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Preparing to run for the Republican nomination for President in 2016, Jeb Bush resigned from all the corporate and nonprofit boards he belongs to. One of them is a for-profit firm that sells online courses to university students.
He also resigned as a paid adviser to a for-profit education company that sells online courses to public university students in exchange for a share of their tuition payments….
Bush’s financial stake in Academic Partnerships, the online education firm, has been relatively small for a millionaire — a $60,000-a-year fee and ownership of a small amount of stock, said Randy Best, the company’s founder and chief executive. Even so, Bush’s affiliation with the firm — which has contracts with schools in a half-dozen states and several foreign countries and has annual sales of $100 million — could complicate his effort to promote his record as an education reformer
The company receives up to 70 percent of the tuition some students pay to public universities, and some faculty members say it siphons money from the schools while asserting too much control over academic decisions.
Best, a Texas entrepreneur and major political donor, said his firm has increased professors’ access to online students and helped schools attract additional revenue, while Bush aides say the former governor does not have business interests related to K-12 education, which has been his policy focus.
Randy Best is a friend of the Bush family who founded a reading program called Voyager Learning, a phonics-based program that benefited handsomely from the Reading First portion of No Child Left Behind. Best eventually sold Voyager for $360 million. For more about Voyager and Reading First, read here and here. The Washington Post wrote in 2006:
Five years later, an accumulating mound of evidence from reports, interviews and program documents suggests that Reading First has had little to do with science or rigor. Instead, the billions have gone to what is effectively a pilot project for untested programs with friends in high places.
Department officials and a small group of influential contractors have strong-armed states and local districts into adopting a small group of unproved textbooks and reading programs with almost no peer-reviewed research behind them. The commercial interests behind those textbooks and programs have paid royalties and consulting fees to the key Reading First contractors, who also served as consultants for states seeking grants and chaired the panels approving the grants. Both the architect of Reading First and former education secretary Roderick R. Paige have gone to work for the owner of one of those programs, who is also a top Bush fundraiser.
The $60,000-a-year that Bush received from Best’s company was chicken-feed compared to the $1 million+ a year he received from Barclay’s bank.
No question, however, that Jeb Bush has a strong interest in digital education. In Florida, and in some other states that have heeded his advice, students must take online courses as a graduation requirement. Bush’s efforts to push digital learning in Maine were the subject of a prize-winning article for investigative journalism by Colin Woodard, called “The Profit Motive Behind Virtual Schools in Maine.”
In my book Reign of Error, I described a report produced by Jeb Bush and former Governor Bob Wise called “Digital Learning NOW!” The report, which was sponsored by major technology corporations, claimed that digital learning was key to closing the achievement gap and that it would produce greater learning and almost every good thing that could be imagined. There was no evidence for these claims. The report recommended deregulation of digital learning so that a corporation could sell its services without having to hire certified teachers or even to have a physical location in the state where they were selling their services.