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Corporate Education Reformers Plot Next Steps at Secretive Meeting

Hundreds of state legislators from across the nation went to an "island" resort on the coast of Florida to a unique "education academy" sponsored by ALEC.

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"It's a compendium of the progress of the ALEC agenda and it has nothing to do with educating students," says Julie Underwood, Dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Underwood, who wrote about ALEC for  The Nation last summer and has studied the organization extensively, notes that the most interesting and potentially useful data in the report card is left out of each state's grade calculation. There are tables ranking states according to the NAEP performance of low-income students, students of color and students with disabilities, but this is not added in in the final grade.

"Why is that not part of the state's A to F grades?" Underwood asks. Missouri ranks 43rd in low-income students' 4th grade reading score improvement and 34th in math improvement, but still got the top grade. Utah is 49th and 37th, but was still one of the few states to score a B or better from ALEC. Maryland is number one in reading improvement and number 2 in math improvement, but drew a C-.

Union-Busting Applauded

Her answer comes in the report card's introduction, where Lardner and Lipps call 2011 "The End of the Beginning in the Battle for K-12 Reform." Legislative efforts to weaken and defeat unions were so successful in places such as Florida, Indiana and Wisconsin last year that, according to the authors, we have entered a new era for ALEC's education policy agenda.

Comparing the union fight to Britain's defeat of Germany in Egypt to secure the Suez Canal, Lardner and Lips crow that in 2011, "For the first time, the unions suffered major policy defeats in a large number of states across a wide array of policy issues."

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels wrote the report card's forward, lamenting how the unions in his state once had a voice in issues such as the length of the school day, academic freedom and, generally, the content of their work, says his state has turned the corner. "Collective bargaining will now be limited to wages and benefits and will no longer stand in the way of effective school leadership or student progress," Daniels writes.

Indiana's ALEC grade improved to a B from a C+ in 2010 even though its NAEP scores declined from 13th to 17th. Indiana did, however, pass several pieces of legislation in the last year that were influenced by ALEC model bills, including the creation of a statewide voucher school program, merit pay and restricted collective bargaining rights for teachers, and deep budget cuts.

ALEC Education Policy "Academy" at Island Resort, No Students Allowed

The report card, released during National Charter School Week, also comes during the ramp-up to ALEC's annual "K-12 Education Reform Academy" at the swanky Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida. The non-profit group Fund Education Now intercepted one of ALEC's invitations to legislators in Florida delineating the junket's deluxe (and gratis) accommodations and summarizing the opportunity to learn more about school privatization and giving teachers their comeuppance.

"You are cordially invited to attend ALEC's K-12 Education Reform Academy, February 3-4, 2012 at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida. For invited legislators like you, ALEC will cover your room for up to two nights at the host hotel. ALEC will also reimburse up to $500 for travel expenses, which includes coach airfare, cabfare, and a reimbursement of 55.5 cents per mile driven."

"This event will address the top reforms in K-12 education that ALEC believes each state must have to ensure the successful and productive education for all American students. We will discuss what you as a state legislator can do to address a variety of issues surrounding K-12 education reform, including charter schools accessibility, accountability and transparency, standards for teacher excellence, open enrollment, vouchers, tax credits, and blended learning options."