While the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy is, at its core, a think tank that attempts to find solutions to West Virginia’s many ills through public policy, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t look for solutions in other places, as well.
This search led Cardinal a few hundred miles to the south in the Tarheel State, specifically the Raleigh metropolitan area, to tour a group of private, nonsectarian schools collectively known as the “Thales Academy.” Founded by entrepreneur Bob Luddy in response to North Carolina’s charter school cap (Luddy also founded the Franklin Academy charter school in North Carolina), Thales provides a classical education for students of all ages at an extremely reasonable price.The experience was equal parts eye-opening, inspirational, and sad (more on that final adjective in a moment).
Thales Academy now comprises eight schools spread across the entire state of North Carolina, though concentrated around the Raleigh area. Thales provides a wonderful education at a wonderful value (average tuition is only $6,000 compared to the nearly $12,000 West Virginia is currently spending per pupil to educate students) due to its relentless, student-centered pursuit of efficiency – for example, grade-schoolers eat lunch in their classrooms, saving the unnecessary expense of building a cafeteria. (Teachers and administrators are also the school’s janitorial services.)
Art – including murals of entrepreneurs and the Founding Fathers – is strewn across the hallways, polished, easily-cleaned concrete serves as flooring, students are all dressed in a standard uniform (and are exceedingly polite, I must say), and the teachers look as though they’re genuinely having fun teaching their students.
In short, it was how education should be. One can’t help but think, “why isn’t this model everywhere?” or, in Cardinal’s case, “why can’t we have this in West Virginia?”
We can. We should. We must.
Over the last few years, it has become abundantly clear that while innovation within the system (charter schools and mandatory open enrollment) is critical, we must innovate outside the system (education savings accounts and Thales) if we are to pull West Virginia out of its educational quicksand. The gravity of West Virginia’s status quo is so immense that the time and resources required to shift the system’s paradigm from within is staggering.
West Virginia’s education system is broken, but what does that mean on a granular level? It means that kids are not being educated to their potential. It means they will become less than what they could be. Educational innovations, like Thales, that provide low-cost, high-quality education should be the reform movement’s lodestar.
Watch a video from Reason Magazine to learn more about Thales Academy!
Garrett Ballengee is the Executive Director of the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy