• from The Columbus Dispatch - "Book Publisher's Ties to Bush a Bit Too Cozy"

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Book Publisher's Ties to Bush a Bit Too Cozy

Saturday, August 19, 2006

By William L. Bainbridge

Critics of the Bush administration have been vocal about the Bush family ties to defense contractors at a time of war and, more recently, to their ties to the price of gasoline. Few, however, have noted the close and profitable relationship with the leadership of publishing giant McGraw-Hill, which, with sales of $6 billion in 2005, produced an annualized return of 19 percent last year.

President Bush has managed to keep his family's relationship with the company alive and well - a relationship that, according to The Nation, began in the 1930s between the president's grandfather, Prescott Bush, and James McGraw Jr., great-uncle of current McGraw-Hill Chairman Harold McGraw, III.

While it is generally accepted that exchanging favors among business friends in the private sector is common, the ethics of such practices between government officials and private business interests is another matter.


  • State governments will have spent as much as $5 billion with private companies in the next two years in direct costs to develop, score and report the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind tests, which are designed to record student performance. This is the estimate from the federal Government Accountability Office. Only four companies tend to control test development: CTB, a testing division of McGraw-Hill, Texas-based Harcourt, Illinois-based-Riverside and London-based Pearson. McGraw-Hill's CTB division appears to be dominating this lucrative new industry with contracts in nearly half the states. The test publishers have spent millions with government officials and at some foundations on reforms that produce more corporate profits rather than substantive benefits for students.

  • The National Reading Panel adopted standards for a heavily scripted phonics program, favoring the Open Court series by the nation's largest phonics publisher, McGraw-Hill. The company's representatives dominated the panel and the same pubic-relations company worked on the federal plan that promoted Open Court in Texas, under then-Gov. George W. Bush. The findings were billed as "scientifically based" built on its "success" in the Houston Independent School District. This "success" has since been found to be predicated on an educational statistics scandal.

  • U.S. government speakers at conferences have been accused by education leaders of crossing an ethical line by endorsing McGraw-Hill products, including Open Court and the SRA/McGraw Hill Direct Instruction program.

  • The Association of American Publishers saw the need to send a letter to the secretary of education indicating concern that some programs were receiving explicit preference. "We request that you again clarify that there is no federally approved list, in this case for assessments, for which Reading First funds can be used," the letter said in part.

  • It was announced that Standard & Poor's, a McGraw-Hill company known for business credit ratings and risk analysis, would receive U.S. Department of Education and "nonprofit" foundation funding to build a "public-private collaboration" to report No Child Left Behind data.

  • Harold McGraw III, whose companies are major beneficiaries of federal education funds to school systems, was appointed a member of the president's transition advisory team. He also was appointed to the board of directors of ConocoPhillips, the chairmanship of the National Council on Economic Education and the Education Task Force of the Business Roundtable.

Meanwhile, two former secretaries of education received the Harold W. McGraw Prize in Education. When one considers the influence the Department of Education has over spending by school systems with educational publishers, accepting this award from a publisher raises certain ethical questions.

Some would consider these matters as examples of the help-my friends and pay-to-play culture that has been widely reported as permeating the White House. It is difficult to see how such attitudes and practices benefit children and contribute to taxpayers' efforts to support improved student performance.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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