New Walton-Backed Education Group Seeks Results, Not Politics

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Blake Neff Reporter
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As schools open up across the country, a new educational non-profit has opened its doors as well.

Education Post is headed by former Obama administration member Peter Cunningham and backed by $12 million from the Walton Family Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Broad Foundation, as well as an anonymous donor.

The group’s top goals are to promote high standards in schools, providing both support and accountability for teachers and principles, and to promote the use of school choice and charter schools as a means for increasing student achievement.

While those goals have much in common with those of currently-existing non-profits, Education Post’s genesis lies in the frustration of major donors who felt that the national discussion on education has become increasingly unproductive, the group’s executive director Peter Cunningham told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Education Post’s objective, he said, is to shift the discussion on education in a way that mitigates the political spats that stand in the way of improving schools.

The way the group hopes to do that is by leveraging its skills in communications. Cunningham himself was formerly the head of communications and outreach at the Department of Education, serving under Secretary Arne Duncan; similarly, most of the other personnel featured on the group’s website are communications veterans.

“My whole background is messaging. I’m not a policy guy,” said Cunningham, adding that his group would be able to deploy its communications expertise both publicly and “behind the scenes” in order to promote groups and individuals it believes have found ways to boost America’s schools.

Clear messaging is something Cunningham believes is sorely lacking in education policy, where he says misconceptions run rampant. One frequent area of misunderstanding, he said, is charter schools.

“A whole lot of people think charter schools charge tuition,” Cunningham said. Another source of error is Common Core, which he says has become wrapped up in fears of federal control and student data collection that are not relevant to the standards themselves.

Misunderstanding leads to disputes, Cunningham said, which in turn drown out voices promoting sensible policies most people would support.

“I think there is a lot more agreement among people than you would think, based on the national dialogue,” he said. Education Post’s goal will be to serve as a fast-acting force, spreading promising developments in education while “knocking down” myths and misconceptions as they creep up.

“At the end of the day, it’s about results, and it’s hard to argue with results,” he said.

Cunningham said his group hopes to improve discourse and avoid political pitfalls, but he is aware of the major challenges involved with that.

“Politics is a fact of American life… but politics can sometimes obscure the issues.” He pointed towards Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal as a major example. Jindal’s recent turn against Common Core, which has now spilled into federal court, is a purely political gesture, says Cunningham, and the sort of thing Education Post will have to work against.

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Blake Neff