Dr. Terry Stoops says that nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does the word “education” appear. “The founders were very strongly opposed to the idea of the federal government having any involvement in education because they understood that if you are able to capture the hearts and minds of the children, that is the road to tyranny,” said Dr. Stoops.
Stoops, who was the invited speaker at last Saturday’s meeting of Macon County FreedomWorks, is the Director of Education Studies at the conservative John Locke Foundation, a North Carolina-based free market think-tank. FreedomWorks is a conservative, non-profit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. The promotion of school choice to increase parental control and competition in education has been a core issue of the organization since it was founded in the mid-1990s.
Since their historic take-over of the General Assembly this year, North Carolina Republicans have been actively pushing their agenda on multiple fronts, including that of education. Currently, a bill that would lift the cap on charter schools and entitle them a greater share of public school funding is poised for a final vote in the Senate.
Educators and school boards across the state have spoken out against the bill (Senate Bill 8), saying that rather than improve education, such competition could sound the death knell for public education in North Carolina. Governor Bev Perdue has indicated that she intends to veto any such bill that crosses her desk.
According to Stoops, such attitudes are indicative of a general tendency towards centralized control of education in the country, including a desire for some to see a centralized curriculum. He cites Perdue's Ready-Set-Go initiative as an example of a national movement among state governments to adopt the common-core educational standards drafted by the National Governors Association.
While the idea that North Carolina is striving to attain minimum national standards for math and English education in its public schools may not sound too threatening, to Stoops corecurriculum standards are just the tip of the iceberg.
“You might think, English curriculum, that's not so bad,” Stoops said. “We need to teach our kids to write and to read. But this curriculum would do a poor job of doing that ... and it would incorporate many of the things our kids don't need to know, like the multiculturalism, like the cultural awareness and those sorts of things that really divert a child's attention from being able to read and write as they should.”
Many on the right and the left say that a national curriculum would not be practical, but Stoops is not so sure. “The plans are being made and the ground is being laid for a national curriculum,” he said.
Rather than national education standards, Stoops, the John Locke Foundation and FreedomWorks would rather see decentralization and school choice become the touchstones for future education policy in North Carolina and the country. For Stoops, removing the cap on charter schools is a no-brainer.
“When you have 30-35 kids in your class, the idea of trying to meet the needs of every one of those students is absolutely impossible,” said Stoops, who thinks the answer is to make schooling more competitive and give parents more choice. “If I have a choice between school A and school B, [and] school B better meets the needs of my child, I'm going to send it to school B, and the state will put its money behind that school.”
While Stoops acknowledged that the graduation rate is lower in North Carolina's charter schools than in its public schools, he says this is because charter schools often cater to students with special needs. He adds that charter school students have been shown to preform better on standardized tests, and he says that 20,000 kids are currently on waiting lists for charter schools in the state.
Stoops says local control and parental control in education go hand-in-hand and that both ideas are being dissolved at the federal level and the state leve.
“The last thing we want to do is to give up our right to have our education the way believe it's best conducted,” said Stoops, and not have it “conducted out of Washington, out of the White House or from a President like Barack Obama.”