This is a long one. For those of you that follow the news, this is probably something you heard about when it happened. I tend to drink heavily and blackout for several days at a time, and so when I came to my senses and discovered that the Bush Administration had paid African-American conservative Armstrong Williams to promote the No Child Left Behind education hoax, I can't say I was surprised.
Mr. Williams posted an apology online here, where he explains that in retrospect, it is a conflict of interest to write an opinion about a government policy, while not revealing to your audience that you are being paid big bucks to promote said policy. Williams hosted radio and TV shows, and wrote columns for conservative websites. I'm not sure what you think, but this is the very definition of propaganda. The company in charge of syndicating Williams' programming, Tribune Media Services, terminated it's contract with Williams after discovering that he had received somewhere in the neighborhood of $240,000 for his promotion work.
I'm not so naive to believe that this is the first time that this has ever occurred in politics. I wouldn't even be so ridiculous as to imply that Democrats haven't resorted to this sort of media manipulation in the past. But, Williams got busted, probably because No Child Left Behind is such a piece of garbage, that it automatically raises suspicion when someone promotes it. It's like the guy that comes up to you in the parking lot at Target and wants to sell you car speakers out of the back of his van. It raises more than a few questions about the quality of the product.
Why would the Bush Administration pay someone almost a quarter of a million bucks to promote No Child Left Behind (NCLB)? The administration needed street credibility for its patchwork policy. To understand why NCLB is such a piece of crap, it's important to understand what NCLB does. If you want details, the Department of Education website has an overview that borders on propaganda, but at least will give you an idea about how the Bush Administration is trying to sell its policy.
The Reader's Digest version is this: NCLB is a federal mandate that provides funding, creates standards for school performance based on Math and Reading scores, rates schools based on their performance in those areas, and allows families more choices if their children attend an underperforming school. Sounds pretty innocuous, even a little bit like real education reform. But, my statement is an example of the beauty of NCLB. It sounds like a wonderful policy, but as many have pointed out before, the devil is in the details.
Funding is a big issue with this policy. Overall, NCLB does increase funding for education, something the Bush Administration points out anytime someone questions their dedication to Education. The problem, however, is not increased funding or lack thereof, but where the money ends up and how it is divided that creates the biggest problems.
For example, NCLB mandates that students should be given the opportunity to receive their education through a Charter school, Faith-based school or another higher achieving public school, if their school is underperforming. NCLB doesn't do anything to address why the school was underperforming, and even diverts funding away from poorer performing schools. So you've got funding being diverted away from poorer performing schools, which doesn't address the performance problem, and in fact, just shifts the students who can't read or do math to a school where the students are performing better, which would likely result in overcrowding, lack of funding, and poorer performance at the good school.
Real education reform should address the problems that cause schools to be underperforming in the first place, rather than endorsing a strategy of abandonment and shifting the problems to schools where performance is good. Educational achievement is a complex issue, and can be affected by poverty, parental involvement and education level. NCLB does nothing to address these issues, and there is no evidence to support the idea that moving students from a poor performing school to one where students are performing up to government standards will make them better readers or better at math. The negative impact of moving poorer performing students into a high performing school has also not been adequately evaluated.
NCLB focuses its assessment of schools solely on Reading and Math scores, and doesn't provide enough funding for mandates such as Teacher Improvement and the overcrowding that can result from NCLB's Choice initiatives. Instead of fixing the problems with the Education system, NCLB shifts the current problems and creates new problems in the process. It's simply bad policy. The only comparison I can make is an environmental policy that simply moves pollution from one place to another, rather than cleaning it up. We have plenty of those already, thanks to the Bush Administration.
So, if it's such a bad policy, then why does the Bush Administration promote it so fervently? Much like Bush's relaxation of many environmental regulations, profits and capital gains are at stake, as they are with any of Bush's domestic or foreign policies. Think about Bush's solutions to these problems: Social Security? Privatize it with savings accounts. Medicare? Privatize prescription drug benefits for Seniors. The War In Iraq? Sponsored by Halliburton. Homeland Security? Focus funding an efforts on privatization of airport security, border patrol to follow. Tax Policy? Tax cuts on dividends for the richest Americans, tell the poor to appreciate their $300. Education? Allow public funds to be diverted to franchised charter schools. See a pattern here? Regardless of how bad the policy is, and what affects those policies will have on the general public, heaping money into the private sector is Bush's favorite thing to do. And why wouldn't it be? The private sector paid for him to be elected.
That's why they paid Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote it on his conservative radio and TV programs. If the NCLB policy was worth a damn, you wouldn't need to pay someone to promote it. No one ever had to pay a political pundit to promote The GI Bill, Americorps, The Clean Water Act, or a whole host of other successful government programs. Stories like this one show the sad state of what the Bush Administration is willing to do to make it's policies seem legitimate. And to think, that $240,000 could have gone towards Education reform, Tsunami Relief, or a REALLY bitchin' inauguration party. I bet they could have lured the Spice Girls out of retirement with that sort of cash.