Archives for category: ALEC

PublicSchoolsFirst in North Carolina–a parent-led organization– has produced a short video urging the public and the legislature to reject an “achievement school district” modeled on the ones in New Orleans, Tennessee, and Michigan. The video accurately says that none of these models has succeeded. New Orleans is controversial; the one in Tennessee has produced negligible or no gains in test scores; the one in Michigan was an abject failure.


The legislature is considering a bill that would select the lowest performing schools in the state and put them into a non-contiguous district, where they would then be turned over to charter operators, some of them for-profit charter chains from out of state. This model has no record of success. The goal of this model, which is promoted by ALEC, is to privatize public schools and eliminate local control.


The video recommends that North Carolina continue to implement its home-grown turnaround model, which has shown promising results, protects local schools, and keeps out for-profit charter operators.



A reader in Arizona reports that a State Senate committee just passed legislation that would lift all limits on vouchers by 2020. Every Democrat and one Republican opposed the bill. Why destroy public education? Since when did radicalism get confused with “reform”? True reformers want to improve institutions, not blow them up. True conservatives conserve community institutions that serve our democracy. The promoters of this scheme are radicals, not conservatives.

This is unfiltered rightwing ideology. No high-performing nation in the world has replaced its public schools with school choice. No voucher program in this country has produced impressive results. Every little church in the state will open or expand its school and hire uncertified teachers. This is not progress. This is stupidity.

Our reader adds:

“It is likely to pass given the makeup of our legislature and its connections to ALEC. The only hope is that Governor Ducey will veto it. He is pro-privatization and under normal circumstances would likely sign the bill but his own proposed funding plan might be in jeopardy if he did so. That means that there’ a chance that he’ll veto it!”

This is a sad story. From 1981 to 2009, nearly 30 years, Checker Finn was one of my closest friends. He was like a brother. Our families were close, and we almost telecommunicated about issues. We wrote article and reports together. we wrote a book together. We cofounded the Educational Excellence Network, and I was a founding member of Checker’s Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, as well as a colleague on the Koret Task Force of the Hoover Foundation.


But when I turned against testing and choice, our friendship deteriorated. I asked him if he would write a blurb for my book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermines Education,” but he said it was impossible. That book announced my break with the corporate reform movement. Or as I now know it, the privatization movement. He never forgave me for breaking ranks.


Readers of this blog have never read criticism of Checker here. I could not bring myself to speak personally against those who were once close friends, even though our disagreements are philosophically and politically profound.



Checker, however, has finally expressed his anger towards me in print. He slammed David Denby, who has written for the New Yorker for many years, for having written a tribute to teachers. He thinks Denby has turned into a defender of the status quo, which is apparently the worst insult a “reformer” can imagine.



But the privatizers ARE the status quo. How else to describe a “movement” that includes the President of the US, the Department of Education, the Council of Chief State School Officers, ALEC (which Fordham joined), all the red-state governors plus Governor Cuomo of New York, and Governor Malloy of Connecticut, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Bloomberg Foundation, about a score of other foundations, and dozens of hedge fund managers who can raise a million dollars in a few hours. If this is not the status quo, I don’t know what is. They are actually quite few in number, but their wealth and political power are immense.



Checker trashed David Denby’s paean to teachers because Checker holds teachers in low regard, especially if they belong to a union and work on a public school.



I suspect this is the paragraph that Denby wrote that most angered Checker:



““A necessary commonplace: Almost everyone we know has been turned around, or at least seriously shaken, by a teacher—in college, maybe, but often in high school, often by a man or a woman who drove home a point or two about physics, literature, or ethics, and looked at us sternly and said, in effect, You could be more than what you are. At their best, teachers are everyday gods, standing at the entryway to the world. If they are fair and good, they are possibly the most morally impressive adults that their students will ever know. For a while, they are the law, they are knowledge, they are justice….”



But there was something else that unsettled Checker. He suspected that Denby had turned against “reform,” and it was my fault!



He writes:



“If he had stuck with his abiding affection for great literature and his analysis of the difficulties of teaching it to contemporary young people, I’d have nothing but positive feelings. But along the way, besides deploring kids’ addiction to video games, cell phones, television, and ear-bud music, he’s turned into an anti-reformer. This turned up first (to my knowledge) in his loving word portrait of (the new) Diane Ravitch, published in the New Yorker in 2012. Now he’s back in the same publication with a denunciation of what he sees as the teacher-bashing ways, false allegations, and misguided ideas of education reformers. Here’s a sample:



[Denby writes]:



“Our view of American public education in general has been warped by our knowledge of these failing kids in inner-city and rural schools. In particular, the system as a whole has been described by “reformers” as approaching breakdown. But this is nonsense. There are actually many good schools in the United States—in cities, in suburbs, in rural areas. Pathologizing the system as a whole, reformers insist on drastic reorganization, on drastic methods of teacher accountability. In the past dozen or so years, we’ve seen the efforts, often led by billionaires and hedge fund managers and supported by elected officials, to infuse K–12 education with models and methods derived from the business world—for instance, the drive to privatize education as much as possible with charter schools, which receive public money but are independently run and often financed by entrepreneurs. This drive is accompanied by a stream of venom aimed at unions, as if they were the problem in American education.”



Finn resumes:



“On reading this, a colleague speculated that perhaps Ravitch had written it for him as a kind of reward for his earlier tribute to her. The more important point is that he has now lent his talented pen to the anti-reform movement, which (of course) it took Ravitch just minutes to note: “David Denby,” she blogged on Valentine’s Day, “has joined our movement to restore common sense to education.”



“And a movement of sorts it has become, including not just teacher unions, polemicists, and high-powered (if, in my view, sorely misguided) intellectuals, but also opting-out parents, unrelenting education progressivists, and a bunch of folks whose latest cause célèbre is that kids are under too much stress.”



A quick rebuttal:



No, I did not ghostwrite David Denby’s tribute to teachers. He did it all by himself. He is quite a prolific writer, and he doesn’t need my help to think or write.



Yes, Denby does admire teachers. Many people-including those at the Fordham Institute, ALEC, and other outposts of corporate reform—don’t. They think they are lazy and self-serving. They can’t understand why anyone would want to be a teacher when they don’t make much money, ever.



Yes, as Denby writes, there are many good schools in America. There are many excellent public schools in America. The privatizers and public school bashers seem to have mostly gone to Exeter (like Checker) or Lakeside Academy or Andover or some other elite private school. They feel sorry for those of us who had to go to public schools.



Although I am now diametrically opposed to everything Checker believes about education, teachers, and children, I have an abiding fondness for him and his family.



I will continue fighting the terrible policies that he espouses because I know they have proven to be failures. He was and is a promoter of every imaginable alternative to public schools. So far, none of those alternatives has been successful. There comes a time to recognize that the theories you have been promoting since the early 1980s have been tried and have failed. I had that realization about 2005 or 2006 as I saw the damage done by NCLB.



I don’t think Checker will ever admit that he was wrong. But some day, maybe after we are gone, wiser heads will review this era and judge us all. I am glad I shook myself free of the delusion that schools could operate in a free market, that teachers could be treated as interchangeable widgets, and that students learn best in a culture of fear of failure. I will continue to hope that someday Checker and Mike Petrilli will see the light.

Edward F. Berger is a champion for children and public schools in Arizona. He writes in this essay that the state is controlled by a tiny claque of very wealthy people who want to starve the public sector. This small minority is well-organized and well-funded. Berger compares them to the Robber Barons of the 19th century whose goals were money and power.


Berger writes:


Arizona is run by a well-organized minority. They work to undermine and control representative democracy, elected boards and officials, public schools, environmental regulations, any law that limits the powers of corporations, and interference in their affairs by The People. They believe in the right to rape, rip and run for personal gain while demanding free and unregulated access to natural and national resources. They attack workers’ organizations, associations and unions, taxes on individual wealth, and laws that hold individuals responsible for activities that damage others, the planet, and a sustainable future….


Fred Koch, father of the infamous Koch brothers, created a powerful empire. He had an ideology of freedom from government intervention that his sons inherited.


Berger writes:


Fred was a founder of the John Birch Society, a movement based on:The destruction of public education, the privatization (control) of prisons, racial inequality, and denial of workers’ rights to organize. He was able to inculcate two of his sons (Charles and David Koch) to believe that they are the rightful heirs of his mission and will determine the future of America.


When the John Birch Society gained disrepute, they dropped that name and formed dozens of subversive* organizations. The largest in the US and Arizona is the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC). If your elected representative is a member of ALEC, be afraid and get them gone! Another is the Goldwater Institute. The corporate leadership of Arizona Public Service (APS) and its holding company, Pinnacle West Capital corporation, is deeply involved with the Koch-ALEC-Goldwater Institute politicians. One can not underestimate the subversive work of the Goldwater Institute (a false 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization) with a purely political agenda. Through its minions, the legislators and governors placed in office by the power of this minority, they were recently able to place a Goldwater Institute lawyer on the Supreme Court of Arizona. As an example of their reach, in 2015 the Goldwater Institute filed suit in far off Massachusetts to challenge that state’s ban on corporate contributions to political candidates. A stated goal of the Goldwater Institute is to support charter schools and vouchers. They lead the pack of active and disruptive organizations working in the state sowing, cultural division, anti-teacher, anti-education, anti-unions, and pro-corporations movements….


Most of the members of the state legislature are in the Koch-ALEC-Goldwater Institute pocket , or they are forced to cooperate with the extreme right to keep from being ostracized and rendered ineffective for their constituents. Voters are discouraged from voting. It looks like Governor Doug Ducey is being groomed to take on the work of Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who followed the Koch dictates to his ruin. The governors and legislators in many states are being placed by the Koch-ALEC machine. They have used gerrymandering and control of the primaries to ensure that key members of the republican right do not have to fear re-election. The Koch-ALEC machine has made inroads into the US Chamber Of Commerce, and the United States Supreme Court, forcing rulings like Citizens United….


Public education in the state of Arizona is being systematically dis-mantled.The budget is being used to starve and destroy public schools, and to privatize every aspect of government to gain access to, and profit from, our tax dollars. Public school financing, and thus education programs, have been arbitrarily cut and then reinstated at a fraction of what they need to operate. Governor Ducey plays a game of ‘cut deep and then give a little back,’ so he can brag about his support, while starving and destroying the state’s public schools, universities, and service sectors. His agenda is not for the children and families of Arizona, it is for a small, well-organized minority. He is trying to prove to his masters that he can be the new Scott Walker or Rick Snyder and he can make Arizona go the way of Wisconsin and Michigan.


This is not what the people of Arizona want, writes Berger, but the grip of the plutocracy is so tight that people have given up the power of democracy. Less than 40% turn out to vote.


Berger remains hopeful. He thinks the time is approaching when the people of Arizona elect a government that serves them, not the Robber Barons.





Lyndsey Layton has a terrific article in today’s Washington Post about the move by GOP governors to end local control when it suits them. They like to say that they are “saving” people or children. Think Flint. Think Detroit. Think Newark. As the late Derrick Bell said in the title of a book, “And They Are Not Saved.”


The GOP once made local control a  basic principle. Now it’s not. As Layton points out, Governor Kasich took over Youngstown schools in quiet coup. Governor Deal of Georgia wants to create a takeover district like the so-called “Achievement School District” in Tennessee. Governor Snyder in Michigan has taken over several cities and school districts. The GOP in Virginia wants to supersede local control.


The one thing that all these takeovers have in common is that none has succeeded. Not one. What they do best is to extinguish democracy and give the governor control of a large pot of money to use as he wishes.


What’s the common thread behind the GOP’s new enthusiasm for state control? Look no farther than ALEC. It has drafted model legislation for state takeovers. Why? Once the governor takes over, he can give the public schools to charter operators. That accomplishes three goals:


  1. Privatize public schools
  2.  Get rid of unions and contracts with employees
  3. Campaign contributions from grateful entrepreneurs


A win for everyone but the children, the community, and democracy.



The Virginia General Assembly is voting today on an ALEC-inspired bill to give the state board of education the power to go over the local boards of education and place charter schools in communities whether they want them or not. Pseudo-reformers don’t like democracy. They like autocracy. The American Legislative Exchange Council has drafted model legislation for exactly this kind of shift of power from local communities to the state, the better to advance privatization.




Virginian Rachel Levy writes (open her piece for the links):


Charter schools may soon be coming to Virginia communities whether those communities want them or not. This is not about whether or not to have charter schools or whether or not charter schools work. This is about power and democracy.


In Virginia, what’s known as the “charter school bill,” HB 3 in the Virginia House of Delegates and SB 588 in the Virginia Senate, establishes a resolution (HJ 1 and SJ R6) that will trigger a referendum on a constitutional amendment giving the Virginia State Board of Education the power to go over the heads of local school boards and establish charter schools in local communities. This resolution will be heard in the Virginia House of Delegates TODAY (Monday, February 1st, 2016), so you must contact your Delegate ASAP.


This resolution and accompanying legislation is before the General Assembly for the second year in a row. (I wrote about this last year here and before that I wrote about the concept, when it was the Opportunity Educational Institution, here.) Last year, it passed both chambers and, hence, if it passes this year—and as of this writing the House Privileges and Election Committee has sent it on to the House floor on a 10-9 vote—it will go onto the ballot this November. (Or maybe not this November if the Virginia GOP doesn’t think it will pass then, but I digress.)


“Work” is not the right way of looking at this, in any case. Like any model, some charter schools are successful and some aren’t. Some charter schools are true institutions of education, created by parents and educators, while some are real estate scams, developed by hucksters and charlatans. But given that all students are not served as they should be in public schools, I agree that conversations about the merits and disadvantages of charter schools are worth having.


But it is a conversation worth having among parents, citizens, educators, and educational leaders in the communities where charter schools are potentially to be located. Setting up schools in local communities is not a state matter. While many of its members are knowledgeable and passionate about K-12 education in Virginia and the Virginia State Board of Education may do a good job with the work they are tasked with, this is not their job.


Virginia currently has a rigorous, democratic process to establish charter schools, a process with built-in oversight, checks and balances, and accountability. Charter school proposals go before the locally, democratically elected (and in some cases, locally appointed) school boards where the charter schools are to be established. Charter schools in Virginia are overseen by these school boards and the schools are hence accountable to the public like all other public schools. Some local communities in Virginia have decided to set up charter schools. Groups in other communities have tried to set up charter schools but have not made a strong enough case to other members of their communities or to their school boards.

Teacher Andy Goldstein reads a poem which is a variation of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Andy, who teaches in the public schools of Florida, recites a poem called “How the ALEC stole the Public Out of Public Education.”

In Florida, the public school budget has become a playground for hucksters, scam artists, and profiteers. The charter industry has captured the Republican Party and the State Legislature. Crony capitalism at its worst.

Blogger Educational Alchemy sees behind the Department of Education smokescreen. The goal of the Obama administration’s “Testing Action Plan” is not what it appears.

Now that almost every school is testing online, it is time to move on to the next stage of the education revolution. Outsourcing online testing to vendors.

The wave of the future: Competency-based assessments.

Here is an excerpt:

This is what the “Testing Action Plan” (TAP) says:

The new plan will “include competency-based assessments, innovative item types.” It states also “The Department will also share tools already available to do this work, including The Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO) Comprehensive Statewide Assessment Systems: A Framework for the Role of the State Education Agency in Improving Quality and Reducing Burden and Achieve’s Student Assessment Inventory for School Districts.”

This is what it means:

Remember CCSSO? They are the ones who crafted the Common Core State Standards. The standards were developed to create a “standardized” system that allows third-party companies to develop systems for outsourcing education. Now with a set of “national” standards as benchmarks, instruction can be metered out by online edu-tech companies who provide new “competency” based instruction and assessment. No teacher required.

In 2010, the Foundation for Excellence in Education (who supported Common Core) convened the Digital Learning Council, a diverse group of more than 100 leaders in education, government, philanthropy, business, technology and members of policy think tanks led by Co-Chairmen Jeb Bush, and Bob Wise (both integral in the creation and promotion of Common Core). It’s an ALEC model-endorsed comprehensive framework of state-level policies and actions “designed to advance the meaningful and thoughtful integration of technology into K12 public education.”

This idea is stated again toward the end of the Testing Action Plan (TAP): “Congress should continue to require the Department to work with external assessment experts to ensure states are using high-quality assessments that are aligned with state-developed standards and valid for the purposes for which they are used.”

TAP Says:

“…the Department granted a temporary waiver to New Hampshire to pilot a competency-based assessment system in four districts ….” as a way to set a national example. (and), “The Department will work with external assessment experts…”

What this means:

The department will outsource education curriculum and assessment to corporations just like it did in NH where they “…have adopted unique and innovative learning approaches, such as digital learning, that create a more flexible learning schedule that extends beyond the school day.”

The Alliance for Excellent Education (Bob Wise serves as president) in 2013 stated: “Competency-based advancement is an important part of New Hampshire’s strategy for implementing the Common Core State Standards.”

Read the post with care. Every element is there for a transition to the next stage of relinquishing control of curriculum and assessment to the vendors.

Cathy Fuentes-Rower went to the Indiana legislative hearing about the teacher shortage, and she patiently waited seven hours to testify. Cathy is a parent, not a teacher. She was forced to listen to a lineup of “experts” who insisted there was not too much testing, compared to Florida; and there is no teacher shortage, because the superintendents who reported a shortage are biased, and the conservative NCTQ said the data were inconclusive.

When she finally testified, she spoke out boldly.

She said:

I am a mother of four children in public schools.

I know that my children’s learning conditions are their teachers’ working conditions.

This educational environment has become a pressure cooker for our kids and teachers because the legislature has decided that somehow educators weren’t accountable enough. The learning and teaching process has been transformed into a test-taking, data collecting nightmare to somehow prove accountability… at the root of which is an apparent deep distrust of teachers.

We’ve had standardized tests for a long time. But it is what is at stake when the kids take the test now that has transformed their experience.

In the past, standardized tests were just one aspect of an overall assessment of how our kids were doing. We trusted teachers to relay to us how our kids were learning. Now it has become the end-all be-all. If my eleven year-old doesn’t score well on a test, it could affect his teacher’s job, his school’s letter grade, the label on his district, property taxes, and the community as a whole.

This intensity of pressure comes down and lands right on the shoulders of my child.

Who stands between my child and that weight of the world? Buffering him and protecting him from this stress?

His teacher. And for teachers whose students have special needs, live in poverty, or are learning English as a new language, the pressure to perform is tremendous. The consequence is a stigmatizing F on their small heads—or in 3rd grade, flunking.

These policies are not brought about because parents clamored for them. Parents have not been begging for a better school than their neighbor’s child. They’ve been begging for a great school. Period.

Parents want equity. Instead, we get competition.

Competition involves winners and losers. No 6 year-old should be a loser when it comes to educational opportunity.

These recent changes in policy are occurring all over the country. And this is also why the teacher shortage is not unique to Indiana. Bills that have transformed our kids’ learning environment into a pressure cooker are all from the same source: ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council). The goal of this organization is to create more competition in education and to privatize it. There is even an Indiana Reform Package of model legislation on the ALEC website touting our reforms. Our governor has written the introduction to the ALEC report card on American Education. Many members of our education committee are or were ALEC members. In fact, you, Rep. Behning, our house education committee chair, were the ALEC chairperson for Indiana for several years.

The A-F grading of schools, teachers’ loss of voice in advocating for kids through the loss of collective bargaining, the draconian 3rd grade reading law, vouchers and charters creating a competition for funding, a developmentally inappropriate 90 minute block of literacy instruction, these are all ALEC laws. They were not backed by research of what are best practices in teaching. They were not created by teachers. Parents do not want this obsession with data.

We want funding for our public schools such that all children have smaller class sizes for individualized instruction. We want WHOLE CHILD accountability for our teachers and our schools. That means research-backed education. Kids learn through play. Are they getting recess? Kids need to have time to follow their interests and do hands-on projects. Are they getting the broad curriculum and what is NOT on the test: social studies and science? Many of these things are being squeezed out for test prep. Do our high schoolers have extracurricular activities—things that keep them connected and wanting to go to school?

We want our teachers to be paid as the professionals that they are and to have more time for teaching and less for testing. You cannot reduce the time on testing if you don’t reduce the stakes attached to it.

We want a multi-measure evaluation of teaching and success.

You cannot say you respect teachers when every single thing they do is micromanaged by having to prove themselves with data. You cannot quantify joy, creativity and critical thinking. My children are not numbers.

They are unique human beings who are learning and growing. I don’t want my eleven year-old college and career-ready because he is a child. I don’t want him to have pressures to perform like an adult, because he is not one. His teachers know how to give him that childhood, they know what is developmentally appropriate for him, AND research (yes data!) shows that giving him these learning experiences will ensure that when the time comes, he will be ready to take his part in our society and our democracy.

So let teachers do their jobs. The best way to do this is to give them a voice, allow them to create policy, not business people and legislators who know nothing about it. Certainly not ALEC backers who make money off of it.

There is nothing more precious to me in this world than my children and every day I entrust them to the care of their teachers. I care more about what they tell me regarding my kids’ education than I do about any stinking ISTEP score. This is because they are the professionals. I trust them to do their jobs.

If you truly support teachers, you will, too.

Thank you.

Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer

Andrea Gabor, the Michael R. Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College in New York City, has recently written about the disappointing results of the chartering and privatization of almost every school in New Orleans.

Jonathan Alter was unhappy with her article in the New York Times because he is a fervent believer in the privatization of public education by charters.

The irony, as Gabor notes, is that she and Jonathan were classmates at the Francis W. Parker School, a noted private progressive school in Chicago many years ago. The “no-excuses” charters that Alter so admires are nothing like the Francis W. Parker School.

If you have read Lawrence A. Cremin’s The Transformation of the School, a magisterial history of progressive education, you know that Francis Parker preceded John Dewey as the “father of progressive education.” Here is the thumbnail sketch of the man who started the progressive education movement: Francis Wayland Parker (October 9, 1837 – March 2, 1902) was a pioneer of the progressive school movement in the United States. He believed that education should include the complete development of an individual — mental, physical, and moral. John Dewey called him the “father of progressive education.” He worked to create curriculum that centered on the whole child and a strong language background. He was against standardization, isolated drill and rote learning. He helped to show that education was not just about cramming information into students’ minds, but about teaching students to think for themselves and become independent people. This is the spirit that infused the school where Andrea Gabor and Jonathan Alter were both educated.

But now Jonathan Alter is a rabid advocate of “no-excuses” charters that look nothing at all like the Francis W. Parker School. Also, Alter is a fierce opponent of teachers’ unions. Generally, progressives support unions, because they understand that unions build a middle class and enable working people and poor people to raise their standard of living. That is not Alter’s perspective. He seems to think that having union-free schools is a recipe for success, even though there is no evidence for his belief and much evidence to the contrary (think Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey, three unionized states that are the highest scoring states on NAEP).

In this post, Andrea Gabor gives some homework lessons to her former classmate.

Alter’s biggest mistake is that he fails to see public school systems as, well, systems. Even if he’s right that the “top quintile” of charter schools perform very well, that’s virtually meaningless from the perspective of creating a better system. There are good public schools as well as good charters, after all. A 20-percent success rate is meaningful only if you can show a path to scaling that success in a practical way.

The two questions we should be asking are: A) What is the best method by which to improve all schools? B) If, as in New Orleans, charter schools are used as Trojan horses for turning public schools into dumping grounds for the weakest students and, eventually, eliminating public schools altogether, what is the cost of doing so—to kids and to our society?

There is growing evidence that the market model of large-scale public-school replacement by charter schools—one based on a competitive race for limited philanthropic funding for whoever produces the highest test scores—is a zero-sum game that can only work by sidelining the most vulnerable kids.

Gabor goes, point by point, through the problematic nature of the New Orleans story.

I hope Jon Alter sits down with his former classmate and gives some more thought to his extreme views, which echo those of Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Rick Snyder, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, ALEC, and the Koch brothers.

Destroying our nation’s public schools is not a liberal goal, or should not be.


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