Better Ed revisited


In-Our-ViewWe see the Better Ed propagandists are still up to their old tricks, doing their best to discredit and destabilize Minnesota’s public schools at every opportunity, with special attention to those in Minneapolis and St. Paul charged with educating the state’s most diverse and most challenged student populations.

MSR readers may recall our series of stories and editorials last spring and summer looking into the Better Ed phenomenon. They are the suburban folks who pay for the anti-public-school billboards and postcard mailings and social media activity aiming to drive a wedge into whatever fault lines may appear in the inner-city public schools and widen the breech.

The latest postcards sensationalize and exploit another such fault line, recent incidents of student violence in the schools. The front of the postcard features 2014-15 headlines ripped from newspapers: “Staff member assaulted,” “At 3 St. Paul schools: fights, loaded gun,” “Students are out of control.” The backside features two headlines in bright red: “Are your kids safe?” and SCHOOL CHOICE!” The exaggerated implication is that violence is rampant in the schools and it’s time for all who can to abandon ship.

So long as Better Ed’s fear mongering continues, we feel constrained to repeat our observations on just what the operation is up to and why.

In our view, Better Ed’s White-run, culturally uninformed propaganda campaign exhibits no sincere concern for communities of color and appears to have other, less altruistic motives behind its questionable tactics. Any organization with true concern for those least well served by the system could cite extensive consultation with Black organizations, Black leaders, and Black professionals in education and child development before launching its PR campaign. Our investigation found no such consultations.

To the best of our knowledge, Better Ed has never asked the Black community what Black students and parents most want and need to help them close achievement gaps. They presume to know what’s best for us. Rather than encouraging reasoned discussion of educational options with those directly affected, Better Ed uses exaggerated, fear-mongering language and images that prey on people’s biases and stereotypes. It sinks to the level of raw, crude propaganda.

Better Ed’s refusal to disclose the source(s) of the millions it reports in donations only encourages our suspicions that right-wing heavyweights like the infamous Koch brothers might be behind Better Ed’s efforts, given such donors’ admitted libertarian aims to end public schooling in America and sign all our kids up in private religious, Wall Street or Wal-Mart schools.

Since the Koch brothers have in the past contributed generously to the Center of the American Experiment (which created Better Ed several years ago and continues to defend it), and to the Manhattan Institute, where Jason Riley, a recent Center guest speaker, is a senior fellow, we feel justified in our suspicion of a Koch Connection.

Better Ed’s postcards and billboards aim to frighten more parents into abandoning hope for our public schools, giving up on the democratic spirit of community that public schools represent and abandoning those with the greatest hardships to fend for themselves. We encourage a different reaction.

Better Ed’s billboards and postcards should above all else remind us of the danger that “dark money” — millions and billions of dollars from concealed sources dedicated to influencing public opinion — can be used to frighten and mislead us, in this case in an effort to undermine one of the great achievements of American democracy — public education.

Instead of falling victim to Better Ed’s fear mongering, we encourage a renewed determination to rejuvenate our public schools and restore them to their intended high purpose — giving all of our children, including those most challenged, the best possible education. We encourage a renewed determination to fund our inner-city schools at the levels required to achieve these high aspirations. We encourage Better Ed to devote its millions to strengthening our public schools, not trying to destroy them.

Whenever we see a new Better Ed postcard or billboard, the MSR will rerun this editorial as a reminder of who they are, where they come from, what they want to do and why, in the hope that as few people as possible will be taken in by their scare tactics.