Understanding ALEC: How ALEC’S Duplicity Undermines American Public Education

Three years ago I had never heard of The American Legislative Exchange Council, the uber right wing neoconservative think tank that forges pro corporate policies in secret with their legislative buddies. But for those of us studied in the ways and means of education reform, we have come to learn how deeply entrenched ALEC’s roots are in the rounds of state level and national policies that are laying waste to public education. Mercedes Schneider exposes this most eloquently. 

ALEC’s “model” bills can be seen etched carefully into state level policies that call for:

-more (corporate led, hedge fund invested) charter schools,

-more vouchers draining the funds greatly needed by starving public schools into the pockets of “venture philanthropists”

-the call for new teacher evaluations (rolling out the red carpet for union busting TFA faux teachers, and Pearson’s domination of the educational/testing system)

-replacing brick and mortar schools with more online classrooms. Is it a coincidence that Mickey Revenaugh, CEO of Connections Academy sat as the co-chair of the ALEC education subcommittee or that ALEC member K12 Inc was represented at Arnefest 2013 (aka Education Nation)?

-obsessive amounts of data collection via the new high stakes tests, lobbying efforts led by Pearson, political push by billionaire Rupert Murdoch, and “research” done by big data gurus McKinsey and Co.

-and Common Core “State” standards. (CCSS)

Yes. Common Core. Even though there is the voice of opposition to CCSS within ALEC, their involvement is plainly evident to anyone not living under a rock. The financial investment in CCSS of right wing politically conservative groups such as Jeb Bush, Eli Broad, Walton, Lumina, K-12 Inc, and Wireless Generation are but a few. After all, let’s not forget that it was George Bush who passed NCLB, the first federal effort to link school financing to standardized test performance.

How can the role that Rupert Murdoch (owner of tea party’s darling Fox News and owner of inBloom in concert with Bill Gates) be ignored?

As one website comments: “Besides New York and Louisiana, inBloom has contracts with seven other states. All are part of the Shared Learning Collaborative, a pilot program set up by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to help implement Common Core standards through the tracking of student data. The Council of Chiefs, also a non-profit, is composed of the heads of America’s state school systems who work together with corporations to collectively design education policy, in mold of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

Now I do not believe in any way that ALEC represents the beliefs of your average politically Conservative “every man.” I’m sure, my own father, a die-hard Conservative who graduated from Columbia University and served as editor in chief for a major magazine, and who voted for Reagan, had never even heard of ALEC up until the day he passed away.

Nor do I believe that Bill Gates (touted by Conservatives as a “progressive”) reflects many (if any) of the progressive or liberal values of your average left-leaning voter. Claiming to “save the world” by forcing impoverished nations and even your own country into policies that are modeled after your own self-serving corporate image is NOT a progressive value!

Greed is the bi partisan motivator and ALEC’s agenda trumps democracy no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. As Piascik reminds us: “Liberals who think the Democrats are a significant alternative and right-wingers who believe the Democrats have been taken over by Marxist-Leninists would do well to consider that (1) more wealth was redistributed from the 99 percent to the super rich under Clinton than Reagan and (2) President Obama, with his cohort of Goldman Sachs advisers and GE executives, is carrying out virtually the same policies as his predecessor.

No. The likes of Bill Gates and ALEC corporations might use some of the language embraced by their respective political parties. But they belong in a class all their own. In the words of Diane Ravitch, they belong to the “billionaire’s boys club.” 

So theirs is a billionaire ideology. It’s largely led by neoconservative values which demonizes the “progressive” values because nothing stands in the way of unfettered profits (at the expense of human and environmental health and well-being) more than mandated oversight or restrictions. Regulations of any kind for fair labor laws, a clean environment and human safety …they just slow things down. Nothing spoils a day of record industrial profits more than the messy reality of climate change. It’s far easier to legislate school curricula that will teach the next generation of children to deny it as well, and then carry on with business as usual. ALEC’s ideological zealots sell everyday average Conservatives the value of “freedom” and “individual rights,” when what they really mean is freedom for them to trample upon the individual rights of the rest of us. That gets lost in the fine print.

And billionaire so-called “progressives” (as Gates is labelled), are right on board with them. In the name of “equity” and “human rights” they launch global campaigns of profit, dominance and control. How else can one explain Gates’ claim to “help all children” through education reform, with solutions that include selling his OWN products, attaching children to wires, biometric bracelets, and other frightening Orwellian invasive data tracking systems? Is that his definition of fighting for civil or human rights? Maybe in the 6th circle of hell it is.

Piascik summarizes it thusly: The Greed Party creates illusions of blaming the “other,” which “is the super rich’s trick of fomenting divisions within the populace where they might otherwise be united.” 

So you might, like me, be scratching your head when you read news reports claiming that opposition to the CCSS is coming from ALEC, even Tea Party, voices.

This is where it gets complicated.

Members of ALEC (representing extremist neo conservative views) are both promoting and opposing Common Core. How does this work?

On the one side you have the ALEC agenda for corporate profit and control: The pro- multinational corporate interest sponsoring the Common Core. Through their efforts many things can or will happen. First, they will get even richer off the backs of public schools, our tax dollars, and our children. Secondly, when bundled as it is in the package of Race to the Top along with the other policies I already mentioned, CCSS will go a long way toward ensuring schools and children “fail” so as to be replaced, managed or owned by private corporate interests. And they’ve made a deal with the Federal government in order to do so. Third, their investments mean they can sway curricular and instructional decisions in ways that favor their visions for future U.S. and global labor markets (career and college ready). I’m sure there are other reasons I’m not mentioning. God only knows what they’ll do with the 400 private data points from millions of children.

On the other side of the playing field you have the ALEC in the guise of the extreme views of the Tea party (created and funded largely by the Koch Brothers)– opposing Common Core for its own (but not too dissimilar) reasons, to which I will come back in a moment.

Now it’s important that I clarify here the differences between people and ideology. I believe in, and I have seen, successful alliances in opposition to the Common Core between groups or individuals from all over the political spectrum. These alliances have put aside now defunct political labels or other differences in favor of five shared goals:

1)      Protecting children’s privacy rights from the “data pirates” (phrase given by Leonie Haimson via Twitter). 

2)      Opposing the developmentally inappropriate and harmful effects of the Common Core on our children’s learning.

3)      The desire to fight FOR the possibility of a sustainable and meaningful PUBLIC education for ALL children-by supporting the rights of communities, teachers, and children in forging that vision.

4)      Advocating for greater state and local control; opposing the gross over-reach of the Federal Dept of Education in state and local education policies.

5)      Protecting our democracy from the hands of corporate-controlled decision making.

So here in the land of the sane and the reasonable, we can agree that most conservative-minded parents/activists/educators fighting against CCSS are not trying to sneak in a privatizing (or ideological) agenda and that parents/activists/educators from the progressive side are not trying to brainwash our children with a communist values.

But if you move into the hinterlands beyond the sane and reasonable, you will see the dual face of ALEC rearing its head. I realized this only after I did some research into primary documents crafted by founding members of ALEC.

Meet Paul Weyrich and the Koch Brothers

In 1978, these millionaire magnates set forth to create a group, now known as ALEC, where free market philanthropists, industrialists, and ideologues could bend the ear and sway the minds of national or state level public policy makers in their favor. They have an agenda. And they have a strategy. Their desire to eliminate the Common Core is not reflective of the five goals I outlined previously. Their goal is eerily (or ironically) similar to the one forged by the PRO Common Core ALEC entities.

The Koch brothers founded ALEC and also had a huge hand in the creation of the tea party to one might see how their ideologies are aligned. As a Rolling Stone article explains it: “They don’t oppose big government so much as government – taxes, environmental protections, safety-net programs, public education: the whole bit. (By all accounts, the Kochs are true believers; they really buy that road-to-serfdom stuff about the holiness of free markets.”

And while many folks of all political stripes oppose the Common Core, we also oppose the bundle reform package it comes wrapped in. In contrast, Koch’s mission to oppose Common Core does not also oppose other education reform measures.

The billionaire Koch Brothers, virulently anti-union, have poured many millions into efforts to push charter schools to replace public schools, to impose a test-based teacher assessment, and bust teacher unions.”

It could be that Scott Walker’s own “about face” move to now oppose the Common Core comes sole at the behest of his buddies Koch, who have been huge supporters of his.

Let’s not forget that “Among the best-known billionaires promoting school choice and privatization are the billionaire Koch brothers, who gained national notoriety during the protests against Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin.” 

The lesser known but equally important “man behind the ALEC curtain” is Paul Michael Weyrich (1942-2008). In addition to co- founding ALEC he also co-founded the conservative think tanks, the Heritage Foundation, and the Free Congress Foundation. He coined the term “moral majority”, the name of the political action group Moral Majority that he co-founded in 1979 with Jerry Falwell.

I hope my readers can see where this is going….

See this- according to The Voter Legislative Transparency Project

(it’s long…. but please read it carefully!):

In his essay “The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement Heubeck (Weyrich’s protégé) proposes a transition to the new elite domination of society … into a political force that can move the New Traditionalists into the position of ultimate power in our society.  Heubeck lays out a three-step process:

There will be three main stages in the unfolding of this movement. The first stage will be devoted to the development of a highly motivated elite able to coordinate future activities. The second stage will be devoted to the development of institutions designed to make an impact on the wider elite and a relatively small minority of the masses. The third stage will involve changing the overall character of American popular culture.

Our movement will be entirely destructive, and entirely constructive. We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them. We will endeavor to knock our opponents off-balance and unsettle them at every opportunity. All of our constructive energies will be dedicated to the creation of our own institutions.

We will maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the Left. We will attack the very legitimacy of the Left. We will not give them a moment’s rest.

We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime. We will take advantage of every available opportunity to spread the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the existing state of affairs. For example, we could have every member of the movement put a bumper sticker on his car that says something to the effect of ‘Public Education is Rotten; Homeschool Your Kids.’ This will change nobody’s mind immediately; no one will choose to stop sending his children to public schools immediately after seeing such a bumper sticker; but it will raise awareness and consciousness that there is a problem. Most of all, it will contribute to a vague sense of uneasiness and dissatisfaction with existing society. We need this if we hope to start picking people off and bringing them over to our side. We need to break down before we can build up. We must first clear away the flotsam of a decayed culture.

In terms of our long term prospects, because we will be seen as a purely defensive movement, not interested in imposing our views on anyone, only interested in being left alone, we will surely gain the sympathy of the public. The dominant culture will see its life-force being sapped, and it will grow terrified. It will do whatever it takes to destroy its assailant. This will lead to the perception that the dominant leftist culture is empty, hollow, desperate, and has lost its mandate to rule, because its only basis for authority is coercion, much like the communist East Bloc. Sympathy from the American people will increase as our opponents try to persecute us, which means our strength will increase at an accelerating rate due to more defections–and the enemy will collapse as a result.

I’m the enemy of the elite apparently. Oh well. And I’m such a people-pleaser.

I think that the education reform narrative (drawing from Naomi Klein’s “manufactured crisis”) of “our nation is lagging behind” and ‘we are a nation at risk” creates a sense of instability and panic. The reformers use language like “status quo” to attack teachers defending what they believe to be good and right for their children and their schools. They use guerilla tactics like shutting down hundreds of schools in one fell swoop and replacing them with poor performing but highly profitable McCharters. The insane and chaotic untested and forced implementation of Common Core standards are certainly keeping public school teachers and children off balance.

ALEC loves to follow its own playbooks doesn’t it? Why not learn from “the master?”

And the cherry atop their cherry bomb cake? It’s to use an anti-common core rhetoric NOT to protect children and public education as a democratic good. No. It’s to hijack anti common core efforts in order to demonize “progressives” and to (using their fear tactics as Weyrich suggests) claim that Common Core isn’t just wrong, or developmentally inappropriate, or selling our children to corporate interests. No. It’s because it leads to communism. Or fascism. Or both. Some websites I’ve visited seem to think the two ideologies are either synonymous or interchangeable. Someone didn’t take Political Theory 101 I guess.

So, it CCSS really “turning our public school system into its own, blood-sucking, Communist training camp?”

I don’t care what it seems like to the tea party. Because if this were in fact true it would indeed be an historical epic moment: The first communist takeover in history wholly funded and led by free-market loving, American-flag-waving, neo-liberal billionaire CAPITALISTS.

That’s is, unless the avoidance of this fact were a deliberate evasion of the truth, replaced with a false narrative in order to hijack the trajectory of the collaborative efforts of opposition to the Common Core for one’s own extremist ideological purposes.

So when you see ALEC’s agenda on both sides of the Common Core debate remember Weyrich’s words: 

“The next conservatism should renew the call to disestablish the Federal department of Education and leave local schools to local communities. If we don’t stop it, soon we will find that it doesn’t matter how we educate our children, their minds will still be poisoned by this anti-Western, anti-Christian ideology”

What Do You Think?

I wonder- is there some schism in the inner ranks of ALEC between the global profiteers supporting CCSS and the ideological ranks opposing ALEC- now fighting with each other?

Or are they simply gaming the system? Is it a deliberate strategy to confuse and destroy?

I don’t know.

Either way ALEC wins of WE don’t remain aware, vocal, UNITED, and active.

Either they will win by pushing CCSS with its tentacles of other reform policies to the bitter end…

Or they will win… IF, after eliminating CCSS we allow another ALEC- sponsored education policy to take its place.

Either way … the education reform initiatives (including the CCSS as a vital facet) will have led to a breaking down of one of the cornerstones of our democratic society: the right to a free, meaningful, and sustainable public education system for all. A right, which by the way, we have yet to fulfill or fully realize for all our citizens… but I for one will never give up on its potential. And I will never sell it to the highest bidder.

Photo: Flickr user John, creative commons licensed.