Smart ALEC?

If you are a supporter of public education and you haven’t heard of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). You should do a little reading. ALEC is powerful and it has in it’s sights public education in the United States.

ALEC is a 501(c)(3) non profit. It’s purpose is to advance the conservative agenda by crafting “model” bills with legislators and corporate biggies. Like all things that are legitimate in this country, ALEC’s model bills are secret. Reason I guess to believe that they have nothing to hide.

As my ranting has been going over the last few days you can probably imagine that they have their fingers in education somewhere. In fact, they do.

In 2011, ALEC designed a model bill on virtual charter schools. This bill was leaked to The Nation and appears on the website “ALEC Exposed.” The bill of course is very long but interestingly they include a “simple version” apparently for those of us who attended real public schools. The simple version reads like this:  

“Nothing in this bill shall preclude the use of computer- and
Internet-based instruction for students in a virtual or remote setting.”

That sounds pretty harmless. In one short sentence, ALEC advocates for virtual or cyber charter schools. Not a big deal, they have several advocates. 

But wait, maybe it is a big deal. According to PolicyMic.com, our good friends at Pearson co chair the Education Task Force of ALEC. Pearson of course is the operator of Connections Academy, one of the largest networks of virtual charter schools in the country. Isn’t that like drafting a bill requiring every school to hire a juggling clown and your new son-in-law just graduated from clown college. Talk about buttering your own bread. 

Oh, that’s not enough to get your panties in a bunch. How about this? According to SourceWatch, Lisa Gillis of K12, Inc. is the Private Sector Chair ALEC’s Education Task Force’s Special Needs Subcommittee. K12, Inc.is another for profit education company with cyber or virtual charters in every state that claims they are the same as “brick and mortar” charters. This would include two of the largest cybers in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School and Agora Cyber Charter.

So why should you care? ALEC is a very powerful organization. They create model bills that benefit the corporations that align with ALEC and then throw money behind their legislators when they support the Models when they become realities. If you think that it is alright to sell out our students to the highest bidder then this article wasn’t written for you. If, on the other hand, you believe that a public school is not one that is listed on the NYSE (K12,Inc. and Connections Academy) you should read and be wary.

The issue goes deeper than using state subsidy to fund cybercharters too. When a student in Pennsylvania enrolls in a cybercharter, more than the state subsidy attached to that student is billed to the district. There is even a larger gap when the student has an individualized education plan. That means that some of the money going to our cyber friends is local money. Also, in Pennsylvania, the three largest cyber schools received almost $4 million in Title I funds. For those of you who don’t know, that’s federal money. I’m not sure how PDE allocates so much to a system that encompasses no real district, but I’m working on it.

If your legislators are affiliated with ALEC, I urge you to contact them and let them know that you support public education. If you want to know where your legislators stand, here’s a handy guide: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Pennsylvania_ALEC_Politicians. There is also a list of corporations: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_Corporations and non-profits: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/ALEC_Non-Profits

Pearson for Profit

For my summer classes I had to buy several books that left a sting on the old pocketbook. One book, though, really rubbed me the wrong way. The book, Curriculum Development: A Guide to Practice, cost me $134.11! That’s pretty salty for a book that doesn’t even have nice pictures. For that price I would expect the book to read itself. Anyway, what really burned me was when I received the book and found out it was published by Pearson.

If you know anything about Pearson, you know that they have their fingers tightly entwined in the education market. Pearson’s influence in education is widespread from K-12 education through college. Pearson owns Connections Academy, a virtual charter school conglomerate with schools in 24 states. They have a cooperative agreement with the University of Phoenix, the largest for profit post secondary school in the country. They are also “partners” with the CCSSO, one of the so-called creators of the CCSS. The CCSSO works closely with none other than Jeb Bush. The list goes on and on but I need to include that they are also involved in providing assessments for PARCC, GED and SAT. Wow, that’s a lot of influence for one publishing company. How did that come to be?

Well, that is rather simple. Pearson has influenced federal and state government over the last three years to the tune of about $5.5 million. Interesting that greasing the palms of politicians will get you a seat at the front table when contracts are handed out. Interesting that as a new need develops in the realm of education Pearson is there quickly with a solution. Not ready to devise a solution but with a ready made solution.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is this. Education is being construed as a means to make a profit. So called reformers develop reforms and then someone makes a fortune filling the gap created by the reform. The reformers and the hole fillers aren’t even educators. For the most part, they are anti public education. Jeb Bush? Bill Gates? Michelle Rhee? The Walton Foundation? All known associates of Pearson have suggested that public education is failing. But, public education needs Pearson because they conveniently have all the tools required by state and federal guidelines.

Am I going to go broke because I had to buy a $134.11 book? But for a company who sides with the people who believe in free market education, it seems strange that they have cornered the market in so many areas of public education.