“Big Brother” Has an Ugly Corporate “Big Stepsister”!

ALEC legislation to sell public education to privately run edu-tech empire and children’s data to private interests


There’s a lot wrong with ALEC legislation, now, in the past, and undoubtedly into the future. I could fill volumes of pages of such concerns. But for the sake of focus, today’s blog drills down into their most recent “model” legislation aimed at selling our schools to the edu-tech industry. It’s so blatant it’s painful. I would have expected more subterfuge from ALEC. They’re getting lazy. Or their getting bold. Their agenda is too clear. Kind of disappointing really. They took all the fun out of having to dig for it.

I am pasting snap shots of their latest rounds of policies. The rest speaks for itself. But if you’d like to add your two cents, ALEC will be convening to discuss these legislative matters on December 6th in Washington DC.  See full docket here:

This latest round of ALEC agenda caught the eye and ear of Diane Ravitch’s post.

If we don’t raise our voices, no one will do it for us.

From the “Early Intervention Act”

“…to provide interactive computer software for literacy or numeracy instruction, or both, and assessments for students in kindergarten through grade 3.”

Really? Because nothing screams “developmentally inappropriate” like putting a five year old in front of a computer in lieu of a real live caring and experienced teacher during the most vulnerable and formative stages of cognitive development. But of course, this is a boon for the software industry!

In order to receive the early intervention funds for the “enhanced kindergarten program” described in this model bill, a school district must agree to contract with software companies to provide online learning programs.

In addition to an enhanced kindergarten program described in Subsection (B), the early intervention program includes a component to address early intervention through the use of an interactive computer software program.”

Immigrant Tracking System?

But the technology driven agenda does not stop with toddlers. There is also the “K-1 Technology-Based Reading Intervention for English Learners Act” which calls on “the State Department of Education to implement a language development software program in grades K-1 to assist those identified as English Language Learners.”

Can you imagine a better way to track students, who as ELL students, most likely come from first generation immigrant backgrounds? And what about children (or their parents) who may be undocumented?

There seems to be no effort to indicate whether or not these software companies they hire to teach students phonemic awareness, vocabulary, or other linguistic skills itemized in this bill, are even grounded in sound literacy research for ELL students. Or does that even matter so long as they receive their check for goods and services delivered?

Here’s my favorite: The Student Achievement Backpack Act.

Yes. I am not drunk on Thanksgiving libations. That’s actually what they named it.

Its data collection and tracking ALEC style. I hope Tea Party advocates against the Common Core and testing are reading this. Even in the absence of Obama or the “progressive” agenda—here’s a conservative- led free- market loving entity promoting the collection of private data to data collection agencies. I’ve been saying it all along. It’s the ideology of greed and control-from BOTH sides of aisle.

The Act reads: “This bill provides access by a student’s parent or guardian or an authorized LEA user to the learning profile of a student from kindergarten through grade 12 in an electronic format known as a Student Achievement Backpack.”

Ok…..so who the hell is the LEA????

(A)   “Authorized LEA user” means a teacher or other person who is: (1) employed by an LEA that provides instruction to a student; and (2) authorized to access data in a Student Achievement Backpack through the {insert state} Student Record Store. (B) “LEA” means a school district, charter school, or the {schooling options in the state specific to the deaf and blind}

Honestly I have no issue with my child’s records or data being shared with his school or teachers. BUT…when you get to the next round of ALEC legislation remember this phrasing “or employed by the LEA to provide instruction.” Corporations and other private entities will also have full access to your child’s records once they’ve become employed by the school district through the “Choice” Act (see next section).

The Backpack legislation adds:

“The State Board of Education shall use the robust, comprehensive data collection system maintained by the {insert state} State Office of Education, which collects longitudinal student transcript data from LEAs and the unique student identifiers as described in {insert applicable state code}, to allow the following to access a student’s Student Achievement Backpack: (1) the student’s parent or guardian; and (2) each LEA that provides instruction to the student.”

ALEC seems to have no qualms about storing student data in the “cloud” despite massive threats to data security (not to mention abuses of such information). Their model legislation varies very little from the massive data collection we are currently seeing under the federal imposition of Race to the Top. This legislation promises to collect “a complete learner history for postsecondary planning.”

ALEC’s legislation will be able to collect data on and track as much if not more than Race to the Top legislation (and we didn’t imagine it could get any worse…that is until ALEC takes a crack at it..)

Section 8. Access to Student Data

(A) No later than {insert date}, an authorized LEA user shall be able to access student data  in a Student Achievement Backpack, which shall include the data listed in Section 7 (A) (1) through (4) and the following data, or request the data be transferred from one LEA to another:  (1) section attendance; (2) the name of a student’s teacher for classes or courses the student takes;  (3) teacher qualifications for a student’s teacher, including years of experience, degree, license, and endorsement; (4) results of formative, interim, and summative computer adaptive assessments administered pursuant to {insert applicable state code};  (5) detailed data demonstrating a student’s mastery of core standards and objectives as measured by computer adaptive assessments administered pursuant to {insert  applicable state code}; (6) a student’s writing sample written for an online writing assessment administered pursuant to {insert applicable state code}; (7) student growth scores for {insert state} performance assessment; (8) a school’s grade assigned pursuant to {insert applicable state code}; (9) results of benchmark assessments of reading administered pursuant to {insert applicable state code}; and  (10) a student’s reading level at the end of grade 3.

Whether it’s federally, state, or privately managed—it all goes to the same place and for the same dubious reasons. Thanks Gates. Thanks Murdoch.

Student Futures Program Act

In shorthand, this Act provides private corporations and education delivery systems access to student data in order to market to those students and promote their products. It’s like “cookies” via K-12 education. Companies can track those students who they think will be interested in their products.

It says the Act will: “allow an education provider to (a) research and find student users who are interested in various educational outcomes; (b) promote the education provider’s programs and schools to student users;  and (c) connect with student users within the Student Futures website;  (3) allow a {insert state} business to: (a) research and find student users who are pursuing educational outcomes that are consistent with jobs the {insert state} business is trying to fill now or in the future; and  (b) market jobs and communicate with student users through the Student Futures website as allowed by law..”

This act also leads us down the slippery slope to education and career tracking. Using the data collection systems under the guise of career and college ready, children can be “steered” into programs or career opportunities.

I am all for vocational training. I am all for providing information to students about career possibilities! (not providing student information to private interests) I am all for encouraging children early on to dream about what they want to be when they grow up and helping them to get there.

This ain’t that program. The is Act also: “allow the Department of Workforce Services to analyze and report on student user Student Futures Program interests, education paths, and behaviors within the education system so as to predictively determine appropriate career and educational outcomes and results” (we see Big Brothers Big Corporate Sister rearing her ugly head here don’t we?)

Remember that caution I gave you about the Data Collection Act?

Course Choice Program Act

Meet the new education LEA’s. Corporations and edutech companies privatizing public education. Perhaps ALEC has realized that they cannot fully take the public out of public education. But they can bring the private into the public sphere.

The Course Choice Program created by this Act would allow students in public schools and public charter schools to enroll in online, blended, and face-to-face courses not offered by the student’s school, and would allow a portion of that student’s funding to flow to the course provider. This Act creates an authorization process for providers and identifies provider and course eligibility criteria. This Act requires course providers and the State Department of Education to regularly report on the key measurements of student success and enrollment. This Act gives the State Department of Education authority to enter into an interstate course reciprocity agreement, allowing students within the state to take courses from providers domiciled in other states.”

Given Connections Academy, the country’s largest for- profit provider of online education, membership in ALEC and the ALEC education subcommittee, we should not be shocked. Other ALEC associated partners will undoubtedly include K-12 inc and University of Phoenix.

Subsection 6 reads: “Online or virtual course providers can serve as quality course providers for students who desire additional access to high quality courses ….

Who are “course providers?”

“Course Provider” shall mean “an entity that offers individual courses in person or online, including but not limited to online or virtual education providers, public or private elementary and secondary education institutions, education service agencies, private or nonprofit providers, postsecondary education institutions, and vocational or technical course providers, and have been authorized to provide such courses by the State Department of Education.”

So basically, public education courses taught by public education teachers in physical public education settings will be parsed out, course by course, to private providers. And remember that data collection section-pre-K through grade 12, to be stored by a private provider, in the cloud somewhere…to be accessed by LEA’s? Well, here are the LEA’s. The private, non-profit, virtual, or for profit organizations that, as providers of instruction WILL NOW ALSO HAVE ACCESS to data collection 2.0 ALEC style.

While ALEC ideology despises federal regulation, they have no problem trading in Big Brother for Corporate Big Sister.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, there’s ALEC, shattering your disbelief. Don’t be fooled by ALEC rhetoric. Their reform efforts are part and parcel of the reform efforts so many of us are fighting.

There’s a whole lot more to this ALEC legislative document. Over 30 pages of it.  But I’ve got kids to pick up from school and a turkey to cook. So I’ll leave it off here. For now …

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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