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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.

 Thursday, hundreds of state legislators from across the nation headed out to an "island" resort on the coast of Florida to a unique "education academy" sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). There were no students or teachers. Instead, legislators, representatives from right-wing think tanks and for-profit education corporations met behind closed doors to channel their inner  Milton Friedman and promote the radical transformation of the American education system into a private, for-profit enterprise.

What is ALEC Scoring on Its Education "Report Card?"

Little is known about the agenda of the ALEC education meeting that took place at the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island. The meeting is not open to the public and recently even  the press has been kicked out of meetings and barred from attendance. So to understand the ALEC agenda with regard to education, it is important to examine ALEC's education "scorecard."

Imagine getting a report card from your teacher and finding out that you were graded not on how well you understood the course material or scored on the tests and assignments, but rather on to what extent you agreed with your teacher's strange public policy positions. That is the best way to understand the American Legislative Exchange Council's 17th  Report Card on American Education released last week.

The report card's authors are  Matthew Lardner, formerly of the Goldwater Institute, and  Dan Lips, currently of the  Goldwater Institute and formerly of the  Heritage Foundation. They give every state's public schools an overall grade based on how they rate in 14 categories. Homeschooling, alternative teacher certification, charter schools, private school choice, and virtual learning make up 7 of the 14 categories. Of the other seven categories, two rate the states' academic standards and the other five have mostly to do with the way states retain "effective" teachers and fire "ineffective" ones.

ALEC's education bills encompass more than 20 years of effort to privatize public education through an ever-expanding network of school voucher systems, which divert taxpayer dollars away from public schools to private schools, or the creation of new private charter schools with public funds, and even with private online schools (who needs actual teachers when you can have a virtual one?). The bills also allow schools to loosen standards for teachers and administrators, exclude students with physical disabilities and special educational needs, escape the requirements of collective bargaining agreements and experiment with other pet causes like merit pay, single-sex education, school uniforms, and political and religious indoctrination of students.

States where students score well on tests but where ALEC's legislative agenda around school choice, charters, merit pay, de-unionization and alternative certification have not yet taken hold get low grades. States where elected officials are gung-ho for ALEC's agenda but the students are not faring so well are still graded generously.

Ranking Policy, Not Performance

While ALEC's report card and its many appendices weigh in at hefty 130+ pages, it is markedly slight on evidence that school choice, charters, or firing more teachers improve student performance. Indeed, the report card itself even makes this case by also ranking each state's students' performance on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) exam, the largest and most accepted national, standardized assessment of student knowledge in several subject areas.

Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Kansas, New Hampshire and New York comprise the top 10 states in NAEP performance. Among them, only Colorado is among the 13 states ALEC gives a B or better on its report card. Vermont, even though it scored number two on the NAEP, is tied for dead last for policy with a D+. Missouri, ALEC's star pupil with an A-, scored 47th on NAEP.