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News Corp., Not Wireless Generation, Is ALEC Education Member

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On Tuesday, the Center for Media and Democracy posted news that Wireless Generation, the educational software and assessment company, was a recently joined member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the controversial limited-government group that works to influence education policy across the country.

Turns out it's not.

"We have never been a member," a Wireless Generation spokeswoman told me.

But News Corporation, the global media conglomerate that owns Wireless Generation, is a member of ALEC, according to Adam Peshek, the director of ALEC's education task force. News Corp. is also a member of ALEC's task force on communications and technology, Peshek said.

It's somewhat unclear how Wireless Generation, and not News Corp., ended up on an agenda for a May 11 meeting of the education task force in Charlotte.

The document was prepared prior to Peshek's appointment as the task force director to replace his predecessor David Myslinski.

"I don't know how they got on there," Peshek said. News Corp. declined to comment on its membership.

Reached by phone, Myslinski, who resigned as education task force director in March, said that Wireless Generation used to be a member of ALEC but left the organization prior to its purchase by News Corp. When News Corp. joined ALEC, Wireless's past connection could have led to the mistake on the agenda, he said. Joan Lebow, the Wireless Generation spokeswoman, originally said the company had never been a member but later clarified that it had, from 2007 to 2009.

ALEC's education task force consists of lawmakers and both for-profit and non-profit companies and organizations involved in education. Here's how my colleague, Andrew Ujifusa, described the group in a recent story.

The group is split into task forces co-chaired by public- and private-sector representatives that develop model legislation. ... Those task forces approve model legislation for lawmakers to use as they see fit in their states. The task forces meet as one, but the public-sector and private-sector members each have separate vote tallies for resolutions and model legislation.

Some of that legislation promotes the initiation of private school vouchers, the expansion of virtual schools, and "parent trigger" laws that allow parents to push for changes in management or a charter school conversion for their children's schools. In recent months, ALEC came under fire for helping to draft Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law that is being used as a defense by George Zimmerman, the man accused of killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., in February. Since, ALEC shuttered the public safety and elections task force that drafted the bill.

Peshek said News Corp. joined both task forces in January.

While groups like the Center for Media and Democracy, and Common Cause, have worked to publicize ALEC's practices, News Corp.'s membership has not yet been made public. Whether there is something inherently wrong with a company being an ALEC member probably depends on your political views. As Peshek wrote in a recent letter to Education Week, "there are dozens of organizations on both sides of the political spectrum that have spent decades promoting the policies we support." Certainly, News Corp. has supported many other political causes.

But News Corp.'s membership is notable because of its short history in education and its anticipated and obscured expectations.

After purchasing Wireless Generation in 2010 and hiring former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein to run its new education division last year, News Corp.'s venture into education has stalled. In a recent article, The New York Times suggested the phone-hacking scandal embroiling the company is occupying Klein's time, but that he will soon be shifting his focus back to education. In a live interview at The Atlantic's Technologies in Education Forum Tuesday, Klein spoke about his vision for the future of technology in education, but not about his company's future in providing that technology.

Klein did, however, take some shots at the political forces he says prevent innovation in the classroom. Investing school budgets in personnel instead of technology, continuing to support seat-time requirements, and allocating mandatory textbook budgets are all trends stifling education's progression, he said.

Eventually, he envisions a classroom where each student has a personalized lesson plan (School of One, anyone?) and teachers get real-time data on student performance (Wireless Generation, anyone?). (This also aligns with the the new guidelines announced Tuesday for the $400 million Race to the Top district competition, which highlight "personalized learning.")

Perhaps News Corp.'s involvement in ALEC is the next step to knocking down those political barriers, but the distinction between Wireless Generation and News Corp. as ALEC members is important to determining which barriers those may be.

For instance, ALEC is considering whether or not to oppose the Common Core State Standards, as an overreach of the federal government. In its recent acquisition of Intel-Assess, an assessment content company, Wireless Generation said it would better position the company to provide services to schools aligned with those standards.

Other education task force members include Dell Inc., K12 Inc., and Connections Academy, whose co-founder and executive vice president, Mickey Revenaugh, is the private-sector chairwoman for the education task force. Since ALEC's involvement in "Stand Your Ground" became public, many education companies have distanced themselves from the group.

  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said it will not provide future funds to the group but would not stop a $376,000 grant to the group for legislators.
  • National Association of Charter School Authorizers said it would not renew its ALEC membership.
  • Also on Tuesday, the Lumina Foundation, which focuses on higher education achievement, said it is no longer an ALEC member. The group awarded two grants to ALEC totaling $595,000.

Scantron, the testing company, decided last year not to renew its membership in ALEC after a change in leadership, a company spokeswoman said.

(The Gates and Lumina foundations also provide grant support for Education Week. Wireless Generation's co-founder and chief executive officer, Larry Berger, serves on the board of trustees of Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit corporation that publishes Education Week.)

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