NEPC Reviewers: ALEC ‘Report Card’ Recycles Bogus School Quality and Improvement Claims

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Organization gives high marks to states for policies regardless of their efficacy, scholars point out.

http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-report-card-ALEC-2013

Despite their best efforts, the authors are unable to show that their preferred policy changes of market-style models and privatization of public schooling are linked to better outcomes.

This past Tuesday’s elections yielded Republican gains in state legislatures and governorships. In the past, many of these Republican lawmakers have turned to American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for education-related bills. We might expect, therefore, that the annual ALEC “Report Card” on states’ education policies—the 19th edition of which was released just before the election—will have some influence. But NEPC’s review last year of the 18th edition explained the Report Card’s many weaknesses, and the authors of that review warn that the 19th edition is no better.

Repeating the previous year’s approach, ALEC assigns its grades based on states’ policies regarding their support for ALEC-favored policies such as charter schools, vouchers and digital learning. The reports claim to be “research based,” but as the NEPC's reviewers pointed out, the criteria are ideologically driven free-market beliefs. Defying settled science, they conclude that money doesn’t matter, and the difference between high- and low-performing states is school choice.

According to University of Illinois Professor Christopher Lubienski, a co-author of the NEPC review, the new Report Card is little more than an advertising pamphlet for the more than 60 pieces of ALEC model legislation listed at the document’s end. “Despite their best efforts, the authors are unable to show that their preferred policy changes of market-style models and privatization of public schooling are linked to better outcomes. They make specious causal claims about their preferred policies (claims that would not be taken seriously by researchers), and are unable to show any actual causal link. This is despite the fact that the authors have been caught before making the same errors in these reports — errors that, of course, happen to support their agenda.”

Added University of Illinois doctoral student T. Jameson Brewer, the NEPC review’s second author, “ALEC again often bases its arguments on anecdotes and outliers, such as criticizing the performance of DC, regardless of the fact that — interestingly enough — the District’s public schools have been run by reformers in the ALEC model for the better part of a decade.”

ALEC also lauds Indiana’s reforms, giving it a high, B+ grade because of its generous charter school policies. Yet Indiana itself recently gave a D or F grade to almost 60% of its own charter schools, compared with A’s and B’s for almost three-quarters of the state’s public schools. “This just highlights the fact that ALEC is grading states on their ideological alignment with ALEC, not on academic outcomes of those policies,” said Lubienski.

In last year’s review, Lubienski and Brewer explained that the ALEC Report Card “draws on the work of advocacy groups and is grounded in ideological tenets,” leading the authors to assign high grades to states “with unproven and even disproven market-based policies.” The review points out that the authors’ claims of “a growing body of research” lack citations, their grading system contradicts testing data that they report, and their data on alternative teacher research is “simply wrong.”

“In fact, the research ALEC highlights is quite shoddy and is unsuitable for supporting its recommendations,” Lubienski and Brewer concluded. “The report’s purpose appears to be more about shifting control of education to private interests than in improving education.”

Find the review of the 18th ALEC report by Christopher Lubienski and T. Jameson Brewer on the NEPC website at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-report-card-ALEC-2013

Find ALEC’s 19th Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress, and Reform by Matthew Ladner and Dave Myslinski on the web at:
http://www.americanlegislator.org/report-highlights-misspending-in-k-12-education/

The Think Twice think tank review project (http://thinktankreview.org) of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) provides the public, policy makers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. The Think Twice think tank review project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. For more information on the NEPC, please visit http://nepc.colorado.edu/.

URL for this press release: http://tinyurl.com/n296brc

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Christopher Lubienski

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