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The Time That ALEC Got It Right

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The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been in existence since the days I was learning to write using a fat pencil. (I turn 46 this week.) ALEC advocates for "limited government," "federalism" and "free market principles." These terms sound lofty and noble until one realizes that all this means is that ALEC is opposed to the federal government telling states what to do and that it desires for corporations to profit handsomely. Usually, these two ALEC goals compliment each other; instead of the federal government regulating state legislation, ALEC has forced its mammoth way into statehouses via its "model legislation," which is designed to siphon public money into the already-overflowing corporate tank.

ALEC was able to operate virtually unnoticed for decades. In April 2012, the citizens lobbying group Common Cause filed a whistleblower complaint on ALEC with the IRS; ALEC had indicated on some of its tax forms that it did not chiefly engage in lobbying, when in truth, all that ALEC does is lobby for big business by connecting its legislative members with its corporate members so that the legislators might promote ALEC's pro-privatization "model legislation" in statehouses nationwide.

Once ALEC was exposed to public view, its members, both corporate and legislative, began to drop out of ALEC. The legislators choosing to leave were almost exclusively Democrats. They were by far the minority; ALEC legislative membership is chiefly Republican.

ALEC's self-serving legislation came back upon the group with a vengeance when an unarmed Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin, was fatally shot by Neighborhood Watch captain George Zimmerman; the public soon discovered that the 2005 law enabling Zimmerman to shoot Martin, Florida's Stand Your Ground law, was being promoted by ALEC as "model legislation" across the nation. Numerous other unarmed individuals have died as a result of this law, introduced to ALEC by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and supported by the corporation garnering the largest profits from gun sales, WalMart.

Knowing this ALEC history, I do not lightly promote the idea that ALEC did indeed "get something right." That "something" has to do with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

ALEC faced a real quandary with CCSS, for CCSS pitted ALEC's professed federalism against its corporation-benefitting privatization.

In model legislation mailed to its Education Task Force members on July 1, 2011, ALEC chose the side of federalism over profits. The model resolution, entitled, Resolution Opposing the Implementation of the Common Core State Standards Initiative , was sponsored by ALEC member Jonathan Butcher of the Goldwater Institute. (Named for the late Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, the Institute now operates like ALEC. However, Goldwater did not intend for this to happen. For an excellent read on the Goldwater Institute, see this 1999 interview with Goldwater's widow, Susan.) I have reproduced the entire document below. All of the points it makes are spot-on:

Resolution Opposing the Implementation of the Common Core State Standards Initiative

Model Resolution

WHEREAS, high student performance and closing the achievement gap is fundamentally linked to an overall reform of our public education system through a strong system of accountability and transparency built on state standards, and

WHEREAS, the responsibility for the education of each child of this nation primarily lies with parents, supported by locally elected school boards and state governments, and

WHEREAS, common standards have resulted in increased decision making on issues of state and local significance without the input of state and local stakeholders, and

WHEREAS, no empirical evidence indicates that centralized education standards necessarily result in higher student achievement, and

WHEREAS, special interest groups can expose the vulnerability of the centralized decision making that governs common standards and lower the standards' rigor and quality to suit their priorities, and

WHEREAS, adoption of the Common Core standards would force several states to lower their standards, and

WHEREAS, the National Assessment of Educational Progress national test already exists and allows comparisons of academic achievement to be made across the states, without the necessity of imposing national standards, curricula or assessments, and

WHEREAS, imposing a set of national standards is likely to lead to the imposition of a national curriculum and national assessment upon the various states, a clear violation of the Elementary Secondary Education Act, and

WHEREAS, claims from the Common Core Initiative that the Common Core will not dictate what teachers teach in the classroom are refuted by language in the standards as written, and

WHEREAS, common standards will continue to lessen the ability for local stakeholders to innovate and continue to make improvements over time, and WHEREAS, when no less than 22 states face budget shortfalls and Race to the Top funding for states is limited, $350 million for consortia to develop new assessments aligned with the Common Core standards will not cover the entire cost of overhauling state accountability systems, which includes implementation of standards and testing and associated professional development and curriculum restructuring, and

WHEREAS, local education officials, school leaders, teachers, and parents were not included in the discussion, evaluation and preparation of the standards that would affect students in this state.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the {legislative body} of the state of {name of state} rejects any policies and procedures that would be incumbent on the state based on the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

An excellent listing of the weaknesses of and potential exploitation enabled by CCSS.

Keep in mind that ALEC is secretive; the above document was not intended for public view. If it had not been for Common Cause's public records request of ALEC documents, this resolution could have been "rejected" by ALEC and the public would not have been the wiser regarding the degree to which ALEC knew the problems with CCSS.

In December 1, 2011, the ALEC Education Task Force voted to approve of this resolution and promote it as "official" ALEC model legislation. Here is the ALEC decision as noted in ALEC's minutes:

The second bill the Education Task Force members considered was the Comprehensive Legislative Package Opposing the Common Core State Standards Initiative, cosponsored by Jonathan Butcher of Goldwater Institute and Emmett McGroarty of American Principles Project. After discussion, the legislation passed both the public sector with 14 Yeas, 6 Nays, and the private sector with 9 Yeas, and 4 Nays. The Comprehensive Legislative Package Opposing the Common Core State Standards Initiative was approved.

How is it, then, that ALEC now has changed its mind?

Jeb Bush had a hand in it. He was in favor of CCSS. But there is another key component, and it is included in the same ALEC minutes as the resolution vote. Yes, in those minutes, ALEC announces a new director for its education task force. The former director, David Myslinski, now works for Jeb Bush. But the minutes also announce a new education task force member:

Wireless Generation.

Bingo.

Wireless Generation is owned by news mogul Rupert Murdoch. Wireless Generation built the data storage system for the controversial data cloud, inBloom. Too, Murdoch's Amplify, run by former NYC Chancellor Joel Klein, recently won the $12.5 million contract to design CCSS assessments.

There is just too much money to be made in selling student data and assessments for ALEC to reject CCSS.

Therefore, on November 19, 2012 -- almost a year following the ALEC vote to oppose CCSS- Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) promoted the idea of an ALEC "final final vote." The person promoting this idea was none other than former ALEC Education task Force Director-gone-FEE Communications Specialist David Myslinski. Below is an excerpt:

Over the weekend, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) rejected an anti-Common Core bill, thus completing its 18-month exploration of the Common Core State Standards. This action reaffirmed ALEC's position that states should be in charge of their education standards and supports the option for states to freely adopt Common Core.

By rejecting the bill, which would have tied the hands of state legislators, ALEC made clear its support of states raising student expectations through higher standards--working in consort with other states or working independently.

Do go back and reread the ALEC resolution opposing CCSS and compare it to the fluff Myslinski offers as ALEC's no-wait-really, "final" decision.

Even though even the majority on the ALEC Education Task Force did not even want CCSS initially, in the end, the billionaire wins.

For the record, let me add that I do not believe Bush engineered this ALEC about-face primarily to advance Murdoch's contract to write the CCSS assessments.

I believe the real goal is to use CCSS as a means to collect personal data on millions of people.

Now there is some real power.