Asked a series of questions about Coke’s role in the Atlanta meeting (including specific questions about how much money was involved and what it was paying for), the department’s press office responded by sending a copy of a portion of the U.S. Code that says: “The Secretary is authorized to accept, hold, administer, and utilize gifts, bequests and devises of property, both real and personal, and to accept donations of services, for the purpose of aiding or facilitating the work of the Department. Gifts, bequests, and devises of money and proceeds from sales of other property received as gifts, bequests, or devises shall be deposited in the Treasury and shall be available for disbursement upon the order of the Secretary.”More criticism of Spellings on SchoolsMatter, including a link to this brewing scandal over US Department of Education-funded reading programs:
Pressed for details, Chad Colby said that he believed Coke was paying for food for the Atlanta meeting and that the department was paying other expenses. Arrangements for the other regional meetings would each be different, he said.
Critics — most of whom did not want to be quoted by name — said that they viewed the invitations noting Coke’s role as host as further evidence of a corporate tilt by the department. They noted that the invitations were not generally available to rank and file professors and that the Spellings Commission report had a strong business orientation, but has been criticized for ignoring the liberal arts.
“The emphasis in the department’s consultations seems to be primarily on colleges and universities as training grounds for corporate America, rather than as a place for students to explore a variety of perspectives and learn to think critically for themselves,” said John W. Curtis, director of research and public policy for the American Association of University Professors, via e-mail. “This was reflected in the inclusion of corporate representatives on the secretary’s commission while faculty were largely excluded. The fact that these follow-up ’summit’ meetings are by invitation only, and appear to have some level of corporate sponsorship, only strengthens this impression.”
Charles Miller, chair of the Spellings Commission, said that the arrangements for the regional meetings were set up to make it relatively easy for people to attend and that many businesses can be helpful in this area.
Miller suggested that some academics “seem to have a problem with the word corporation” and suggested that professors should welcome more business involvement. He said that most business leaders are strong supporters of higher education. “They pay the taxes, they are on the boards, they use the graduates, they know about foreign competition,” he said.
In this context, it makes sense to look for ways to involve business leaders, he said. “It’s wrong-headed to think that the only people who can talk about the academy are the people who are in it.”
Fueled by a growing list of such complaints, the House Education and Labor Committee is looking into whether the Bush administration steered contracts to its favorite vendors, shutting out Slavin and other competitors.
And the Education Department's inspector general has asked the Justice Department to examine allegations of mismanagement and conflicts of interest that are swirling around the $6 billion federal grant program known as Reading First, a centerpiece of the five-year-old No Child Left Behind law.
Inspector General John Higgins said his office began investigating Reading First in May 2005 after receiving complaints of favoritism. He told the Education and Labor Committee that the law calls for a balanced panel of experts to review grant applications but the department had created a panel that had professional ties to a specific reading program.
Democratic Rep. George Miller of California, the committee's chairman, said three people involved in the reviewing process benefited financially - either directly or indirectly - when the panel distributed grants.
At a committee hearing April 20, three review panel members acknowledged benefiting from the sale of an assessment product called the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Learning Skills. One of the panel members was a co-author of the product, and the company in which he owned a 50 percent share had received more than $1.3 million in royalty and other payments from the sale of DIBELS. Two other review panel members were co-authors of a reading intervention product that was packaged with DIBELS, and they each had received about $150,000 in royalty payments from sales of their product.
All three denied any conflict of interest, saying they didn't review grant proposals that involved their own products. They said their products were selling because of their popularity, not because of any pressure from Washington.