Tags: alec, arne duncan, charter schools, chris christie, cyber charter, diane ravitch, education, gates foundation, jeb bush, koch brothers, privatization, public education, Rahm Emanuel, right wing, roger hollander, teachers, teachers' unions
Published on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 by Bridging the Difference Blog / Ed Week
What You Need To Know About ALEC
Since the 2010 elections, when Republicans took control of many states, there has been an explosion of legislation advancing privatization of public schools and stripping teachers of job protections and collective bargaining rights. Even some Democratic governors, seeing the strong rightward drift of our politics, have jumped on the right-wing bandwagon, seeking to remove any protection for academic freedom from public school teachers.
This outburst of anti-public school, anti-teacher legislation is no accident. It is the work of a shadowy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Founded in 1973, ALEC is an organization of nearly 2,000 conservative state legislators. Its hallmark is promotion of privatization and corporate interests in every sphere, not only education, but healthcare, the environment, the economy, voting laws, public safety, etc. It drafts model legislation that conservative legislators take back to their states and introduce as their own “reform” ideas. ALEC is the guiding force behind state-level efforts to privatize public education and to turn teachers into at-will employees who may be fired for any reason. The ALEC agenda is today the “reform” agenda for education.
ALEC operated largely in the dark for years, but gained notoriety because of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. It turns out that ALEC crafted the “Stand Your Ground” legislation that empowered George Zimmerman to kill an unarmed teenager with the defense that he (the shooter) felt threatened. When the bright light of publicity was shone on ALEC, a number of corporate sponsors dropped out, including McDonald’s, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Mars, Wendy’s, Intuit, Kaplan, and PepsiCo. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said that it would not halt its current grant to ALEC, but pledged not to provide new funding. ALEC has some 300 corporate sponsors, including Walmart, the Koch Brothers, and AT&T, so there’s still quite a lot of corporate support for its free-market policies. ALEC claimed that it is the victim of a campaign of intimidation.
The campaign to privatize the schools and to dismantle the teaching profession is in full swing. Where is the leadership to oppose it?
Groups like Common Cause and colorofchange.org have been putting ALEC’s model legislation online and printing the names of its sponsors. They have also published sharp criticism of ALEC’s ideas. This is hardly intimidation. It’s the democratic process at work. A website called alecexposed.org has published ALEC’s policy agenda. Common Cause posted the agenda for the meeting of ALEC on May 11 in Charlotte, N.C. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has dropped out of ALEC and also withdrawn from the May 11 conference, where it was originally going to be a presenter.
A recent article in the Newark Star-Ledger showed how closely New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “reform” legislation is modeled on ALEC’s work in education. Wherever you see states expanding vouchers, charters, and other forms of privatization, wherever you see states lowering standards for entry into the teaching profession, wherever you see states opening up new opportunities for profit-making entities, wherever you see the expansion of for-profit online charter schools, you are likely to find legislation that echoes the ALEC model.
ALEC has been leading the privatization movement for nearly 40 years, but the only thing new is the attention it is getting, and the fact that many of its ideas are now being enacted. Just last week, the Michigan House of Representatives expanded the number of cyber charters that may operate in the state, even though the academic results for such online schools are dismal.
Who is on the education task force of ALEC? The members of the task force as of July 2011 are here. Several members represent for-profit online companies, including the co-chair from Connections Academy; many members come from for-profit higher education corporations. There is someone from Jeb Bush’s foundation, as well as right-wing think tank people. There are charter school representatives, as well as Scantron. And the task force includes a long list of state legislators, from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Quite a lineup. Common Cause has asked why ALEC is considered a “charity” by the Internal Revenue Service and holds tax-exempt status, when it devotes so much time to lobbying for changes in state laws. Common Cause has filed a “whistleblower” complaint with the IRS about ALEC’s status.
The campaign to privatize the schools and to dismantle the teaching profession is in full swing. Where is the leadership to oppose it?
Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University. She is a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. She has written many books and articles about American education, including: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, (Simon & Schuster, 2000); The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf, 2003); The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (Oxford, 2006), which she edited with her son Michael Ravitch.
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School Closings Come To Atlanta This Week, To Your City Next Week: It’s Time To Dump Arne Duncan April 14, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Race.
Tags: arne duncan, atlanta schools, bruce a. dixon, charter schools, diane ravitch, katrina, roger hollander, school privatization, standardized testing
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by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
A national movement to save public education is coming to life, in the face of a decades-long bipartisan campaign to discredit, de-fund, destabilized and destroy public education. President Bush’s Education Secretary said teachers unions were terrorist organizations. Obama’s man Arne Duncan believes Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to education in New Orleans. Is it time yet to dump, and to dump on Arne Duncan?
School Closings Come To Atlanta This Week, To Your City Next Week: It’s Time To Dump Arne Duncan
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
In a pattern that has become typical across the nation, the Atlanta Public School Board voted early this morning to close 7 neighborhood schools, all in mainly black neighborhoods. Some of the proposed school closings were announced the Friday afternoon before spring break, only ten calendar days, and one business day before the meeting that would finalize their closure. Other proposed closings were announced only 3 calender days before the school board meeting. Obviously the authorities wanted to prevent neighborhood parents from mobilizing to protect their children and communities.
Like their counterparts in cities across the country, Atlanta parents, teachers and neighborhood residents pointed out that their school board seemed more devoted to the promotion of charter schools and privatization than it was to the children in public schools, and that it was doing all it could to push as many children as possible out of the public schools into charters. They reminded the board that by their own flawed standardized tests, charters performed no better than public schools, and when they did it was due to their ability to cream off the best students, rather than their willingness to teach everyone’s children.
Judging from last night’s meeting the gap between what hundreds of local parents and teachers know, believe and demand, and the picture of public education brought to us by corporate media is vast and astounding. News coverage of the meeting, and of opposition to the cuts was sparse and condescending, and grossly misrepresented the intents and motives of parents and teachers.
Like school boards across the country, Atlanta’s honchos turned a deaf ear to the children and communities they supposedly serve, even refusing to consider repurposing the empty school buildings as local community resources. In the rush to privatization, school buildings are valuable real estate prizes that can be awarded to well connected developers, and the only kind of economic development anybody has ever heard of is moving poorer people out of neighborhoods to attract richer ones in.
Atlanta is following the same script as Chicago and Philly and New York and Los Angeles and New Orleans. It’s a bipartisan agenda of standardized testing calculated not to teach children, but to furnish the grounds to brand teachers and schools as “underperforming” so that staff can be fired, schools closed, and their resources funneled to charter school operators.
It’s a local problem, but it’s national policy. Atlanta’s school superintendent is much like Obama Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in that he’s never taught an hour in any classroom. Duncan learned all he needed to know about education from his mother’s tutoring programs, he says, and his time as a pro basketballer, his time in the financial markets and on Mayor Daley’s staff. Atlanta’s Eroll Davis says he learned all he needed to know about running a school system from his time serving on the board of British Petroleum.
Atlanta’s school chief says he’s closing black schools to give them the same thing wealthy and mostly white neighborhoods have, an academic support system. His national counterpart Arne Duncan famously declared that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to education in New Orleans. Duncan’s predecessor as Chicago schools CEO was immediately dispatched to Louisiana where he closed more than 100 New Orleans public schools and fire the system’s entire teaching, administrative, maintenance and support staff.
While the place to fight for control of education is in your neighborhood, in your public school while you still have one, it’s a national fight as well. Public school closings, the de-professionalization of teachers and the push to charters have been national policy under the Bush and Obama administrations. So it’s entirely correct to call for the resignation of Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as well.
We wrote about how Duncan teamed up in 2009 with Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton to do a national tour promoting charter schools, privatization, teacher merit pay and other anti-education schemes. Since them the Obama administration’s Race To The Top has made these things pre-conditions without which no state, no school board receives much in the way of federal funding, and the states that fire the most teachers, close the most schools, and grant the most charters get most of the funding. It’s truly a race, and not to the top.
While it’s time to redouble our efforts to save, rebuild, democratize and re-imagine public education in our cities and neighborhoods around the country, it’s also time to come together nationally and demand an end to federal policies that force charters, standardized testing. Change comes from the bottom and from the top. It’s time to demand the resignation of Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Thousands of educators and students and ordinary citizens have already signed the petition at http://dumpduncan.org. You should too, and forward it to everyone you know.
Those of us on Facebook should click here to join the Dump Duncan group on Facebook, from which you will be able to connect with people concerned and active about saving public education around the country, and access a vast array of helpful resources. Duncan’s and Obama’s Race To The Top, as Diane Ravitch assures us, is really a race to the bottom.
Visit Dump Duncan on the web or on Facebook. Sign the petition, get connected locally and nationally. And get busy.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the Georgia Green Party. He can be reached via this site’s contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Obama’s Education Reform Push is Bad Education Policy March 14, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Education.
Tags: charter schools, diane ravitch, educatio system, education, education reform, no child left behind, privatization, public schools, race to the top, roger hollander, schools
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(Roger’s note: beware the word “reform.” Under mental health reform, “de-institutionalization” only left psychiatric survivors struggling to survive on the mean streets; Clinton’s welfare reform was little more than an attack on the poor; and Obama’s health reform, if passed, will institutionalize the blood-sucking private insurance industry, probably forever. The Republicrats are one in the same on these issues. The objective is always the erosion of the social safety net and the corporatization of America. Obama’s “Race to the Top” educational reform is no different. The [not so] hidden agenda is privatization and union-busting. Obama may be a brilliant orator, but he is either terribly naïve or wilfully blind. Take your pick.)
One simple solution for our schools? A captivating promise, but a false one.
by Diane Ravitch
There have been two features that regularly mark the history of U.S. public schools. Over the last century, our education system has been regularly captivated by a Big Idea — a savant or an organization that promised a simple solution to the problems of our schools. The second is that there are no simple solutions, no miracle cures to those problems.
Education is a slow, arduous process that requires the work of willing students, dedicated teachers and supportive families, as well as a coherent curriculum.
As an education historian, I have often warned against the seductive lure of grand ideas to reform education. Our national infatuation with education fads and reforms distracts us from the steady work that must be done.
Our era is no different. We now face a wave of education reforms based on the belief that school choice, test-driven accountability and the resulting competition will dramatically improve student achievement.
Once again, I find myself sounding the alarm that the latest vision of education reform is deeply flawed. But this time my warning carries a personal rebuke. For much of the last two decades, I was among those who jumped aboard the choice and accountability bandwagon. Choice and accountability, I believed, would offer a chance for poor children to escape failing schools. Testing and accountability, I thought, would cast sunshine on low-performing schools and lead to improvement. It all seemed to make sense, even if there was little empirical evidence, just promise and hope.
Today there is empirical evidence, and it shows clearly that choice, competition and accountability as education reform levers are not working. But with confidence bordering on recklessness, the Obama administration is plunging ahead, pushing an aggressive program of school reform — codified in its signature Race to the Top program — that relies on the power of incentives and competition. This approach may well make schools worse, not better.
Those who do not follow education closely may be tempted to think that, at long last, we’re finally turning the corner. What could be wrong with promoting charter schools to compete with public schools? Why shouldn’t we demand accountability from educators and use test scores to reward our best teachers and identify those who should find another job?
Like the grand plans of previous eras, they sound sensible but will leave education no better off. Charter schools are no panacea. The nation now has about 5,000 of them, and they vary in quality. Some are excellent, some terrible; most are in between. Most studies have found that charters, on average, are no better than public schools.
On the federal tests, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, from 2003 to 2009, charters have never outperformed public schools. Nor have black and Latino students in charter schools performed better than their counterparts in public schools.
This is surprising, because charter schools have many advantages over public schools. Most charters choose their students by lottery. Those who sign up to win seats tend to be the most motivated students and families in the poorest communities. Charters are also free to “counsel out” students who are unable or unwilling to meet expectations. A study of KIPP charters in the San Francisco area found that 60% of those students who started the fifth grade were gone before the end of eighth grade. Most of those who left were low performers.
Studies of charters in Boston, New York City and Washington have found that charters, as compared to public schools, have smaller percentages of the students who are generally hardest to educate — those with disabilities and English-language learners. Because the public schools must educate everyone, they end up with disproportionate numbers of the students the charters don’t want.
So we’re left with the knowledge that a dramatic expansion in the number of privately managed schools is not likely to raise student achievement. Meanwhile, public schools will become schools of last resort for the unmotivated, the hardest to teach and those who didn’t win a seat in a charter school. If our goal is to destroy public education in America, this is precisely the right path.
Nor is there evidence that student achievement will improve if teachers are evaluated by their students’ test scores. Some economists say that when students have four or five “great” teachers in a row, the achievement gap between racial groups disappears. The difficulty with this theory is that we do not have adequate measures of teacher excellence.
Of course, it would be wonderful if all teachers were excellent, but many factors affect student scores other than their teacher, including students’ motivation, the schools’ curriculum, family support, poverty and distractions on testing day, such as the weather or even a dog barking in the school’s parking lot.
The Obama education reform plan is an aggressive version of the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind, under which many schools have narrowed their curriculum to the tested subjects of reading and math. This poor substitute for a well-rounded education, which includes subjects such as the arts, history, geography, civics, science and foreign language, hits low-income children the hardest, since they are the most likely to attend the kind of “failing school” that drills kids relentlessly on the basics. Emphasis on test scores already compels teachers to focus on test preparation. Holding teachers personally and exclusively accountable for test scores — a key feature of Race to the Top — will make this situation even worse. Test scores will determine salary, tenure, bonuses and sanctions, as teachers and schools compete with each other, survival-of-the-fittest style.
Frustrated by a chronic lack of progress, business leaders and politicians expect that a stern dose of this sort of competition and incentives will improve education, but they are wrong. No other nation is taking such harsh lessons from the corporate sector and applying them to their schools. No nation with successful schools ignores everything but basic skills and testing. Schools work best when teachers collaborate to help their students and strive together for common goals, not when they compete for higher scores and bonuses.
Having embraced the Republican agenda of choice, competition and accountability, the Obama administration is promoting the privatization of large segments of American education and undermining the profession of teaching. This toxic combination is the latest Big Idea in education reform. Like so many of its predecessors, it is not likely to improve education.
Diane Ravitch, a historian of education, is the author of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.”
© 2010 The Los Angeles Times