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The People Behind the Lawmakers Out to Destroy Public Education: A Primer May 2, 2012

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Published on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 by Bridging the Difference Blog / Ed Week

 

What You Need To Know About ALEC

by Diane Ravitch

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?

© 2012 Education Week
 
 

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Diane Ravitch

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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  • michiganwoman 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    Good question, Diane. How could such a focused organization operate so long and so damn effectively.. without the complicity of Democrats, that is, corporate Democrats? And where was the Democrat Party whose platform and primary interests suggest populist causes? Shame on them. And where are the professional organizations known as unions that should be protecting the interests of Michigan teachers?

    Bill Gates? Big of him. Obama? Race to the Bottom begun with Jennifer Granholm (D-MI) and carried forward as you point out by Gov. Slick Rick Snyder (Gateway to China). Persecution of the public working force (read females) and the public resources. Education means nothing to this new group- they are defunding and taxing while they can get away with it despite outcries. Sheer Disgust by the people.
    And they don’t care.

    Check out the R funded Mackinaw Center for PUBLIC Policy whose “plans” and ideas link to ALEC.

     

     
  • mtdon 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    Nice article that goes only half way.

    The democrats are firmly behind the privatization of the schools.

    From Arne Duncan to Rahm the devils spahn – to The Oilybomber to Pelosi and Feinstein, etc

    The democrats are firmly Bought Off.

    If not they could easily stop this process.

    http://blackagendareport.com/c…
    ‘why isn’t closing 40 Philadelphia public schools national news’

    http://blackagendareport.com/c…
    ‘School closings come to atlanta this week – it’s time to dump Arne Duncan’

     

     
  • glennk 6 comments collapsed CollapseExpand

    I don’t like ALEC’s agenda, but its gained ground because the popular perception of how most public institutions are run is very poor. People who are working 12 mos. a yr. for lousy wages with no benefits don’t understand why a teacher makes twice their wage and works 6 mos. and gets full health benefits and after 20 yrs. a nice cozy pension. Then they look at the people that run or “administer” these orgs. and they’re aghast. School admins. making 6 figs. is the norm everywhere. In NJ where property taxes are crushing the average homeowner all the above has alienated the average voter and sent them rightward. Is private charter schools the answer. NO, of course not , they just take the same public $$ and give it to a few investors and the kids get even worse educations. What’s the answer? It seems most of us are being crushed between the Public worker Unions and the Private Corps. Its a battle of the Dinos and all of us mice are being crushed by them as they fight.

     

     
  • mtdon 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    Actually the reason people attack the teachers unions – besides of course the PR campaigns of the privatizers – is the fact that the teachers unions are Easy Targets.

    It’s always easier to blame teachers or some non-existent welfare queen than the corporations actually doing the dirty work.

    I’d also like to point out that the teaching profession used to be considered a low paying job and the private sector paid a much better wage and benefits.

    Teachers had a union that got them cola’s on a yearly basis – over the last 40 years the good paying private sector jobs disappeared while the teaching jobs continued to get their colas.

    We need to recognize that the true crime is the corporate killing of the private sector wages and benefits.

    If the private sector jobs would have kept pace with inflation then no one would care what the teachers make because it would still be chicken scratch.

    What the teacher pay issue should point out is the HUGE DROP in private sector wage growth to the point where the teachers have passed it up.

    That’s not the teachers fault -

    Blame the right people.

     

     
  • PlantTrees 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    “People who are working 12 mos. a yr. for lousy wages with no benefits don’t understand why a teacher makes twice their wage and works 6 mos. and gets full health benefits and after 20 yrs. a nice cozy pension.”

    Here in one sentence lies the only thing you need to know about why the workers in this country are doomed.

    There is the crock of shit about teachers working only half a year (oh, of course — we all PERSONALLY know such a teacher don’t we, glennk; just like we know that firefighter who makes $200,000 a year and has a vacation home in Florida).

    Then there are all those audacious benefits — stuff teachers bargained their wages away for and now are losing at disgraceful rates because people like glennk think since they’re taking it up the ass, so should the rest of the 99%.

    Fighting over the crumbs — that’s why you always see the Koch brothers with a smile on their face.

     

     
  • nellemason 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    You need to understand that the only way teachers’ working conditions (class size, job security, salary, benefits) improved over the years was through UNION action. No one suddenly just decided that it would be a nice thing to improve the conditons of teachers work. The poobahs at the School Board offices are bureaucrats who should NEVER be confused with teachers.

     

     
  • philtop 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    Just to clarify public school teachers work 10 months a year not 6.

     

     
  • creativevisions 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    There is a lot of truth to glennk’s description of how people perceive the education and teacher issues. The real problem is that everyone needs to have a decent living with health care, vacations, retirement, etc., etc. People who pay taxes are often people without those benefits. It is not fair. Teachers get caught in the middle of all of this. It certainly is not the fault of the teacher if they have a union or have decent pay and benefits. What I really hate is how government and politics permeates education and I believe they try to stifle all teacher creativity. Their model is for teachers and the students to be human drones. Instead of working towards greatness we as a nation are rushing quickly to divided groups mired in inequality.

     

     
  • Tvedestrand 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    This problem–along with many others–will disappear in a few decades. As Bill Henderson points out in two recent postings on the www.bravenewworld.in web site, it’s likely that the world’s population will be reduced to about 10% of what it is now within 50 years because of global warming. This means that our society–along with all others, of course–will be disintegrating within a matter of decades, and today’s social problems will be a thing of the past. Those who do manage to survive will have only one problem: How do I continue to survive?

     

     
  • Jennifer Varnum 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    Great article. I remember the education system took a real dive in the 70’s. I had move from New England to California where the educational system was so poor. Most of the public schools I attended were very substandard. I ended up taking the GED to get out of the toxic brainwashing and dumb down experiment called for by Caspar Weinberger who was appointed as Sec of Health, Education and Welfare by Ronny Reagan (Mr. War on Drugs), and later became Secretary of Defense. It was pure poison. I noticed that drugs started flowing into the schools at this time too.

    If I had children, I would home school them. The system is designed to prepare the young for collectivism. It discourages the individual and creates the slave mentality needed to train us as adults to not question authority, get a job and pay your dues.

    Instead of APEC, their acronym should be GPES of Globalist Psychopathic Eugenicists Society. Everyone of these corporations are demonic, and should be boycotted.

     

     
  • Siouxlouie 4 comments collapsed CollapseExpand

    The problem the teachers face is that for many years they were the white hats. Good public relations, a laudable goal in educating America’s youth, standing up for literacy, the power to make the best of American opportunity.

    Juxtapose against that the conduct of the teachers’ unions, who are now perceived as selfish, grasping, unprincipled. The pension obligations that face many states (e.g., California, Illinois, New York, Ohio and others) are not the fault of the average Joe. They are now being perceived as the result of years and years of behind the scenes lobbying by the public “servants”, principally including the teachers. Is it any wonder Michelle Rhee’s logic captured so much attention and adulation and the UFT and the NEA so much opprobrium?

    FDR, often thought to be Labor’s champion, even its patron saint, had this to say about unions representing governmental employees:

    “Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the government. All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations … The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for … officials … to bind the employer … The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives …

    “Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees. Upon employees in the federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people … This obligation is paramount … A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent … to prevent or obstruct … Government … Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government … is unthinkable and intolerable.”

    Which vision will carry the day? As cities begin to go bankrupt and states totter on the brink of insolvency, we will see.

     

     
  • Mike 3 comments collapsed CollapseExpand

    Siouxlou, Consider for a minute the possibility that ALEC and its backers are not so much interested in driving down teacher benefits, pensions etc as creating a more compliant teacher work force that will better assist in the pacification of each new generation. As I say, at some length, elsewhere in this threat, all this “reform” manifests itself on the kid level as simply all multiple choice all the time. And there are essay and oral answer grading programs on the horizon that will serve the same function, i.e. teaching the young that authority has all the answers, punishments and rewards.

    If you have the stamina to look through the excellent links Diane Ravitch provides, you can sort through a mass of ALEC-designed “educational reform” bills and significantly one is designed to downgrade teacher certification requirements. (This fits in well with a spate of recent articles attacking the admittedly poor quality education programs in many universities) The goal is, I think, not so much to get cheaper teachers but to get teachers who will simply hand out and collect test and test prep materials that will then be fed into automated grading systems made by Scantron, Inc. and othe ALEC backers. Not only would highly educated teachers want more money – they also might make problems by questioning the kind of mindless “teaching” designed to even further dumb down the populace. ALEC and its backers want teachers who will function much the same as McDonald employees, purveying a readymade product.

    You may well question why ALEC and its backer need an even more dumbed down populace, since this is the same American electorate who can be convinced of almost anything, even the need to send its sons and daughters off to wars generation after generation. Well. Siouxlou, the wealthy and powerful never think they have enough control over the hooples, any more than they ever think they have enough money.

    LINK to ALEC model bill designed to lower teacher certification standards:
    http://alecexposed.org/w/image…

     

     
  • philtop 2 comments collapsed CollapseExpand

    Mike-

     

    I wouldn’t underestimate the desire of these organizations
    to use Charter Schools as way of driving down teacher’s wages. Most regular
    public school jobs in California start at the entry level in the 40K range. Many
    charter schools start at the entry level around 35K. Furthermore,
    regular public schools have a pay scale that is based on years of teaching
    experience and education attainment.
    While most charter schools list pay as “commensurate with experience,”
    which essentially they will pay you what ever they want, or as little as possible.

     

    Furthermore, charter schools usually require much more after
    schoolwork, or a longer teaching day. Many make this clear in their job
    postings. This equals more work time for less pay. Whatever side you stand on
    this issue this undoubtedly drives down wages. Finally, on the benefits side I’ve
    actually seen charter in their job postings advertise, “Social Security only,
    no pension benefits.”

     

     
  • philtop 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    Sorry about the formatting… Don’t know what caused that??

     

     
  • Mike 2 comments collapsed CollapseExpand

    Interesting that the oldtime multiple choice test company, Scantron, Inc. is on the ALEC taskforce. For all the big talk about learning and accountability, the current so-called educational reform means one thing on the level of kids’ experience: multiple choice tests every day. The vaunted standardized tests are always multiple choice and the prep for such tests consists of model tests,. i.e. multiple choice practice tests. And what classroom instruction occurs consists of going over questions on such model tests. Hence, every day becomes a multiple choice day.

    And the dirty little secret of all this multiple choice is that it teaches kids a very simple lesson, no matter what the subject: Those in authority have all the answers – and your job is only to figure out what they want you to say.
    So-called experts can quibble about test construction, eliminating cultural biases from tests, core curriculum etc but for kids it all amounts to bowing down to authority that gives you the grades that guarantee everything from keeping your mom off your back to getting into Harvard. Immersion in the multiple choice universe means that your opinion, as expressed in a classroom discussion, an essay or a research paper, has no value.

    It’s bad now but will get worse unless stopped, and I think I’ve seen exactly what the model school of the future will look like.

    I recently was asked by a former student to consult at a private school that he and his parents had set up a couple years ago: a weekend and evening cram school run by and targeted at one particular Asian immigrant group.

    “Reformers” would love this place: It was all multiple choice, all the time, even more than I had imagined possible. Teachers did no more than hand out and collect scantron sheets. Video cameras in each classroom allowed constant monitoring from the office. Teachers were well paid but could be fired without notice if they did not follow prescribed multiple choice scripts.(They wanted me to advise them how student writing could be improved – I told them it was not possible in such an environment)

    And this school is, according to my former student, very successful in terms of pushing its students into top high schools and ivy league colleges. The only moment of doubt the owners or parent/clients have experienced is that the school’s grads find it very hard to express any opinion in either speech or writing. But I suppose that won’t matter once even the best colleges switch over to all multiple choice all the time.

     

     
  • Mike 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    Having ranted on about multiple choice, I then came across an article in Education Week referencing a study on automated essay grading programs which may be a new cost-efficient way to replace teachers in that form of assesssment as well. And if text can be graded, so can oral answers or discussion. But the end result is the same: Kids will be taught that authority has the answers, whether you bubble them in on scan sheets, say them aloud or write them in a sentence or paragraph.

    Link to the study:

    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/444162…

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