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The EdFly Blog

Response to In The Public Interest

The EdFly Blog

Recently a group called In the Public Interest made numerous allegations against the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd). These were based on e-mail exchanges that the group distorted and misinterpreted to advance its political agenda.

In the Public Interest is run by Donald Cohen, the former Political Director of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO. His priority is protecting union teaching jobs, and therefore protecting the status quo in public education.  He has written that reform is a “right wing attack’’ on teacher unions, even though the movement has become bi-partisan and includes, among its leaders, President Barack Obama.

As Malcolm Glenn from the American Federation for Children puts it: “The traditional party breakdowns on school choice, the ideological breakdowns, are a thing of the past.”

Apparently Mr. Cohen did not get the memo. We will be happy to address any specific questions about the Foundation e-mails because we always have been very open about what we do.

The focus of our time and advocacy is on advancing student achievement.

We have a broad reform agenda.  We believe in school choice.  We also believe in the public school system. Our staff has kids in public schools. They have taught in public schools. Gov. Jeb Bush has visited countless public schools in the 20 years he has devoted to improving education. Where we part company with Mr. Cohen’s constituency is that we simply do not believe unaccountable monopolies best serve the interests of our children. We do not think school choice should be limited to affluent parents who can afford private school tuition or neighborhoods with high-performing schools.

A very long history shows the result is neglected low-income schools where children are allowed to fail, adults are not held responsible, and good teachers are incentivized to leave. This is why the U.S. Conference of Mayors, led by its Democratic members, unanimously endorsed parent-trigger laws to empower parents whose children are trapped in failing public schools.

It is why we are strong supporters of charter schools, incentive pay for teachers who take on challenging assignments, high academic standards, tests that accurately reflect those standards, and transparency for all schools. We believe transparency is best obtained through a simple A-F grading formula that reflects student progress and is easily understood by parents.

Charters are not a silver bullet but allow for creative new approaches in education, such as the blended-learning models that mix digital content and teacher interactions. Such innovations have had impressive results with low-income children. And we strongly believe these successes should be replicated across the country.

To quote from a proclamation issued by President Obama: “For years, charter schools have brought new ideas to the work of educating our sons and daughters, and during National Charter Schools Week, we recognize their role in strengthening American education.”

Rather than spending so much time and effort trying to block competition, we believe school districts and teacher unions should instead work to reform public school bureaucracies and outdated union policies so they can win the competition. It is our hope that Mr. Cohen might one day choose to put aside his rhetoric and accusations and engage in a substantive discussion of education reform. If so, we are available.

About the author

Mike Thomas @MikeThomasTweet

Mike Thomas serves in the communications department, writing editorials and speeches. Prior to joining the Foundation, Mike worked for more than 30 years as a journalist with Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel. He has written investigative projects, magazine feature stories, humor pieces, editorials and local columns. He won several state and national awards, and was named a finalist in the American Society of New Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary/Column Writing in 2010. As a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, he wrote extensively about education reform, becoming one of its chief advocates in the Florida media. Mike graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in political science and journalism. His wife is a teacher and he has two children in public schools. Contact Mike at

4 responses to “Response to In The Public Interest”

  1. […] should be surprised that Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE)continues it’s  attempt to change the subject after a recent report focused on it’s email contacts with numerous personnel from seven […]

  2. […] should be surprised that Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE)continues it’s  attempt to change the subject after a recent report focused on it’s email contacts with numerous personnel from seven different […]

  3. PhillipMarlowe says:

    Mike Thomas used to be a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, where he regularly showered former Florida governor Jeb Bush with praise. Now Thomas works for Bush’s reformy outlet, the Foundation for Educational Excellence, where he is paid to tut-tut at people for saying things they never actually said.

    (How come no one on our side is offering jobs like this? I can misread blog posts with the best of them!)

    But Thomas’s blog looks like it’s going to be about more than just smearing Bush’s opponents; it’s also going to produce spin when Bush gets caught up in conflicts of interest:

    Just today, an editorial in the Palm Beach Post calls out Bush for making the FCAT the center of his education policies to the detriment of Florida’s public schools. So it’s not just IPI that’s bringing up the issue. What then, does Thomas have to say in Bush’s defense to thisspecific allegation?

    Nothing. His post is rife with reformy platitudes, but there is no word as to whether Pearson backs FEE, whether FEE’s policies would directly benefit Pearson, and whether the expansion of the FCAT’s role has genuinely helped Florida’s students succeed academically.

    Valerie Strauss points out something telling about FEE:

    The Web site of the Foundation for Excellence in Education used to list some of their donors but no longer does and is not required to list all of its donors to the public under tax rules for 5013C organizations. However, it is known that the foundation has received support from for-profit companies K12 and Pearson and Amplify, as well as the nonprofit College Board. [emphasis mine]Well, Mike Thomas swears that “…we always have been very open about what we do.” If that’s really true, Thomas and Bush should have no problems revealing the names of all of FEE’s financial backers. That would be far more useful than posts filled with bromides about “reform,” don’t you think?

    Come on, Jeb and Mike: you claim you’re “very open about what we do.” Prove it: who’s paying your bills?

  4. […] Foundation for Excellence in Education did not dispute the connections in a responsive post on its Web site, citing instead the pro-union agenda of In the Public Interest and restating its […]

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