News: CJ Exclusives

JLF: State Board Needs Diversity

JLF's Terry Stoops says there's too much agreement on board

If North Carolina’s schools are to improve, Gov. Mike Easley should seek candidates with different ideas about education issues when he fills two seats this year on the State Board of Education, a report recently released by the John Locke Foundation says.

“With high dropout rates, low graduation rates, and sagging student performance, you would expect vigorous debate about school reform among state board members,” said Terry Stoops, the foundation’s education policy analyst. “Instead, the board has retreated into ‘groupthink,’ discouraging the kind of creativity and innovation required to improve public education across the state.”

Stoops analyzed the 13-member board’s votes from 2003 to 2006. Excluding housekeeping and ceremonial votes, board members reached unanimous agreement 94 percent of the time. “Regardless of ideological similarities among members, it is unlikely that their ideas and beliefs converge perfectly on nearly every issue,” he said. “This board’s voting history makes you wonder why a board of education is necessary at all.”

The unanimous votes suggest board members have nearly identical views about public education, or they feel uncomfortable airing dissent, Stoops said. New board members could question the status quo. “As North Carolina’s public school students fall behind, you can place the blame on a State Board of Education that’s unwilling to ask tough questions.”

Two board members’ terms will expire March 31. Easley will make appointments for new eight-year terms. The appointments are subject to confirmation votes in the General Assembly. No more appointments are scheduled until 2009. “The state’s public education goals are not attainable under the current board regime,” Stoops said. “Our public schools cannot be competitive and innovative until the State Board of Education demonstrates those same qualities.”

Easley should look beyond the pool of candidates with ties to the education establishment, Stoops said. “A philosophically diverse State Board of Education, including school choice advocates and charter school representatives, would ensure that the majority view no longer suppresses ideas that deviate from the group.”

Parents across the state should pay attention to the appointment process, Stoops said. “This group’s decisions ultimately affect every one of North Carolina’s 1.4 million public school students and 180,000 full-time public school employees across the state,” he said. “Every appointment and reappointment to this board has an immeasurable impact on the state’s national and global competitiveness.”

Easley has the power to change the current system, Stoops said. “All that is required is a governor with courage to admit that the State Board of Education needs affirmative action in its truest form, that is, a diversity of views.”

Terry Stoops’ Spotlight report, “State Board of Repetition: State Board of Repetition,” is available here.