My very first blog post was an analysis of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) 15th and 16th Report Card on American Education. I was inspired to begin blogging after Governor Snyder used ALEC’s faulty metrics to belittle our education system during his campaign. So it gives me great pleasure to expose this year’s Report Card on American Education as the fraud that it is.
First, you need to know a little bit about ALEC. ALEC does much more than churn out poorly conceived propaganda like its Report Card on American Education. ALEC’s real mission is to get their ultra conservative agenda written into law. We have seen this happen in many states, including Michigan, where Rebpublicans now have a super majority. While ALEC is lead by powerful Republican U.S. Senators and Congressmen, many of its members include our state politicians. Some, like my local Senator Darwin Booher, actually use my tax money to pay for ALEC’s membership. ALEC calls itself a “nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers,” which is certainly an oxymoron if there ever was one. ALEC somehow maintains its status as a 501(c)3 non profit organization despite the IRS rule that ”no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying).” What has become clear about ALEC is that they basically are a lobbying group and the lobbyists are our elected officials! In fact, a state legislator in Wisconsin has proposed an “ALEC Accountability Act” which, if passed, would force ALEC into registering and following the rules that lobbyists have to follow.
Now let’s move on to the report card. Like past issues, the first problem is that the authors of the report card have no background in education. Dr. Mathew Ladner appears to be the lead author and he holds a Ph.D. in, you guessed it, political science. The second author, Dan Lips, has a bachelors degree in political science and a masters degree in national security affairs. The second problem is the rankings themselves. The report card offers two types of metrics. First, it ranks states based on a score ALEC devised last year. The score is created by combining how well low income regular education students performed on the National Association of Education Policy (NAEP) test, as well as how much progress that subgroup has made on the test since 2003. The NAEP test data used only includes 4th and 8th grade reading and math. Certainly, using one subgroup of students on two tests in two grades cannot give you a complete picture of how well a state’s education system is performing. Especially if one of those tests is not administered near the end of a student’s schooling. In this year’s rankings, Michigan moved up from 49th to 46th. A few years ago, when the ranking system used different metrics, Michigan was ranked 33rd. Meanwhile Florida, whose former Governor Jeb Bush is nearly cannonized in the publication, fell from 3rd to 12th. Twelfth is still better than the 37th they ranked before ALEC decided to rewrite their scoring system last year. More could be said about the state rankings, but I think this alone proves that the report has no validity.
Let’s take a minute to look at the second metric in ALEC’s report card. The second is a letter grade given based on educational policy in the state. As noted earlier, ALEC’s real mission is to get its model legislation passed, and the publication provides plenty of information on the policies they believe work. The problem ALEC has is that their own policy recommendations do not seem to correlate with their state rankings. The lowest grade given for academic policy in the report card was a D+. Two of the states that received a D+ were West Virginia and Vermont. Vermont finished second in the nation in ALEC’s state ranking of student performance and West Virginia finished last! What? I guess if you don’t buy into ALEC’s rankings, they hope you will buy into their scare tactics. The title page of the report card sets the tone for the whole publication. It makes the D in report card a D-, despite no state being given that low of grade in the report.
I have to admit, I cannot wait until next year’s report. My gut feeling is that they will look at another way to manipulate data so they can show that their policies for public education work. Clearly, any person who looks deeper than the rankings can see that the report card is flawed in every way. In the meantime, let’s hope some states manage to get ALEC classified as what it really is, a lobbying group. Maybe I’ll call my lobbyist, I mean Senator, Darwin Booher and ask him what he thinks!