The Puppet Masters

The education community is getting bombarded with new acronyms all the time: OTES, SLO, SGM, etc. Figuring out what they stand for is difficult. Figuring out their impact on public education in the short and long term is nearly impossible.

However, they are probably missing one very important acronym from their lexicon, one that represents the most influential corporate-funded political force operating in America today, one that has worked to dilute collective bargaining rights and privatize public education. ALEC.

ALEC, which stands for American Legislative Exchange Council, is a conservative organization that develops policies and language that can be used as part of legislation by multiple states across the country.

That probably doesn’t clarify much of anything.

In more concrete terms, ALEC creates legislation for elected officials to introduce in their states as their own brainchildren. ALEC is comprised of legislators and corporate leaders and has been operating in the shadows for about 40 years. They don’t solely focus on public education either. ALEC was the group behind the controversial “Stand your Ground” legislation in Florida, which was at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting case.

In the documentary “United States of ALEC,” Bill Moyers calls the group “an organization hiding in plain sight, yet one of the most influential and powerful in American politics.”

Moyers’ comment about ALEC is absolutely on point. ALEC is more or less unknown in teacher circles. Teachers, who are focused on their students, generally don’t dabble in the political realm. They have not been interested in knowing or getting to know ALEC, at least until recently.

After the 2010 election — with the assaults to collective bargaining rights, the expansion of voucher programs and education reforms that emphasized testing and “accountability” — teachers in the Midwest got to know ALEC the hard way, though they still probably couldn’t identify it by name.

Think back to those bills that were signed into law in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio in early 2011. Ask yourself, how was it that different state legislatures came up with virtually identical anti-labor bills at the same time? The answer: ALEC. The group crafted the language and legislators waited for the most opportune time to introduce it. In Ohio they found it following the 2010 elections when Republicans took control of the Governor’s office and the legislature.

ALEC’s strategy is like the kid’s game of whack a mole. If they were to put out one piece of legislation at a time, education groups and organized labor could easily defeat each one in succession. Instead they toss out a slew of legislation all at once, so there isn’t enough time or resources to educate and mobilize the public. There is no way to effectively beat back all the reforms.

In “How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools“ Lee Fang summed up ALEC’s strategy: “spread the unions thin ‘by playing offense’ with decoy legislation.” Spreading the unions thin has resulted in radical changes to classroom teachers’ everyday lives — changes that were made without the input of local school boards or educators.

As states have expanded voucher systems, schools have had to drastically reduced funding. These programs take money away from traditional public schools and give it to unaccountable and very often less effective private and charter schools. This means larger class sizes for us, less extra help for students and fewer electives.

They have also increased standardized testing, bringing with it the stress that goes along with constantly prepping students for high stakes tests. It’s frustrating because we all know that these tests are not a true indication of students’ progress and understanding. And now teachers are also experiencing the stress of state-mandated teacher evaluations.

These ALEC-induced policy changes have devastated teacher morale and driven many to retirement.

It’s astonishing how much impact one group can have without 95% of the public even knowing it exists.


By Dan Greenberg, Sylvania Education Association


Charter Schools Collective Bargaining General Legislative Issues Miscellaneous Testing

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