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Education Reform Takes a Corporate Path With Help From ALEC

Guest post by the administrative team of United Opt Out: Shaun Johnson, Morna McDermott, Laurie Murphy, Peg Robertson, Tim Slekar and Ceresta Smith (a website dedicated to ending punitive high stakes testing in public education).

In the past year, a number of states have introduced laws that "reform" education in similar ways. In state after state, teacher seniority and due process has been undermined, and the use of standardized tests to pay and evaluate teachers been expanded. In recent months, reports have emerged of a shadowy group that has developed tremendous influence over legislation in states across the country. This group is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). And, according to ALEC Exposed,

Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called "model bills" reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations. Through ALEC, corporations have "a VOICE and a VOTE" on specific changes to the law that are then proposed in your state."

In the context of public education policy in America, ALEC has sponsored legislation that, 1) advocates simple standardized testing as an accountability gauge, 2) calls for rigid accountability systems that ignores substantial research on teaching and learning, 3) supports taxpayer-subsidized vouchers, 4) releases private schools that receive tax dollars from state accountability systems, 5) pushes charter schools as alternatives to community based public schools, and 6) supports the elimination of locally elected school boards. These reforms have been enacted in states such as Wisconsin and Ohio and New York. Also Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, and Florida are all considering similar legislative actions.

This legislation embodies the central tenets of corporatized education reform-- standardized testing, choice, accountability, and standardized curricula. Each of these tenets has been thoroughly examined over the last decade or more. What else can be said about the validity of these programs other than the fact that the empirical evidence consistently points out that each of these corporate ideas continually fails to deliver positive change to our system of public education in America.

In fact, as near as we can tell, the current debates in education reform are not about empirical evidence--this fight is largely about ideology. What does it mean to be an educated person? How do we define success and what does it mean to be accountable for it? Arguments and methods that do not adhere to a particular ideology about education are summarily shut out, and it just so happens that the concerns of a vast majority of teachers, parents, higher education faculty members, and even students are being ignored.

Again, how is it that ALEC can exert so much influence on public education? You would expect that citizens within a democracy can, so to speak, hire and fire those who represent them. You would expect that elected officials were being informed by those most closely associated with public education. As evidenced above this is not the case. Wealth and power as opposed to wisdom and evidence are the new masters driving the corporate reform agenda. Therefore, we at United Opt Out have been pushed to advocate what may seem like an extreme action -- the boycotting of state standardized tests.

The machine that is corporate reform needs to have a wrench thrown into it. It must be brought to a screeching halt. A substantial discussion of the evidence must be part of the ideological discussion. Parents, teachers, students, and "experts" in education must regain prominence in the discussion concerning the future of public education in America. For us, opting out of standardized testing (defined by inclusive actions) and denying the corporate reformers the data they so covet is an act of civil disobedience justified by ALEC's intent to subvert traditional democratic processes.

What do you think of the education reforms emerging as a result of the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council? Is this the way our laws should be shaped?

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