Education

Shane Hedges Makes the Case Against Privatizing Education

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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.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

25 Comments

  • Great to have an update on good old Shane’s career. What’s an organization like this doing with a convicted felon as president? But there is a bright side — at least Shane didn’t get liquored up, load the kids in a bus and take ’em on a drive on Skyline Drive!

  • There are private schools around the country that hire people who haven’t even obtained a degree. Granted, some people are amazing and don’t necessarily need a degree but they need some sort of reputability.

    This whole profitable education thing is a joke. Considering that most people in the US can’t afford it, the only thing it would do would widen the gap between rich and poor – not necessarily increase brilliant minds. I personally think that I had an amazing education from a public school in small-town Montana, where teacher wages are some of the lowest in the nation. Parents should choose schools where teachers love their job instead of schools where teachers love their money.

  • As much fun as it is to beat up on Hedges for being the numbnuts that he is I have to step in and defend Envision a little bit. I cut my teeth in education working for the CYLC. Any employee with a brain would realize that the company is making a whole lot of money and the faculty was not getting much. We are not talking about education here; people don’t go to a CYLC program in lieu of taking a government class in high school. CYLC provides an academic experience for students who want to come to DC, meet their Senators and Representatives, get on the floor of the House, hear and ask questions to executive branch experts, simulate crisis situations as cabinet, participate in mock supreme court trials etc. etc. etc. What is wrong with that again?
    Now granted I never work in their inaugural program. I was in DC though on the 20th and ran into a big group of Envision kids and none of them either seemed too put out or having a terrible time. Taking 15,000 kids around DC must have been a nightmare that week, remember that in 2005 400,000 people attended the 2nd Bush inaugural. How well could anyone have anticipated that 3 million people would be in the city and that the federal government was going to bungle the security so bad?
    I must have instructed 500 plus students in my short time with Envision and I believe that I provided them with a solid, educational, challenging week in DC. A week that their local school districts would have had a very hard time providing.

  • I really encourage you to look at the parent blog and the copious news coverage about this issue. As much as Envision would like to blame the size of the crowds, it’s clear that they put profit ahead of the experience (and even the safety) of the kids in their charge.

  • I do mean to be clear that my concern is less about the public/private distinction than they profit/non-profit one. I should have been more clear in my title and post.

  • Copious news coverage…please.

    Yes I have read the parent blog, come on Pogie you love those parachute parents who land out of nowhere to carry the water for their kids when they don’t get into your AP class or get a 93. The best are the comments from on the Washington Post story about this. Its hard not to laugh about outraged parents of the University students had to navigate the city without the aid of a map! The horror!

    If memory serves me well Envision did their first inaugural in 1984 so I think they had a little experience doing this. If there is a story here it is in the rapid growth Envision has seen since the arrival of Hedges. They used to be DC experiences alone, now they run courses world wide from medical conferences to international trips. I know you want to link this up to some huge Hedges, school vouchers, private school, anti-union, Ed Butcher, evil textbook company cabal but I’m not really buying it.

    And like I said I spent a couple of minutes speaking to a whole boatload of kids on Independence and 12th on Inauguration day and they had nothing but good things to say.

  • I worked as a Faculty Advisor for two Envision programs. I have to say that a tragic underestimation in how unprecedented and popular an event the 2009 inauguration was, and agreeably some definite overreaching in this one program on what students could expect on this one program where a mistake that extremely disappointed a large number of students but out of the several hundred students I personally worked with in other programs I can think of fewer than ten cases of disappointed students or parents and some of those where parents who expected their child to meet the president. I would say 97% plus were satisfied and I had at least 5 or 6 parents come up to me each week as my group of 12-13 students departed and thanked me for my work, asked how we were able to do so much in one week, and commented on how much of an impact they could already observe in their child's life. I specialized in "Scholar relations" working often with students who were having a difficult time, most often being homesick and away from home for the first time. On a rare occasion it would be bad enough that the child, the parents, and myself would decide to send the student home (even in these cases the growth of the student from going through this experience was beneficial and I'd see them sometimes come back the next year) On most cases though..students who were crying because they wanted to go home early in the week were the same students crying because they didn't want the program to end. Your blog post is very one sided and only detours parents from opening their minds to what is truly a great experience and program I would be more than happy to discuss my experiences with you for future writings or maybe even your writing of an update on how Envision has worked to make things right. We all make mistakes but the fact that 95% of the participants in the problem program were alumni of another program has got to be evidence of their ability to provide a meaningful and worthwhile experience for the asking price (by the way, I don't have the figures, but I saw a lot of lower income students who wanted to thank me for envision helping them financially, honestly I don't know how they were helped but they were).

    I'm not much of a politico and when I am I lean to the left and even worked for the Montana Democratic Party once but Shane Hedges made a personal mistake that cost the life of his best friend. He paid the legal price, the victims family forgave him, and Shane has to live with that every day and does. He voluntarily shares his story as an example of what not to do to groups of kids. By the looks of the other headlines in this blog you should not target this organization because Shanes political beliefs are different than yours and your other commenters should remember that someday a friend, a loved one, or they themselves may be in the same situation and they may need the hope that someday they too can be forgiven.

  • This is simply a slick Direct Mail Marketing campaign for a summer camp in D.C. My son just got the letter from NYLC, which is CYLC.org, which is Envision EMI, which is simply a direct-mail marketing company for a slew of summer camps.

    Services will be rendered, so you can’t technically call it a scam. Your kids might even enjoy it. However, this does not mean you aren’t being fleeced. Congratulations…we are going to tell you your kid is smart and has leadership skills…and you get to send us a fat check! You can call your child a ‘National Scholar’ (this means nothing). Universities do not consider these camps as real honors or achievements. You can’t buy those.

    Your child may be special, but it isn’t because they received this very non-selective offer. Names and addresses are purchased from lists or obtained from referrals. If your child took a PSAT or SAT their contact info was purchased by this company. There are too many legitimate camps out there that will not try to misrepresent themselves like this one. Even some of the politicians listed in their literature as ‘honorary advisers’ are miffed at being used in this marketing ploy. Imagine that!

    They want your kid to open this envelope to whip up their naive excitement. Gosh, how could you say no to such an opportunity, mom? They are preying on your parental pride, folks.

    I know the EMI people will hate this post; will try to rebuttal with their many alias posts; claim such a wonderful experience for their child. I have nothing to gain from this, only the satisfaction of providing you a heads up. You’ve worked too hard for your money and your children to bite on this phony honor. I have an insider perspective as a marketing executive; direct mail is part of my lifeblood. This kind of manipulation is simply unethical.

    Also, always ‘Google’ prior to your large purchases. You will find others who have gone before you with wisdom to share…peace.

    This has been a public service announcement.

  • Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having a tough time locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an email. I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it expand over time.

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