Educating our children: There’s got to be a better way

MSR-Editorial6Beginning with our May 21 issue this spring, the MSR has published a series of seven stories about an organization called Better Ed and its campaign for “more school choice.”

The first three stories offered Better Ed president Devin Foley an opportunity to fully explain the purpose and activities of his organization.

Mr. Foley subsequently responded to additional questions put to him by MSR writer Isaac Peterson. Both the Minneapolis and St. Paul Public Schools responded to Better Ed’s proposals, and we concluded recently (July 16) with a Q&A between Mr. Foley and Lynn Nordgren of the Minneapolis Teachers’ Federation.

All of these Better Ed stories remain easily accessible on the MSR website. We recommend them to everyone concerned about the future of our children’s education. More stories on Better Ed may follow, but we thought the time had come to reflect on what we have learned thus far.

Our purpose with this series has been to help MSR readers better understand the pros and cons of a complicated, vitally important controversy in our time over how best to educate all children equally. We’ve tried to keep the series fair and balanced and hope that it clarifies what is at stake in this great struggle. At some point, however, balance alone is not enough and it becomes time to weigh in.

Better Ed billboard
Better Ed billboard

We’ve learned that Better Ed is all for more choice, a pleasant-sounding word, in this case choice through a system of vouchers that would enable parents to shift their education tax dollars from traditional public schools and public charter schools to private for-profit schools of various kinds. “Securing more educational options for more Americans” is how they put it. We’ll let the arguments pro and con speak for themselves — again, readers are referred to the seven-part series on MSR’s website.

Others have pointed out that parents already have a sometimes bewildering array of choices within the public school system between traditional and charter schools, and for most parents still more choices might be something less than a blessing. Also noted by other observers are the deceptive per-pupil costs Better Ed uses in its communications. These costs fail to take into account the very high special education costs that fall disproportionately on urban school districts.

We’ve learned that Better Ed is part of a larger organization called Intellectual Takeout that is closely associated with the larger-yet conservative Center for the American Experiment think tank. It appears this tank has gone beyond thinking to active propagandizing, although we duly note their declarations of Better Ed’s total independence and self-sufficiency. Nevertheless, it happens that Better Ed president, Mr. Foley, is a former staff member of the Center. Both organizations share the same treasurer, Dwight Tostenson of Chaska, chief financial officer of the Center for the American Experiment as well as chief executive officer of Intellectual Takeout.

Public records reveal that Intellectual Takeout has received about $6 million in donations over a five-year period, 2009-2013. They further reveal that in 2013 Better Ed President Foley earned $107,000 and Treasurer Tostenson earned $130,000 for his work with Intellectual Takeout alone, not to mention what he may have earned for his work at the Center. Such generous salaries make poor newspaper editors and public schoolteachers sit up and take notice.

The Better Ed folks won’t tell us where their money comes from except to say it doesn’t come from governments or foundations. Such an unwillingness to disclose information, far from blocking MSR’s inquiry, only frees us to speculate. It seems to us that contributors to so honorable a mission as rescuing education and closing the racial achievement gap would feel no need to hide their identities — they would rightly be proud of their public-spirited actions. Growth & Justice, a more liberal think tank, proudly lists its donors by the hundreds on its website. Better Ed’s funders insist on anonymity.

One thing seems clear enough to us: Better Ed has little or no genuine concern for the well-being of African American children. Any organization with true concern for those most failed by the system could have cited extensive consultation with Black organizations and Black leaders and Black professionals in education and child development before launching any PR campaign. Better Ed did no such thing. A sincere organization would have on its board a majority of people of color. To the best of our knowledge, Better Ed is a White organization operated by Whites under the direction of Whites claiming to be oh so very concerned about the welfare of failing Black students in Minneapolis. Does anyone else see something terribly wrong with this picture?

Better Ed appears to be above all about exploiting a weakness in the public education system — the racial achievement gap — to provoke more parents to abandon hope for public schools, give up on the democratic spirit of community our public schools represent, grab their tax money and run, abandoning those with the greatest hardships to overcome. It’s a fact that many right-wing interests associated with think tanks like the Center for the American Experiment would welcome the total demise of all public schools.

Standing perhaps to benefit most from school vouchers are wealthy parents already paying hefty tuitions to educate their children in high-cost private schools. Vouchers would enable them to subsidize much of these costs with tax funds currently going to support public education.

Next time you pass by a Better Ed billboard or receive a Better Ed postcard, ask yourself who might be willing to invest big bucks in slandering and discrediting the public school system and would not hesitate to exploit the desperate straits of inner-city Black kids to achieve their goals. Then think, “What is wrong with these people? Have they no shame? There’s got to be a better way!”


Read the seven-part series on Better Ed:

First installment: Public schools foe Better Ed campaigns for school choice

Second installment: Better Ed: People want out of public schools

Third installment: Better Ed: Let parents choose the best schools — and cultures — for their child

Fourth installment: MPS: School choice will not close achievement gap

Fifth installment: Vouchers offer no solution to achievement gaps

Sixth installment: The pros and cons of ‘school choice’

Seventh installment: More ‘school choice’ pros and cons

2 Comments on “Educating our children: There’s got to be a better way”

  1. $6 million in anonymous donations over four years. I bet the Joel, Matthew and Eli Kramer family of MinnPost, Hiawatha Academies, and Teacher For America donate heavily.

  2. Great reporting, Issac and MSR! Thank you for your tireless commitment to the community.

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