Conservative actor and writer Chuck Norris argued for local and parental control of education, as advocated by the author of the Declaration of Independence, the founder of the Library of Congress, and America's Third President – Thomas Jefferson.
"Jefferson – as well as most of the other founders – couldn't ever imagine that public education would be controlled by the federal or even state governments," Norris wrote in a Sunday op-ed. Instead, the founders believed education "should be run and funded by parents and those in local communities or wards."
Norris quoted a 1784 bill Jefferson proposed in the state of Virginia, which divided counties into even smaller school districts of 5-6 square miles. The districts, counties, states, and the federal government would each have their own authority, Jefferson explained, so as to provide checks and balances for each other.
"If it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by the governor and council, the commissioners of the literary fund, or any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward, it is a belief against all experience," the third U.S. president wrote in 1816.
The "Walker, Texas Ranger" star acknowledged that Jefferson's time was fundamentally different from our own – women and slaves were not educated equally with free men. Nevertheless, he added that the third president encouraged a friend to educate his slaves, and educated his own daughters, as well.
Norris did not endorse Jefferson's entire educational system, but he did argue that "we would be well served by adopting some of his basic educational philosophies, such as returning complete autonomy to parents and experts in local communities."
Reflecting upon Jefferson's wisdom, Norris concluded that current efforts to expand the role of the federal government in education are unwise.
"Overreaching educational laws and programs – like No Child Left Behind – centered in Washington and even State Seats have only multiplied bureaucratic red tape, tied the hands of parents, administrators and teachers, and relinquished school funding and choices (including textbooks) to the power and pocketbook of special interest groups," he argued.
Jefferson's home state of Virginia set an example of this trend to localism in education in its rejection of the federal government's controversial Common Core standards.
In a 2010 letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell echoed Norris' concerns that further oversight would weaken education. "Virginia's standards actually exceed those of the common core in most areas," McDonnell wrote, which meant that "to be competitive for a RTTT grant under the current rules, we would have to lower our standards."
In a Monday statement to The Christian Post, McDonnell's Press Secretary Taylor Keeney reaffirmed the assertion that Virginia doesn't need the Common Core. "Virginia did not accept the common core standards because we have seen proven success with our Standards of Learning during the Commonwealth's 15 years of experience with its SOL assessments," he wrote.
Despite Virginia's rejection of the national standards, Keeney promised further improvement in the state's education system. "Building on the success of the SOL program and to better prepare students to compete in today's global economy," he assured CP that "more rigorous English, mathematics and science standards and expectations are being implemented that meet national and international benchmarks for college-and-career readiness."
While Norris and McDonnell are both conservatives, not all those on the Right oppose federal education standards. Michael Gerson, op-ed columnist for The Washington Post, policy fellow with the ONE Campaign, and visiting fellow with the Center for Public Justice, warned his fellow conservatives against "the temptation to elevate one principle above all others."
"Localism is not the answer to all our educational problems," he argued in a May op-ed. Gerson warned that, by opposing educational standards, some tea party activists have joined "elements of the progressive education blob" forming "the mediocrity caucus in American politics."
Even the left has divided on this issue, with liberal writer Diane Ravitch opposing the standards in an op-ed on the Huffington Post and a group called the "Bada** Teachers Association" bombarding social media. Both aim to keep education local, just as Jefferson did.