Tell ALEC to stop cashing in on kids


photo above courtesy of Fibonnaci Blue

At the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) big corporations write and sponsor free-market policies alongside state legislators. These bills follow ALEC’s simple formula: Defund. Deregulate. Privatize. Profit.

Recently, over 40 public facing corporations have pulled their support from ALEC due to their harmful policies including Stand Your Ground laws and restricting Voting Rights.

The track records for ALEC’s education policies are also shameful. They are not research proven reforms and they have a real negative impact on students.

Privatization is top on their list and it comes in many forms like vouchers and education tax credit, unregulated corporate cyber schools and corporate-backed “parent triggers”.

ALEC members are also playing the long game to clear the way for more privatization with less oversight  by focusing on how to limit the power of educators to collectively bargain and have a voice in working and learning conditions.

Parents and Communities get it. Real conversations about education reform have to address inequities and allow educators to be a voice for their students and the profession. Fill out the form below to pledge to stand up for students and against ALEC and corporate-backed education reform.


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Reader Comments

  1. Selfishnes and greed have taken over. Those without kids think they should bear no taxes to support schools, never thinking about where the smart, trained workers will come from.. Just like the treatment that Chinese, Italians, Jews, Irish and others who immigrated here, new immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countris are being derided with wild accusations made about their honor and work ethic.
    Every group that has migrated has enriched the society of American life. Blacks and others among the poor find themselves in cycles they cannot escape because of prejudice, lack of education, opportunity, and racism. Other countries have full medical care, far less racism and their countries are also “free”, with much better educational systems than we have. When this is pointed out, the usual response by Americans is :If you like it so much there, why are you here? This inability to accept that other countries have better working systems in health and education is a stupid thought process that keeps the US behind in those very areas. We NEED to understand why and how those countries developed those better systems so we can do the same for our own people.

  2. In SF, a rep. at my site asked, “Why are you complaining? You knew about the unpaid overtime before you went into this profession.” OMG, that’s the type of unionism we want? And this guy thinks he’s progressive. There was a poll in NEA or AFT quarterly publication that asked, “Should teachers pay out of pocket for school expenses?” It completely ignored the issue that PUBLIC education is a nation’s investment for a democratic society paid for through taxation. When politicians “sell out” to businesses and corporations (ALEC) the funding base is drastically reduced- thereby, reducing public services.
    Another union teacher who wants a raise at my site gave us “homework.” I responded, “When you are willing to work for FREE (homework), it undermines our ability to bargain for a raise during this contract year.” Jeez, why isn’t our union politically educating its members?

    1. At my school as well, many teachers think that working overtime is just part of the job. Most of these overtime mandates do not help the children. These are ridiculous study of endless new programs, self evaluations, data entry, setting up hardware, previewing software, making a show for the cameras, excessive progress reports, irrelevant forms, redundant emails, etc. They overwork the teacher and make him/her less available when with the children. I’m all for the usual after hours to grade papers, talk with parents, seek additional resources, and set up learning activities with engaging learning materials. I was already donating non-contract time; that has always been part of the profession. What we are donating now is counterproductive time.

    2. Get a new union rep. That’s what elections are all about.
      Then take some time (if appropriate for your class, but even in science we talk about “evidence based decisions”) to educate your students about the world…

    3. Akin to hiring an attorney for a claim or to defend you against a claim, and then the attorney advocates for the one that is opposing you — makes no sense. If you wanted flack, you would go straight to the administrator. It won’t be long, and this “rep” will be gunning for an administrator credential… (Airplane: “They bought their tickets; they got on the plane — I say, LET ’em crash!!”)

  3. There is an article in my local newspaper today- The Miami Herald- about a FL lawmaker intending to increase vouchers and/but there are some who are demanding that the children given vouchers to attend private schools be required to participate in standardized testing. There’s a comment in the article that the children and parents receiving these vouchers “like” them- I’m sure they do, but the politicians who are promoting this policy have no real way of comparing the education they are receiving in private school with that of public. We are paying with our tax dollars for unequal education for a few.

    1. Before I retired vouchers were being pushed by state politicians(Republicans) and private school parents. I suggested to some parents that they use the voucher system for their children. But when the private schools checked the child’s academic and discipline records the parents were told that they were not “a good fit” for the private religious schools. The only exception to that rule occurred when the student was a very good athlete. There needs to be testing for all voucher students so that religious schools are made to be just as accountable as the public schools. And finally, I feel that if a voucher student does not improve equally or more in the testing situation the religious private school should be required to return the voucher money for failing to do what they are so proud of bragging about in their advertisements.

  4. I’m sorry to say that we’ve been sold down the river… in some states more than others. But the goal is the same: demonize public educators, privatize education, saddle college graduates with huge debt, offer them no work, destroy ALL unions, and turn us all into Serfs. Alec seeks to deregulate and dissolve America as it once was. They could care less about clean water and air, healthy food, or care of the people. Poverty and hunger is okay. Alec is comprised of large, multi-national corporations that have only one bottom line. And with Citizens United our lawmakers are now owned and purchased. Alec stands for the death of America and the elimination of rights, liberty, and free speech. I am constantly amazed at how fast and successful they have been to take us all down. And the chameleon in our highest office is part of the ruse. (Think twice if you disagree.)

    Where our highest priorities ought to be invested in our children and keeping work in our country, Alec writes crap laws like Stand Your Ground and Citizens United to destroy priorities. Alec is smart, calculated, and evil. They have time and money.

    What to do? Don’t accept it. We can use our skills as educators to teach parents and and kids alike. Most of your kid’s parents like you especially if you reach out to them. Talk about this stuff. Write editorials and become vocal and ticked. Support guys like Bernie Sanders and those willing to speak out for the middle class. Organize, congregate, and meet in your cities and towns. Create an artful sign and parade it with others. There is power in numbers. Write your lawmakers and tell them what you want. Write them again and again. Have your spouse and friends write. Talk to friends and others when lawmakers fail us and our students. Discuss it on Facebook and make it a BIG deal. Yes, this takes energy and time. No one better than us. No time better than now.

      1. Citizens United was born by and supported by the Koch brothers and their every effort has been to maintain control any way possible for the betterment and protection of corporations. This includes many of the ‘private’ schools. They have made heavy donations to major private and state universities with the addedum of having a voice of subject matter taught, how it is taught, the text books used and hirering of teachers/professors. Look this up online. The names of the schools so funded, with this addedum will shock you.
        The Supreme Court ruling in favor of Citizens United was a slap in the face to our entire election process that was designed by the Constitution to be of, for and by the people. What we now have as a result is the financial take over of our elections, as well as the politicians the unlimited funding this ruling allows to candidates y corporations and the top 1%. Unfortunately, since the general public 1) does not study the issues and 2) most do not bother to vote,and 3)Fox News (the most widely watched news chanel) can spread inanccuracy and downright lies, the top 1% and corporate donations now almost totally control who gets the most tv adds which terribly influence those who look for no substantive information on candidates.
        Then there is the whole issue of what we use to vote. Diebold, who makes transparent and exacting ATM’s seems unable to provide voting machines as secure. They also provide the programs used in the voting machines and no state has authority to check those programs for 1)security 2)what is ON the program and 3) whether or not the vote in the program is the SAME vote cast by the voter. Even gambling mchine programs have to be thoroughly checked by the state’s gaming commission! Only the votes as listed on the program are used to tally the votes. Paper votes are only counted should a demand for a recount be allowed. If the paper vote does not match the recorded vote on the program, no one ever knows. Princeton, MIT and other universities have disected these machines and found them open to manipulation. Convienient, isn’t it? Diebold is also owned by Registered Republicans who $$ support the Republican Party. This move to electronic systems was pushed through by GWBush after the fiasco of the votes in Florida and other areas the Supreme Court, for the first time in history, stepped into and made Bush President before the recount in Florida was completed. Upon completion, it was clear that Gore had, indeed, won.

    1. At least two Supreme Court Justices (A.S. & C.T.) ruling in favor of corporations political funding in CITIZENS UNITED have ties to ALEC and have spoken at ALEC’s closed door meetings.

  5. I am retired now, but as an active CUTA member and President for 3 years, I fought hard to stop proposals for vouchers in California. Public schools insure that every child no matter how needy will get an education. We must continue to protect that right for the children now and in the future. Fight ALEC!

  6. It is a deliberate scheme to eliminate all public education. This will ensure that only the rich get an education. The middle class will die off and America will have a huge, uneducated, impoverished population that the corporations can use for slave labor. Then they won’t have to send all the jobs to China or India. Though I have been anti-gun all my life, I think it’s time to start stock-piling weapons for the new American revolution — the one that overthrows the corporate robber barons.

    1. Excellent, insightful, intuitive post by Mike G.

      I contend, that the blame for the downfall of America the Beautiful, once the land of opportunity for all, lies at the feet of BIG $$$$$, and America, Inc. Bear with me…

      1. Free Trade Agreements (treaties) that allowed our magnificent manufacturing and industrial sector to be cast to the four winds to garner larger profit margins for America, Inc.

      2. Deregulation fever (Repeal of Glass Steagall that ushered in the era of security fraud by the smartest men in the room- Savings and Loan crisis, Long Term Capital Management, Enron, Bernie Madoff, and the Subprime Mortgage fraud that brought down the whole financial house, or should I say house of cards? ),

      3. Tax policy (the reduction of marginal rates from 71% to 28%), no need to invest our vast wealth in the USA to get a tax break, they got it up front. Increasingly the best game on the Street is in the ‘Multinational Corporations” that goes hand in hand with #1.

      4. Corporate Loopholes for offshoring Corporations (itemized deductions, credits, write-offs, subsidies, etc). that use our tax dollars to incentivize the offshoring of our middle class manufacturing jobs.

      5. Citizens United vs. The Federal Election Commission (unlimited political contributions without the need for disclosure- hell, China could be purchasing our elections…)

      This clip is a very thorough explanation of how we have dug this hole for ourselves:…

      Coming out of the Great Depression with the lessons fresh on our nation’s and our elected officials’ minds, measures were put into law to fortify the middle class:

      1. The Employment Act of 1946

      2. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)

      3. The Wagner Act

      4. Dept. of Labor Laws -Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (minimum wage, child labor laws, overtime compensation, etc.)

      There were the same outcries back then you hear today from the usual suspects. Namely: these laws were an infringement on our freedoms, anti-capitalist, socialist measures that would break the backs of industry and destroy jobs, etc. The results, however, were the cultivation of the mightiest consumer economy the world has ever seen.

      I also contend that the only entity that CAN intervene to get our consumer economy re-fortified with the disposable income that spurs an uptick in consumer spending is the US Government and policies that refortify our middle class. Ironically, America, Inc. and their lackeys in congress have done a very good job of convincing a significant number of USA citizens that the USA Government is the ENEMY, and if they just comply to the mantra of the Koch brothers and their wealthy friends, and lay down their only defense (Government policies to rebuild a middle class consumer economy) it will all go well with them… Meanwhile the vast wealth of the USA continues to flow up hill into the deep pockets of a Plutocratic class and across the globe……

    2. Guns are not the answer. Overwhelming votes are. Votes that are educated in the issues with huge turn outs. Such large turnouts that the vote cast cannot be totally compromised because of the sheer numbers. Encourage friends to use their pc’s to use the search engines and find the truthful answers to their questions. And begin demanding that local news and national news do the same.

  7. In the 1970’s Kenneth Keniston published a report for the Carnegie Fund evaluating the state of American children. His summary article, published in Kappan, was titled, “Do Americans Really Like Children?” His conclusion stated that according to their sentiments they do, but according to the amount of economic support Americans are willing to offer the nation’s children, they do not.

    Underlying this attitude is the fact that we live in a very large and diverse country, resulting in the inability of many to view our nation’s children as a part of our family. We are also taught individual responsibility and to value a small government that does not interfere with the individual. Thus we have a rationale for low taxes. A lack of funds eliminates the underpinnings of a society that cares for all its citizens, including its children.

    Where will this attitude lead us? There are societies where people with wealth live in luxurious compounds, protected from those who sleep, eat and defecate on the streets. Is this what we want for our children’s future?

    1. I fear this is what America is coming to with all of the politically greedy elitists in power in America. We need an entirely new political party which will truly represent the average working class family in America. Let’s face it, both Democrats & Republicans are all about their agendas which will ultimately line their cronies as well as their own pockets with money & their already oversized egos with power.

      1. That’s why people we need to register as non-partisan. Our constitution is based non-ideological principles. George Washington even wanted an amendment to ban political parties. So opt-out of the inherent corruptiveness of any ideology, especially political ideology! Be like George Be a NP voter!

    2. Agree! We have forgotten that this country was formed by people forming communities. In those communities, people helped one another to plant and harvest crops, have barn raisings, aid each other when ill and look after each others children. There was a time when children knew if they misbehaved, their parents would hear of it from neighbors. Now, neighbors turn a deaf ear. Individualism has been touted as the reason this country became great. In fact, it was both through communities that cared for their members as well as a sprinkling of individualism. For those who are followers of Ayn Rand, Individualism is the penical, forgetting she came from a background of totalitarianism which allowed no individualism- making her carry that to the extreme. She really did not understand a representative democracy at all. Carrying for children is assuring the future in a free society, which she certainly did not understand.

  8. I think both parties are in collusion. I am irate that my union took money from these thugs. As an AR rep, I hear about this daily. I believe we need our union to stand up for us. They didn’t and I want to know how they plan to fix this!

  9. I think what all of the weaklings on this site fail to realize is that the reason politicians, private corporations and celebrities are taking action against public education is because organizations like the NEA have roadblocked any sort of reasonable reform to our accountability-poor education system. If you don’t want teachers to be taken out of the conversation, then teachers need to be willing to dialogue intelligently—the NEA, which is is 100% political and ABSOLUTELY concerned with its own bottom line, has never come to the table in good faith. It makes all teacher look like pampered whiners who are more concerned with their undeserved tenure and guaranteed raises than they are with results. Sincerely, a working teacher and a proud non-member.

    1. Don’t think the NEA has that much power. NEA has good teachers and bad teachers just like the teachers who refuse to join a professional organization. Some might criticize those teachers who don’t join a professional organization but want the rights of a professional organization such as the right to grieve, to have a hearing, to have smaller class sizes, higher salaries and equal pay. These people who refuse to join and pay dues believe they should have the same rights as those who are in the union and those who pay dues. Fact is no school board is going to look out for the rights of the teachers or even the best education for the kids because education is like business. Money is important; far more important than kids.

    2. In our district, we were recently forced to agree to a contract that requires our teachers to take 12 non paid furlough days while the Admin is exempt from these furlough days and the district has 20 plus million dollars in just one rainy day savings account and who knows what they have in their other accounts! They are requiring us to agree to removing the 38 per academic class limit which they violate every year anyway because this year for example almost all high school math classes started with an average of 42 per class! The teachers may think this is Power and the powerful NEA will help solve this problem. In 40 years, I know the NEA has almost no power and is a very weak professional organization. Please give me examples of laws the NEA has forced Congress to pass that have helped teachers? By the way, NEA is in favor of the new Common Core Standards which have no basis in research that they will improve anything and it is a lie that they are internationally benchmarked. Please read Pasi Sahlberg’s book comparing international school systems or read his articles comparing American and Finnish Educational Systems. Please read Diana Ravitch’s book about this new Common Core idea and why we are doing this change. Thank you for reading.

    3. Really, you make it sound like every educator is self-serving & the cause of all of the ills in education are because we belong to a union that helps to bargain for reasonable benefits & amenable working conditions for all involved, both children and adults. I think not. When dealing with children who are human beings, not human doings, or widgets, we cannot make miracles happen. When we are handed students whose brains are in severe deficit when they start kindergarten it takes an extreme amount of intervention to catch them up. The first 5 years of a child’s life are critical to their developing brains & when kids in poverty have been deprived of many of life’s experiences & have not been taught to hold a pencil or crayon, or not read to, or abused due to the stressors of the adults in their lives, it takes years to undo that damage & catch those underdeveloped brains up to children who have not grown up in poverty or abuse & neglect. So easy to make a blanket blame statement that it is the NEA who refuses to negotiate. Please open yours eyes to the reality of the inequality that exists in America today & shows up more dramatically in our public schools which are merely microcosms of our society at large. Impoverished neighborhoods don’t pass levy’s & barely have money to pay taxes, feed their families or clothe their children. And when levies don’t pass, you make do with far less. How is that the NEA’s fault?

    4. Really, you make it sound like every educator is self-serving & the cause of all of the ills in education are because we belong to a union that helps to bargain for reasonable benefits & amenable working conditions for all involved, both children and adults. I think not. When dealing with children who are human beings, not human doings, or widgets, we cannot make miracles happen. When we are handed students whose brains are in severe deficit when they start kindergarten it takes an extreme amount of intervention to catch them up. The first 5 years of a child’s life are critical to their developing brains & when kids in poverty have been deprived of many of life’s experiences & have not been taught to hold a pencil or crayon, or not read to, or abused due to the stressors of the adults in their lives, it takes years to undo that damage & catch those underdeveloped brains up to children who have not grown up in poverty or abuse & neglect. So easy to make a blanket blame statement that it is the NEA who refuses to negotiate. Please open yours eyes to the reality of the inequality that exists in America today & shows up more dramatically in our public schools which are merely microcosms of our society at large. Impoverished neighborhoods don’t pass levy’s & barely have money to pay taxes, feed their families or clothe their children. And when levies don’t pass, you make do with far less. How is that the NEA’s fault?

    5. Really, you make it sound like every educator is self-serving & the cause of all of the ills in education are because we belong to a union that helps to bargain for reasonable benefits & amenable working conditions for all involved, both children and adults. I think not. When dealing with children who are human beings, not human doings, or widgets, we cannot make miracles happen. When we are handed students whose brains are in severe deficit when they start kindergarten it takes an extreme amount of intervention to catch them up. The first 5 years of a child’s life are critical to their developing brains & when kids in poverty have been deprived of many of life’s experiences & have not been taught to hold a pencil or crayon, or not read to, or abused due to the stressors of the adults in their lives, it takes years to undo that damage & catch those underdeveloped brains up to children who have not grown up in poverty or abuse & neglect. So easy to make a blanket blame statement that it is the NEA who refuses to negotiate. Please open yours eyes to the reality of the inequality that exists in America today & shows up more dramatically in our public schools which are merely microcosms of our society at large. Impoverished neighborhoods don’t pass levy’s & barely have money to pay taxes, feed their families or clothe their children. And when levies don’t pass, you make do with far less. How is that the NEA’s fault?

    6. Really, you make it sound like every educator is self-serving & the cause of all of the ills in education are because we belong to a union that helps to bargain for reasonable benefits & amenable working conditions for all involved, both children and adults. I think not. When dealing with children who are human beings, not human doings, or widgets, we cannot make miracles happen. When we are handed students whose brains are in severe deficit when they start kindergarten it takes an extreme amount of intervention to catch them up. The first 5 years of a child’s life are critical to their developing brains & when kids in poverty have been deprived of many of life’s experiences & have not been taught to hold a pencil or crayon, or not read to, or abused due to the stressors of the adults in their lives, it takes years to undo that damage & catch those underdeveloped brains up to children who have not grown up in poverty or abuse & neglect. So easy to make a blanket blame statement that it is the NEA who refuses to negotiate. Please open yours eyes to the reality of the inequality that exists in America today & shows up more dramatically in our public schools which are merely microcosms of our society at large. Impoverished neighborhoods don’t pass levy’s & barely have money to pay for housing, feed their families or clothe their children. And when levies don’t pass, you make do with far less. Then add to that the federal gov’t cutting head start programs & decreasing funding to schools for their pet projects & frivolous spending at the expense of children, it is shameful & certainly not the NEA’s fault.

    7. This teacher is ready to whoop your whiny a** What is weak is selfish, self-serving, misogynic “men” who have nothing to give to protect the most vulnerable. People like you are a disgrace to those who have gone to battle, worked, and sacrificed their entire lives to build the great society which you and your sociopathic, ungrateful self-serving brethren mooch off of. Stand up and show what you can do to contribute to the future of our great nation like those who came before us. If you are not part of the solution, then we don’t need you, or your “dialogue.” The people who built this country are calling the shots now.

    8. JRock you obviously don’t work in the public system that we HARD working teachers do. You must work in one of those corporate backed for profit scheme schools that David and Charles Koch are selling the American public. Wake up you FOOL.

    9. Dear Non-union teacher,
      I don’t believe you are a teacher non-union or otherwise. You’re “talking point” Republican.
      It’s certainly all right to express your opinion, bt don’t lie about who you are.

      Retired teacher
      Union member

    10. To J Rock,
      To some point perhaps the NEA can take some blame for the state of affairs with public education funding issues. However, I find it extremely difficult for those that have never taught in a classroom to place such criticism of teachers and of the system of educating the entire public sector. The American way of teaching everyone has made our country still the envy of others. It is a shame these same 1% are like the CEO’s of major companies that make millions, give little to others unless there is a tax break and only look for what they can gain with their bullying techniques. Let’s let teachers teach and give those teachers the resources they need to make education available to everyone in the USA. I am also a retired teacher and do not like what I see happening with all the mandates placed on teachers by ignorant lawmakers paid by a lobbyist
      with a self-serving interest!

    11. I have read several studies that researched the issue of when and why our education system began to dismantle. They indicated that the upper echelons of society became concerned due to the many students who were very invovled in the Civil Rights movement. They believed that this was because the ‘average’ American had become over educated. That lead to the slow, sneaky erosion of the public school systems through verious means of subversive attacks on it, through funding, legislation and other members. This began under Reagan and has grown and contined as we see it today. I doubted this when I first studied these studies, however, it began to make sense as the years passed with the attacks on public education. How better to keep ‘people power’ in check than to keep them dumb or at least not taught to think or investigate what they are told?

  10. We need to educate our public about the reasons behind the decisions being made. I cannot wait for Professor Ravitch’s new book to help in regard to educating people about what is happening in our educational system. In the meantime, please read the following:
    Why do we say we need to compete globally, but we do not want to learn from those countries supposedly outperforming us? Please read the following and remember, Finland is one of the top scoring countries in math year after year. Let us read and learn.

    Finland’s education expert Pasi Sahlberg

    Finland’s Pasi Sahlberg is one of the world’s leading experts on school reform and the author of the best-selling “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland?” In this piece he writes about whether the emphasis that American school reformers put on “teacher effectiveness” is really the best approach to improving student achievement.

    He is director general of Finland’s Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation and has served the Finnish government in various positions and worked for the World Bank in Washington D.C. He has also been an adviser for numerous governments internationally about education policies and reforms, and is an adjunct professor of education at the University of Helsinki and University of Oulu. He can be reached at

    By Pasi Sahlberg

    Many governments are under political and economic pressure to turn around their school systems for higher rankings in the international league tables. Education reforms often promise quick fixes within one political term. Canada, South Korea, Singapore and Finland are commonly used models for the nations that hope to improve teaching and learning in their schools. In search of a silver bullet, reformers now turn their eyes on teachers, believing that if only they could attract “the best and the brightest” into the teaching profession, the quality of education would improve.

    “Teacher effectiveness” is a commonly used term that refers to how much student performance on standardized tests is determined by the teacher. This concept hence applies only to those teachers who teach subjects on which students are tested. Teacher effectiveness plays a particular role in education policies of nations where alternative pathways exist to the teaching profession.

    In the United States, for example, there are more than 1,500 different teacher-preparation programs. The range in quality is wide. In Singapore and Finland only one academically rigorous teacher education program is available for those who desire to become teachers. Likewise, neither Canada nor South Korea has fast-track options into teaching, such as Teach for America or Teach First in Europe. Teacher quality in high-performing countries is a result of careful quality control at entry into teaching rather than measuring teacher effectiveness in service.

    In recent years the “no excuses”’ argument has been particularly persistent in the education debate. There are those who argue that poverty is only an excuse not to insist that all schools should reach higher standards. Solution: better teachers. Then there are those who claim that schools and teachers alone cannot overcome the negative impact that poverty causes in many children’s learning in school. Solution: Elevate children out of poverty by other public policies.

    For me the latter is right. In the United States today, 23 percent of children live in poor homes. In Finland, the same way to calculate child poverty would show that figure to be almost five times smaller. The United States ranked in the bottom four in the recent United Nations review on child well-being. Among 29 wealthy countries, the United States landed second from the last in child poverty and held a similarly poor position in “child life satisfaction.” Teachers alone, regardless of how effective they are, will not be able to overcome the challenges that poor children bring with them to schools everyday.

    Finland is not a fan of standardization in education. However, teacher education in Finland is carefully standardized. All teachers must earn a master’s degree at one of the country’s research universities. Competition to get into these teacher education programs is tough; only “the best and the brightest” are accepted. As a consequence, teaching is regarded as an esteemed profession, on par with medicine, law or engineering. There is another “teacher quality” checkpoint at graduation from School of Education in Finland. Students are not allowed to earn degrees to teach unless they demonstrate that they possess knowledge, skills and morals necessary to be a successful teacher.

    But education policies in Finland concentrate more on school effectiveness than on teacher effectiveness. This indicates that what schools are expected to do is an effort of everyone in a school, working together, rather than teachers working individually.

    In many under-performing nations, I notice, three fallacies of teacher effectiveness prevail.

    The first belief is that “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” This statement became known in education policies through the influential McKinsey & Company report titled “How the world’s best performing school systems come out on top”. Although the report takes a broader view on enhancing the status of teachers by better pay and careful recruitment this statement implies that the quality of an education system is defined by its teachers. By doing this, the report assumes that teachers work independently from one another. But teachers in most schools today, in the United States and elsewhere, work as teams when the end result of their work is their joint effort.

    The role of an individual teacher in a school is like a player on a football team: all teachers are vital, but the culture of the school is even more important for the quality of the school. Team sports offer numerous examples of teams that have performed beyond expectations because of leadership, commitment and spirit. Take the U.S. ice hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics, when a team of college kids beat both Soviets and Finland in the final round and won the gold medal. The quality of Team USA certainly exceeded the quality of its players. So can an education system.

    The second fallacy is that “the most important single factor in improving quality of education is teachers.” This is the driving principle of former D.C. schools chancellor Michele Rhee and many other “reformers” today. This false belief is central to the “no excuses” school of thought. If a teacher was the most important single factor in improving quality of education, then the power of a school would indeed be stronger than children’s family background or peer influences in explaining student achievement in school.

    Research on what explains students’ measured performance in school remains mixed. A commonly used conclusion is that 10% to 20% of the variance in measured student achievement belongs to the classroom, i.e., teachers and teaching, and a similar amount is attributable to schools, i.e., school climate, facilities and leadership. In other words, up to two-thirds of what explains student achievement is beyond the control of schools, i.e., family background and motivation to learn.

    Over thirty years of systematic research on school effectiveness and school improvement reveals a number of characteristics that are typical of more effective schools. Most scholars agree that effective leadership is among the most important characteristics of effective schools, equally important to effective teaching. Effective leadership includes leader qualities, such as being firm and purposeful, having shared vision and goals, promoting teamwork and collegiality and frequent personal monitoring and feedback. Several other characteristics of more effective schools include features that are also linked to the culture of the school and leadership: Maintaining focus on learning, producing a positive school climate, setting high expectations for all, developing staff skills, and involving parents. In other words, school leadership matters as much as teacher quality.

    The third fallacy is that “If any children had three or four great teachers in a row, they would soar academically, regardless of their racial or economic background, while those who have a sequence of weak teachers will fall further and further behind”. This theoretical assumption is included in influential policy recommendations, for instance in “Essential Elements of Teacher Policy in ESEA: Effectiveness, Fairness and Evaluation” by the Center for American Progress to the U.S. Congress. Teaching is measured by the growth of student test scores on standardized exams.

    This assumption presents a view that education reform alone could overcome the powerful influence of family and social environment mentioned earlier. It insists that schools should get rid of low-performing teachers and then only hire great ones. This fallacy has the most practical difficulties. The first one is about what it means to be a great teacher. Even if this were clear, it would be difficult to know exactly who is a great teacher at the time of recruitment. The second one is, that becoming a great teacher normally takes five to ten years of systematic practice. And determining the reliably of ‘effectiveness’ of any teacher would require at least five years of reliable data. This would be practically impossible.

    Everybody agrees that the quality of teaching in contributing to learning outcomes is beyond question. It is therefore understandable that teacher quality is often cited as the most important in-school variable influencing student achievement. But just having better teachers in schools will not automatically improve students’ learning outcomes.

    Lessons from high-performing school systems, including Finland, suggest that we must reconsider how we think about teaching as a profession and what is the role of the school in our society.

    First, standardization should focus more on teacher education and less on teaching and learning in schools. Singapore, Canada and Finland all set high standards for their teacher-preparation programs in academic universities. There is no Teach for Finland or other alternative pathways into teaching that wouldn’t include thoroughly studying theories of pedagogy and undergo clinical practice. These countries set the priority to have strict quality control before anybody will be allowed to teach – or even study teaching! This is why in these countries teacher effectiveness and teacher evaluation are not such controversial topics as they are in the U.S. today.

    Second, the toxic use of accountability for schools should be abandoned. Current practices in many countries that judge the quality of teachers by counting their students’ measured achievement only is in many ways inaccurate and unfair. It is inaccurate because most schools’ goals are broader than good performance in a few academic subjects. It is unfair because most of the variation of student achievement in standardized tests can be explained by out-of-school factors. Most teachers understand that what students learn in school is because the whole school has made an effort, not just some individual teachers. In the education systems that are high in international rankings, teachers feel that they are empowered by their leaders and their fellow teachers. In Finland, half of surveyed teachers responded that they would consider leaving their job if their performance would be determined by their student’s standardized test results.

    Third, other school policies must be changed before teaching becomes attractive to more young talents. In many countries where teachers fight for their rights, their main demand is not more money but better working conditions in schools. Again, experiences from those countries that do well in international rankings suggest that teachers should have autonomy in planning their work, freedom to run their lessons the way that leads to best results, and authority to influence the assessment of the outcomes of their work. Schools should also be trusted in these key areas of the teaching profession.

    To finish up, let’s do one theoretical experiment. We transport highly trained Finnish teachers to work in, say, Indiana in the United States (and Indiana teachers would go to Finland). After five years–assuming that the Finnish teachers showed up fluent in English and that education policies in Indiana would continue as planned–we would check whether these teachers have been able to improve test scores in state-mandated student assessments.

    I argue that if there were any gains in student achievement they would be marginal. Why? Education policies in Indiana and many other states in the United States create a context for teaching that limits (Finnish) teachers to use their skills, wisdom and shared knowledge for the good of their students’ learning. Actually, I have met some experienced Finnish-trained teachers in the United States who confirm this hypothesis. Based on what I have heard from them, it is also probable that many of those transported Finnish teachers would be already doing something else than teach by the end of their fifth year – quite like their American peers.

    Conversely, the teachers from Indiana working in Finland–assuming they showed up fluent in Finnish–stand to flourish on account of the freedom to teach without the constraints of standardized curricula and the pressure of standardized testing; strong leadership from principals who know the classroom from years of experience as teachers; a professional culture of collaboration; and support from homes unchallenged by poverty.
    International Comparisons of Students
    You’ll Be Shocked by How Many of the World’s Top Students Are American

    When you look at the average performance of American students on international test scores, our kids come off as a pretty middling bunch. If you rank countries based on their very fine differences, we come in 14th in reading, 23rd in science, and 25th in math. Those finishes led Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to flatly declare that “we’re being out-educated.”

    And on average, maybe we are. But averages also sometimes obscure more than they reveal. My colleague Derek Thompson has written before about how, once you compare students from similar income and class backgrounds, our relative performance improves dramatically, suggesting that our educational problems may be as much about our sheer number of poor families as our supposedly poor schools. This week, I stumbled on another data point that belies the stereotype of dimwitted American teens.

    When it comes to raw numbers, it turns out we generally have far more top performers than any other developed nation.

    That’s according to the graph below from Economic Policy Institute’s recent report on America’s supply of science and tech talent. Among OECD nations in 2006, the United States claimed a third of high-performing students in both reading and science, far more than our next closest competitor, Japan. On math, we have a bit less to be proud of — we just claimed 14 percent of the high-performers, compared to 15.2 percent for Japan and 16.2 percent of South Korea.

    Part of this is easy to explain: The United States is big. Very big. And it’s a far bigger country than the other members of the OECD. We claim roughly 27 percent of the group’s 15-to-19-year-olds. Japan, in contrast, has a smidge over 7 percent. So in reading and in science, we punch above our weight by just a little, while in math we punch below.

    But the point remains: In two out of three subjects, Americans are over-represented among the best students.

    If we have so many of the best minds, why are our average scores so disappointingly average? As Rutgers’s Hal Salzman and Georgetown’s B. Lindsay Lowell, who co-authored the EPI report, noted in a 2008 Nature article, our high scorers are balanced out by a very large number of low scorers. Our education system, just like our economy, is polarized.

    What’s the takeaway? Salzman and Lowell argue that our large numbers of top scorers should help put to rest the concern that we’re losing the global talent race executives and politicians love to fret about. I’m not sure they’ll do the trick, though. In 2009, Chinese students in Shanghai sat for the PISA test for the first time, and their scores were spectacular. Although data for its other mainland provinces hasn’t been published, the OECD’s test guru says they’re similarly impressive.It seems pretty likely, in other words, that China has more young math and science geniuses at its disposal than we do (whether that’s something that should be keeping any of us up at night is another issue). But Salzman and Lindsay make another point that’s worth dwelling on: You can’t replicate a country’s style of education without replicating its culture, so instead of looking abroad for ideas about how to teach our kids, as some policy-types are inclined to do, perhaps we should look at what’s succeeding here at home and spread it. Our schools are already producing plenty of bright thinkers of their own.
    Thank you for reading this paper and let us pray for our children and grandchildren.
    Concerned Grandparent

    1. An excellent, thought-provoking article Thank you ! It’s the politicians and politicians disguised as “reformers” that should have “no excuses”.

  11. This is absolutely disgusting. What has happened to this country and who is watching the “hen house” – the wolves in Washington, D.C. and all the ALEC characters? How can this be allowed to go on? And we should be surprised about all the crime in the cities??? Have “we” asked for it by not caring about our youth?
    This doesn’t sound like “One Nation Under God” equal rights for all?
    What does Liberty mean to these people? If one is poor, they are disposable? Good grief, we must wake up and knock Washington D.C. on the sides of the head – money, money, money makes the world go around – have you ever seen anyone who has passed on take one thing with them? Since prisons have been “privatized” – I guess they are just another scheme for ALEC to make money by taking the youth to fill the prisons.

  12. In the 1980s and 1990s, the public was re-educated to view the poor as being comfortable and powerful, gleefully “driving taxpayers to their knees.” (Note: At its highest, in the 1970s, AFDC used a mere 6% of the fed. budget). In reality, welfare provided just enough stability to enable the poor to remain housed and fed, so that they could get back on their feet. Some 80% used aid for well under 5 years. Welfare was the tool that enabled so many poor children to excel in school, earning scholarships, going on to college and adding strength to the middle class (which has been getting phased out). It starts with the basics — a measure of stability in housing, adequate nutritious food. Parents had the means — access to education and actual job skills training — to work their way up, obviously greatly benefiting their children. We threw all that away with Clinton’s welfare “reform.”

  13. Look at North Carolina if you want to see how Republicans under ALEC control take care of public education. Here they have a veto-proof majority. Funding for teachers and students is amongst the lowest in the nation. Charter schools are funded with vouchers that take away money from public schools. Then the charter schools don’t have to meet the same standards as public schools. Teachers in NC are told they are owned by the school 24/7. There is no such thing as being allowed to “work to the clock.” Striking is illegal, and teachers don’t want to martyr themselves by being targeted for arrest and job loss. Many great teachers are looking for ways to leave the profession. We feel beat down. The place to take a stand against ALEC is here in North Carolina.

    1. Carly, Republicans have always been opposed to the education of the “masses,” for very good reasons. Education is power. A well-educated public knows how to do the research, and understand the documentation, to know when pols are lying, and when their policies go against the best interests of the public.

      1. Your comment is a stitch! If Republicans knew what they were doing, they wouldn’t vote for the politicians who are working AGAINST their best interests. Look to Wisc. Anti-teacher, anti-worker, anti-pensions,anti-voter, anti-FEMALE…and, yet, Walker gets voted in once again. Now he spreads his ALEC backed mantra to low-information voters across the U.S.

    2. It’s the same in Indiana. Charter schools and vouchers at the expense of public education. The reTHUGlicans continue to lie, cheat, and change high stake test scores to please wealthy reTHUGlican supporters.

      1. Vicky, the reTHUGlicans can have it their way because they have the money, power & backing of groups like ALEC to do so. They really don’t care about how much learning actually occurs, rather about their system & means for judging if the teachers are “doing their jobs” which is to make test scores meet their criteria which goes up every year. It is a system set up for failure because they expect all students to achieve at the same rate in the same way no matter what condition they come to us in. Students on IEP’s with disabilities have those IEPs for a reason. They have a disability in reading, math etc. and are not on grade level & for the most part never will be on these tests. The tests are designed for well within average to above average IQ’s & disabilities not considered. I for one was never good at math & am a successful educator who taught Language Arts & Spec. Ed. I am not so sure I would pass the high school standardized math assessments. However, I was never going to take a job or make a career in an area that would require me to use skills I am neither interested in or proficient in. Likewise, I would make a lousy art teacher because I was not gifted in that area. I hated Art classes all my life. Again, I am a successfully employed adult who is not an Art teacher.

        My point is why then do these politicians punish teachers because all students are not top notch in the reading, math & science? They aren’t going to be. Most of learning does not come because someone stood in front of a classroom & rapid fired taught a curriculum well more rigorous than the average student can absorb in the amount of time they are expected to, especially when it is not developmentally appropriate. The brain does learn under forced pressure with a high stakes test as an end result of all of their hard “learning”. The majority of kids who do well are first & foremost highly motivated, have support at home, are not living in poverty in neighborhoods where they go home & close themselves off out of fear of crime. Additionally, those who do very well in the math & sciences are “gifted” in those areas. Mind you they still have to do the work, but it comes far more easily to them than someone whose does not have an interest in nor is good with numbers or trying to understand scientific concepts. I can want to be a singer or a hurdler in track, but it’s not going to happen no matter how hard I try. I am not gifted to be a singer & I am 5’1″ so no matter how much I like running & want to hurdle, no matter how hard I would practice, I would never be in the top qualifiers for hurdles.

        Groups like ALEC & the reTHUGlicans have one thing in mind: their agenda & using their money & power to control everyone else. After all, they scream & point out how all of the bad teacher unions are responsible for the poor outcomes in education. We just want unions to force people to pay union dues to influence political groups & our agendas. Are you kidding me? The ALEC group & the reTHUGlicans have way more money & influence than we will ever have. If they really cared about education, they would use their money to get educated on how the brain really learns & what influences kids to learn which is interest. If you have interest in something because you are good at it and like it, you are more likely to excel at it. Schools should be a place where children can explore what they like & are good at, alongside all of the time spent on developing their weaknesses, which for the most part they will never choose a career based on their weaknesses. They should be given interest & aptitude tests to drive their learning goals. That way, if they had an interest in something that one day would require rigorous math & science studies, they would be more likely to take an interest in learning those things. That is why in our city, The School for the Arts, which is a charter school, is one of the highest performing in the area. The students are able to use their gifts & talents to learn in their academic areas. It’s not all paper and pencil & stress to push, push push to pass the tests. They have passion involved with their interests & natural abilities.

        If you ask me, ALEC & the reTHUGlicans are so caught up in losing control of everyone & everything, they have to find a group to blame for the failures of a broken society & a politically corrupt gov’t who has the power to make laws to push their agendas apart from the citizens voting on their laws. Just like w/Senate Bill 5 in Ohio – we the people voted & made our voice heard & defeated the bill to break unions. So what does our governor do, he passes legislation to enact laws in education regarding teacher evaluations & what unions can & can’t do with regard to issues that impact teachers & how they teach. We had no say in that. And now he wants to push for Right to Work legislation under the guise that we could still have our unions, but we couldn’t “force” people to pay union dues. So, in essence he wants to remove our political power by removing the funding source to advocate for us. Wow how about if we could pass legislation that would make groups like ALEC illegal? We can’t, we don’t have that power. Let’s face it, the majority of politicians are bought & paid for by wealthy corporate interests & lobbyists. It would behoove them to keep the rest of us poor & without power to keep their wealth, power & control. It truly is about the haves & have nots in this country & the dismantling of the middle class – they are too much trouble.

        Schools & their resulting test scores are not the cause of the problems in America today. It is the polarization of wealth & poverty in our country & those who have the money & power to enslave those who have no power or the wealth to impact political laws & decisions made by self-serving, narcissistic, wealthy politicians who exploit various groups to push their agendas.

        God help us all because pushing for higher test scores for all students is not going to make a hill of beans difference in this great country of ours which used to be the land of the free & the home of the brave. We have become the land of the enslaved by excessive legislation, greedy politicians & lobbyists. Test scores are merely a means to control & punish educators by withholding money when schools perform poorly. How wonderful it would be if we could fix our societal problems by a mere test score. Let’s get real & get back to educating students in a humane way, as opposed to treating them as a widget we need to push & tweek to perfect a testing score, as if our children are parts on an assembly line that we need to mass produce in like fashion.

        Schools & educators do far more for children today, particularly those in poverty than merely pushing a curriculum at them. I would know, I am a school counselor. Let’s give credit where credit is due & stop punishing schools, educators & children so the powerful groups like ALEC & the reTHUGlicans can smugly pat themselves on the back & say, “See, we tried to tell you, it’s those greedy unionized teachers who have made American kids so dumb-downed. That’s why we rank so poorly in education world-wide.” No my friends it is not. We can only operate within the system of failure handed to us. And don’t think for one minute it is not designed for failure, because it is only in the pointing fingers saying, “See I told you so”, that ALEC & the reTHUGlicans can then push their agenda to privatize education as a money making machine. These are children & human beings we are dealing with, not mere human “doings” who can perform like robots to achieve a test score when their worlds back home are falling apart.

    3. The NC issue is right out of the Tony Bennett- Indiana playbook. Indiana is a mess. Tony has now been basically fired from his second job in less than a year, but the laws he helped get passed are still laws. I feel for you NC. Look to Indiana for examples of what will happen. Use these examples to prove what a mess will happen if ALEC gets its way in your state.

  14. I believe that the corporatist blue dog Democrats and “right” wing politicians are working together to abolish public education! And a good way for them to do this is to break teachers unions and public service unions weaken the local tax base by allowing companies outsourcing of good jobs.And deny any attempt to pass a public work jobs bill and push for low or no minimum wage limit! Leaving the American People to except whatever the employer offers as a wage! Without a living wage we will be relegated to the poor who have nothing and the working for scraps poor! and with a lack of educational opportunities we are headed for chaos, while the moneyed elites look down from their ivory towers and point their fingers of blame, when it is all in their plan to own it all as we become contestants in a new chapter of the hunger games!

    1. You must mean Republicans, not Democrats. Democrats support teacher’s right to to organize and bargain collectively as a union. The Republicans have taken that right away from teachers, but like to unfairly organize themselves within ALEC. Then they secretly meet and organize themselves against sitting duck teachers who have had their rights to organize and bargain stripped away. They’ve done real good now… Tennessee teachers now qualify for federal assistance with their low pay! Tennessee teachers’ children now can qualify for free and reduced lunches. I guess ALEC can be proud of themselves for that statistic!. It’s really easy for a Tennessee teacher to step across one of the many borders of neighboring states and make more money. I think we need to show our solidarity and go on strike.

      1. Arne Duncan and race to the top! This has been a great force for getting rid of Due Process Rights. Listen to Arne about ALL those bad teachers we need to get rid of! Both parties are now under cooperate control. Read Diane Ravitch’s book!

        1. Arne Duncan couldn’t teach his way out of a wet paper bag on a good day if his life depended on it. He has no education degree and no experience as an educator teaching children. His claim to fame is based on his mother’s private school in an impoverished area.
          If you were in need of medical assistance, would you seek treatment from somebody whose parent was a doctor? Where is his educational expertise? No educational training or teacher experience. He’s the Wizard of OZ in Education and it’s all smoke and mirrors!! His only plan has been requiring actual TEACHERS to make major student improvements on those school corporate created tests or closing those schools and replacing the public schools with private charters. His real talent lies in making the public believe what great expert he is on the cutting edge of educational knowledge and research.

      2. I am a former Tn. teacher. I took early retirement due to the continued attacks on Tn. teachers. Knox county where I taught is one of the worst in Tn. for adding additional insult and harrassment to teachers. Many of my collegues are also considering early retirement and many new teachers are considering leaving the field. Doctors are advising us to leave for our health. I hope changes can be made to return to sanity before public ed is damaged to the point that it can’t come back. Remember that Tn. is home to Lamar Alexander and Chris Whittle of Edison fame.

      3. This is also why every teacher should be an activist. It appalls me that in Texas, we actually have teachers that vote against their own interests.

      4. Ever here or DFER? Democrats for Educational Reform……..Rham, Obama, Duncan are all Democrats. Ask Rham how he feels about teacher unions.

    2. You are correct. The less educated the masses, the more likely they are to simply take the word of any pol or pundit they prefer, never bothering to (for example) read the actual bills being signed. These are the masses who will pay their last $10.00 for a pack of magic beans. Since Reagan, much work has gone into diluting the education of the masses, pushing higher education further out of reach while preserving it for the children of the elite — the next ruling class. The more ignorant the people, the easier they are to manipulate.

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