for the Florida Department of Education. Yeah, he probably got the job because he always brings fresh Danish to directors' meetings."
...also from the Tribune...
"With 1.5 million students taking the FCAT last year, Ignite could be looking at a windfall of as much $45 million in business from the state. That certainly would be a reversal of fortune for Neil Bush, who is best remembered for his involvement in the failed Silverado Savings & Loan in Colorado - a textbook case of how not to run a financial institution even if your Pop-Pop is the president of the United States. Silverado cost the taxpayers $1 billion to bail out, which you would think might have chastened Neil Bush from further consideration to feed at the public trough."
And then I read in the Financial Times (London, England) from December 12, 2003, an article explaining that one of the investors in Ignite! software is Syrian American businessman, Jamal Daniel.
"Mr Daniel started cultivating his relationship with the Bush family at about the time that Neil was caught up in the Silverado scandal and facing a lawsuit, according to a US businessman who knows him. Mr Bush denied any wrongdoing but was reprimanded by federal regulators and paid Dollars 50,000 in a court settlement.
Another person, a Jordanian lawyer who works on international business transactions in the Middle East, describes Mr Daniel as "a wheeler-dealer, somebody who uses the name of the Bush family to get business and to encourage people to do business with him".
Working closely with Mr Bush and Mr Daniel has been a third man: John Howland, a Houston businessman whose companies have suffered bankruptcy and who, on one occasion, was alleged by the owner of a company he ran of self-dealing and of misusing company funds - an allegation he denies. The three have worked together at Crest, where Mr Howland acted as executive vice-president.
Mr Bush, Mr Howland and Mr Daniel have also been directors of a Swiss company called Silvermat, a financially troubled subsidiary of Crest that was set up in 2000 to supply the hospitality industry. Mr Howland is listed as the chairman of Silvermat and Mr Bush and Mr Daniel as having retired from the board.
There is evidence that Mr Bush has received financing and contacts for his personal business ventures from Mr Daniel. Crest's company secretary, Joseph Peacock - a man involved in many of Mr Daniel's other companies - was listed as one of the original investors in Ignite!, Mr Bush's educational software company.
According to a businessman in the Middle East, Mr Daniel sometimes introduces himself as one of the founding members of Ignite! and has lobbied potential investors on Neil Bush's behalf. Mr Bush went on a Middle East trip in early 2002 to seek contributions for his company. He has successfully secured funds from people connected to at least three ruling families in the Middle East."
And this post http://www.dailykos.com/... by Clammyc on October 6, 2006, may have inspired Los Angeles Times reporter Walter Roche to explore Brother Neil’s "hunter-warrior" wisdom a bit further. Clammyc highlighted a report from the office of Inspector General that "blasted the Department of Education for breaking the law in favoring inferior products from Bush administration supporters as well as not following a number of laws regarding NCLB. And now, we find out that Neil Bush's educational software company, Ignite! Inc. will receive around $5,000,000 in 2006 ALONE. And how good is his software at providing students with the essential skills to actually learn and be competitive with other countries?"
"Never mind the fact that Neil has been an absolute failure at pretty much everything he has touched (much like older brother Georgie), but has gotten untold millions for his failures. And never mind that, according to a recent essay on Neil Bush and Ignite!, the software does little more than: Based off of federal mandates for standardized tests in the No Child Left Behind Act, Ignite! delivers custom edu-tainment animations that teach to the specific standardized tests," Clammyc wrote, adding, "...this is the way that the Bush family intends to leave no child behind. By bilking them of federal funds for real, honest learning materials, like good books and better teachers, and installing cheap web-cartoon-players in the classroom, which dole out dumbed-down edu-nuggets, sent from the central HQ."
Clammyc finds that much of Brother Neil’s profits in 2006 come from Texas: "Bush's Ignite! Inc. has sold 1,700 COWs since 2005, mainly in Texas, where Bush lives and his brother was once governor. In August, Houston's school board authorized expenditures of up to $200,000 for COWs. The company expects 2006 revenue of $5 million. Says Bush about the impact of his name: "I'm not saying it hasn't opened any doors. It may have helped with some sales." (In September, the U.S. Education Dept.'s inspector general accused the agency of improperly favoring at least five publishers)."
COWs? I’ll let L.A. Times reporter Walter Roche explain what a COW is.
"Known as COW, for Curriculum on Wheels (the portable learning centers resemble cows on wheels), Ignite's product line is geared toward middle school social studies, history and science. The company says it has developed a social studies program that meets curriculum requirements in seven states. Its science program meets requirements in six states," Roche writes here http://www.commondreams.org/... .
So Brother Neil collects millions of dollars in profit from selling rolling carts with film projectors on them, and software full of animation that dumbs American history so far down that it only qualifies as meeting curriculum requirements in six states. And one of those states is Texas. Why does this feel like an episode of the Twilight Zone?
But that wasn’t the point of Roche’s article; this was: "A company headed by President Bush's brother and partly owned by his parents is benefiting from Republican connections and federal dollars targeted for economically disadvantaged students under the No Child Left Behind Act. With investments from his parents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, and other backers, Neil Bush's company, Ignite! Learning, has placed its products in 40 U.S. school districts and now plans to market internationally. At least 13 U.S. school districts have used federal funds available through the president's signature education reform, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, to buy Ignite's portable learning centers at $3,800 apiece."
Brother Neil, the "hunter-warrior," felt comfortable telling Roche via email, "As our business matures in the USA we have plans to expand overseas and to work with many distinguished individuals in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Not one of these associates by the way has ever asked for any access to either of my political brothers, not one White House tour, not one autographed photo, and not one Lincoln bedroom overnight stay."
A practicing psychologist might say that Brother Neil was attempting to both separate his identity from those of his more successful family members and their networks of associates, and to establish himself as independently successful. I would say he hasn’t accomplished either, but I’m not a practicing psychologist.
Independently successful? Roche writes, "In addition to federal or state funds, foundations and corporations have helped buy Ignite products. The Washington Times Foundation, backed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, head of the South Korea-based Unification Church, has peppered classrooms throughout Virginia with Ignite's COWs under a $1-million grant. Oil companies and Middle East interests with long political ties to the Bush family have made similar bequests. Aramco Services Co., an arm of the Saudi-owned oil company, has donated COWs to schools, as have Apache Corp., BP and Shell Oil Co. Neil Bush said he is a businessman who does not attempt to exert political influence, and he called The Times' inquiries about his venture — made just before the election — ‘entirely political’."
An identity separated from his more successful family members and their networks of associates? Roche knocks that one down too: "Bush's parents joined Neil as Ignite investors in 1999, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission documents. By 2003, the records show, Neil Bush had raised about $23 million from more than a dozen outside investors, including Mohammed Al Saddah, the head of a Kuwaiti company, and Winston Wong, the head of a Chinese computer firm. Most recently he signed up Russian fugitive business tycoon Boris A. Berezovsky and Berezovsky's partner Badri Patarkatsishvili."
And this is absolutely priceless:
Barbara Bush has enthusiastically supported Ignite. In January 2004, she and Neil Bush were guests of honor at a $1,000-atable fundraiser in Oklahoma City organized by a foundation supporting the Western Heights School District. Proceeds were earmarked for the purchase of Ignite products.
The former first lady spurred controversy recently when she contributed to a Hurricane Katrina relief foundation for storm victims who had relocated to Texas. Her donation carried one stipulation: It had to be used by local schools for purchases of COWs.
That’s sweet. When nobody with common sense would buy Brother Neil’s claptraps, Mama Bear stepped in with a charitable donation to the desperately needy on the Gulf Coast, ordering them to use her charity to buy Brother Neil’s claptraps. That’s independence.
But wait! Brother Neil’s COWs are moving to new pastures, Roche reports.
"Texas accounts for 75% of Ignite's business, which is expanding rapidly in other states... The company also has COWs deployed in North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, California, the District of Columbia, Georgia and Florida... COWs recently showed up at Hill Classical Middle School in California's Long Beach Unified School District," he writes. "A San Jose middle school also bought Ignite's products but has since closed."
What? A middle school BOUGHT Brother Neil’s COWs, then closed its doors? Is there a message to be found here? Did the COWs dumb the kids into absolute intellectual regression? Were they left in a fetal position?
No matter. Brother Neil tells Roche he has more than 1,700 COWs in classrooms. There are, clearly, a lot of kids to stupefy in America, and a lot of dollars to be siphoned from real educational tools. Business is booming!
And, it has changed its educational methods, ditching the old "individualized learning approach." Who needed it?
Roche explains, "Working with artists and illustrators, it created a large purple COW that could be wheeled from classroom to classroom and plugged in, offering lessons that could be played to a roomful of students."
Ah, this one is purple! More kids will learn now than ever before.
Roche continues, "The COWs enticed students with catchy jingles and videos featuring cartoon characters like Mr. Bighead and Norman Einstein. On Ignite's website, a collection of teachers endorsed the COW, saying that it eliminated the need for lesson planning. The COW does it for them."
The COW does it FOR them! What DOESN’T the COW do?
And who loves the COW? Roche tells us:
In Houston, where Neil Bush and his parents live, the district has used various funding sources to acquire $400,000 in Ignite products. An additional $240,000 in purchases has been authorized in the last six months.
Correspondence obtained by The Times shows that Neil Bush met with top Houston officials, sent e-mails and left voice mail messages urging bigger and faster allocations. An e-mail from a school procurement official to colleagues said Bush had made it clear that he had a "good working relationship" with a school board member.
Another Ignite official asked a Texas state education official to endorse the company. In an e-mail, Neil Bush's partner Ken Leonard asked Michelle Ungurait, state director of social studies programs, to tell Houston officials her "positive impressions of our content, system and approach."
Ungurait, identified in another Leonard e-mail as "our good friend" at the state office, told her superiors in response to The Times' inquiry that she never acted on Leonard's request. Leonard said he did not ask Ungurait to do anything that would be improper. Houston school officials gave Ignite's products "high" ratings in eight categories and recommended approval.
Some in Houston's schools question the expenditures, however. Jon Dansby was teaching at Houston's Fleming Middle School when Ignite products arrived. "You can't even get basics like paper and scissors, and we went out and bought them. I just see red," he said.
In Las Vegas, the schools have approved more than $300,000 in Ignite purchases. Records show the board recommended spending $150,000 in No Child funding on Ignite products. Sources familiar with the Las Vegas purchases said pressure to buy Ignite products came from Sig Rogich, an influential local figure and prominent Republican whose fundraising of more than $200,000 for President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign qualified him as a "Bush Ranger."
Rogich, who chairs a foundation that supports local schools, said he applied no pressure but became interested in COWs after Neil Bush contacted him. Rogich donated $6,000 to purchase two COWs for a middle school named after him. Christy Falba, the former Clark County school official who oversaw the contracts, said she and her husband attended a dinner with Neil Bush to discuss the products. She said Rogich encouraged the district "to look at the Ignite program" but applied no pressure.
I have to give the last word today to Paul Vranish, superintendent of the Tornillo, Texas, Independent School District, whose district purchased $43,000 worth of Brother Neil’s Ignite COWs.
"I wouldn't advise anyone else to use it," Vranish told Roche. "Nobody wanted to use it, and the principal who bought it is no longer here."
Thus we have one more example of the creative outlets designed by Sandy Kress, the former White House senior education advisor and President George W. Bush’s personal tutor on education issues, who drafted No Child Left Behind and pushed it through Congress in 2001, and who today personally benefits from its passage.
But Kress, and longtime family friend Harold McGraw, and Brother Neil Bush are not the only ones collecting profits from NCLB.
Stay tuned for part 7.
To review our progress, click these links:
Bush Profiteers collect billions from NCLB, Part 1
Bush Profiteers collect billions from NCLB, Part 2
Bush Profiteers collect billions from NCLB, Part 3
Bush Profiteers collect billions from NCLB, Part 4
Bush Profiteers collect billions from NCLB, Part 5