Some conservatives imagine that destroying public education and replacing it with private, for-profit programs will lead to an educational utopia of outstanding results, happy students, and saved money. Shane Hedges, formerly of the Martz Administration and currently the president of Envision EMI, a direct marketing education firm that runs markets various profitable educational programs to parents has offered up a useful reminder that for-profit schools might just be more interested in profit than schooling.
In a story that is breaking all over the nation, it seems that a Hedges-led company gave some students a truly horrible educational experience in a recent trip to the Inauguration in Washington. Despite the promise of VIP treatment and an unmatched educational experience during the historic week, parents are describing their children not receiving food, rest, access to events, or even proper supervision. A blog created by parents (isn’t the 21st century great?) demonstrates just how poorly run this educational experience was. Parents Tom and Gina Walsh detail an experience that seems worth somewhat less than $2,500:
Logan’s once-in-a-lifetime experience included broken promises, disappointing activities, no historic or cultural sight seeing, lack of supervision, sleep deprivation, an exhaustive schedule, boxed meals, fraudulent solicitation and most of all a disheartened spirit. Your organization is responsible for the abuse, neglect and endangerment of our son.
Staffers at the event make it clear that event was much more focused on profitability than student welfare. A worker for the event posted a lengthy description of his experience before the leaving the company midway through the week:
Other high-end meals the students paid for included cold Domino’s Pizza and boxed lunches that did not cater to the dietary-needs population as promised. I realize that this aspect of the conference isn’t noteworthy or tragic, but I’m including it because it illustrates the larger injustice here. When one of my apologetic young students asked why there weren’t enough vegetarian sandwiches, my director told me just to “Make a game out if it.” By chance is the title of that game, “Name that Scam?” Or perhaps, “Are you smarter than a seventh grader whose parents have just been royally screwed out of three grand in the name of American history?”
Envision EMI is classic scam. It sends out hundreds of thousands of letters (addresses purchased from companies like the College Board) telling parents their children have been selected for a prestigious program, offers ‘educational experiences’, and fails to deliver. A former employee of the corporation makes it clear that the company is just interested in profits and marketing, not “scholars”:
They do aggressive marketing campaigns, that many times resulted in 300K “prestigious” students being mailed for 200-300 person programs. Their ‘nomination invitations’ convince innocent teachers to give out student names. Then they purchase the remaining student names from the College Board; where they target A-level students. No one is EVER hand-selected. Envision use the same software company that AARP does to profile and target students & teachers.
These invitations you receive have been highly crafted and tested to see what language will yield more students.
It’s easy for conservatives to demonize unions and education professionals, because they can compare their Randian, utopian fantasy with the reality of day-to-day education. Anyone who believes that making education more corporate and profit-driven will benefit students needs to read about this program and others like it, and ask if we really want to let profit margins drive education policy.