The Department of Education’s inspector general has told a watchdog group that his office will examine whether school districts in three states have improperly used funds under the No Child Left Behind Act to purchase educational technology from a company headed by Neil Bush, a brother of President Bush.
Inspector General John P. Higgins Jr., in an Oct. 31 letter to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, said an assistant inspector general in his office would review information the watchdog group had submitted and would “take appropriate action.”
In September, CREW requested a federal audit of districts’ purchases of the products of Austin, Texas-based Ignite! Learning, arguing that the materials have not undergone peer-reviewed, scientifically rigorous studies and thus do not meet standards set by the education law. The 16 districts cited in CREW’s materials are in Florida, Nevada, and Texas.
Mr. Bush, the chairman and chief executive of Ignite! Learning, has been accused by some critics of using family connections to increase the sales of the company’s main product, Curriculum on Wheels, or COW—a projection device that is loaded with educational media covering middle school social studies curricula and, more recently, mathematics and science.
Some charge that COW, which the company says is used in public schools in 22 states, is too expensive and has no research supporting the claim that it increases student learning. A social studies COW costs $3,800 apiece, plus $1,000 in additional annual license fees.
Neil Bush, in an interview last week, said that Ignite! Learning does not claim that COW is backed by scientifically rigorous research, and that the question of whether the curriculum materials are too expensive is a matter for the marketplace.
“If I were to try to benefit from my brother’s education initiative, why wouldn’t I have started with literacy as a product, targeting the sweet spot of funding of No Child Left Behind?” Mr. Bush said. “We started with social studies—middle school social studies—the stepchild of curriculum development.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 14, 2007 edition of Education Week