December 18, 2010


The authors of the Government Accountability Office’s for-profit secret shopper investigation pulled off a statistically impressive feat in August. Let’s set aside for the moment that on Nov. 30, the government watchdog quietly revealed that its influential testimony on for-profit colleges was riddled with errors, with 16 of the 28 findings requiring revisions. More interesting is the fact that all 16 of the errors run in the same direction — casting for-profits in the worst possible light. The odds of all 16 pointing in the same direction by chance? A cool 1 in 65,536. . . . The problem is that the “we were in a hurry” defense doesn’t explain why the errors all point in the same direction — one that happens to reflect the policy preferences of the chairman of the Senate HELP committee and of administration appointees at the Department of Education. Lanny Davis, the veteran Clinton hand who has now taken to the barricades for the for-profit providers, told us Wednesday that he thinks there is an obvious distinction between “gross incompetence” and “setting out to deceive” — and that the original GAO report crosses the line.

Is it a coincidence that the for-profit education sector isn’t very unionized? Plus, from the comments: “Public schools take as much tax payer money as for profits, they just take it from all of us, whether we are in school or not, AND we never see the waste. Let’s take that same hidden camera into some public schools, where some are more concerned about their break or day off than this so-called quality education.” Yes, the traditional education sector has its own problems, but it hasn’t been targeted the same way.

UPDATE: Reader Robert Crawford writes: “I’ve noticed NPR running hit pieces on for-profit colleges the last 6 months or so.” Messaging!

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