ALEC, Ed-Tech, and the Privatization of Education

(Part of my “What Educators Should Know About Tech” series)

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a powerful non-profit organization whose membership is comprised of corporations and conservative politicians. This isn’t merely a lobbying group, as corporate members craft legislation introduced at the state level that promotes free-market and conservative ideals — all behind closed doors.

While ALEC has been in existence for decades now, it’s only recently found itself in the spotlight, in no small part because of the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and the invocation of the ALEC-sponsored Stand Your Ground Law as a defense by his shooter George Zimmerman. Other legislation that the organization has promoted include the spate of voter ID laws that some argue prevent voter fraud and others say are an organized campaign of voter disenfranchisement.

ALEC and Education Legislation

ALEC currently runs 9 initiatives to impact legislation at the state level, including one specifically devoted to education reform. “The mission of ALEC’s Education Task Force,” according to its website, “is to promote excellence in the nation’s educational system, to advance reforms through parental choice, to support efficiency, accountability, and transparency in all educational institutions, and to ensure America’s youth are given the opportunity to succeed.”

ALEC’s legislative efforts in education include legalizing and expanding charter schools and vouchers, passing parent trigger laws, eliminating caps on virtual school enrollment, penalizing students who take longer than 4 years to graduate college, breaking teacher unions, weakening teacher certification requirements, and eliminating tenure. In short: dismantling and privatizing the U.S. public school system.

More broadly, ALEC helps encourage what’s become the prevailing narrative that the American public school system — at both the K–12 and university level — is failing. How in this case is failure defined? The ALEC report card for schools, which gives the country a D- as a whole, helps to make clear the organization’s priorities: Vermont is listed as the #2 state in terms of performance (on standardized test scores, a dubious measurement in its own right), but it’s second-to-last according to ALEC in terms of policy, earning its D+ grade not because of student achievement but because the teachers there are unionized and the state does not allow charter schools. Missouri, on the other hand, ranks 47th in terms of students’ performance on tests, but the state gets an A- grade from ALEC.

ALEC Exposed offers some details about the education-oriented “model legislation” that the organization has authored and promoted.

ALEC and Education/Technology Companies

According to ALEC Exposed, the following education and technology corporations and special interest groups are currently or have been members of ALEC.

Note: Some companies claim they have severed ties, particularly following the attention that the organization received after the Trayvon Martin shooting. So the ones that are known to currently be involved are listed in bold below. I’ve also put asterisks next to the companies that have participated in ALEC’s Education Task Force.

* Alliance for School Choice
Amazon
American Association of Christian Schools
American Federation for Children
American Principles Project
AOL
Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities
AT&T
Better Education for Kids
Bridgepoint Education
Center for Education Reform
Comcast
* Connections Academy (owned by Pearson)
Corinthian Colleges
* Dell
Entertainment Software Association
Foundation for the Excellence in Education 
Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
* Gates Foundation (not a formal member, but a one-time financial backer)
Goldwater Institute
Hewlett-Packard (HP)
IBM
Imagine Learning  
Innosight Institute
Insight Schools
Intel
* International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL) 
K12 Inc
* Kaplan Higher Education
* Lumina Foundation for Education
Microsoft
National Association of Charter School Authorizers 
* National Board for Professional Teaching Standards 
National Council for Private School Accreditation
National Independent Private Schools Association
National Heritage Academies
News Corp 
* Ohio University  
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs  
Reed Elsevier
* Scantron 
Symantec
Time Warner Cable
* U.S. English Foundation  
Verizon
Walton Family Foundation
Wireless Generation
Yahoo

ALEC Exposed also offers a list of politicians who belong to the Education Task Force.

ALEC and Ed-Tech

The participation of education and technology companies along with certain special interest groups in ALEC probably -- and unfortunately -- isn’t that surprising. We are, as Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig has argued, a “republic lost” because of the ways in which corporate money influences our politics.

But still, we must ask: What role do ALEC and similar organizations play in shaping ed-tech’s development and adoption? And what role does education technology — the technology, the companies which build it, the schools that adopt it, the legislation that promotes it — play in the future of public education in this country?

We must ask these questions of the corporations and organizations that support ALEC (and/or support their legislative efforts). But we must also ask ourselves these questions when we advocate for products and policies that dovetail neatly with ALEC's larger anti-democratic initiatives.



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