Star Parker

L.A. school Superintendent Roy Romer says the problem is school size. He has a plan to subdivide existing school campuses into smaller schools that will allow more personal attention for students. The Los Angeles Times reports that Romer has a $1 million grant from the Gates Foundation to pursue this project.

I have no reason to question either the diligence or sincerity with which Romer is approaching this prodigious problem. Given the constraints he faces, my guess is he's doing the best he can. However, I have little optimism that he will make much of a difference because the constraints he faces are unreasonable.

The frameworks for standards, reform and sanctions defined by No Child Left Behind are important reforms for our public school system. But the problem is our public school system itself. How do you fix a business that has no competition and for which government itself limits the possibilities for reform?

Poor kids are simply trapped in a government school monopoly where the manner in which education is defined and administered and the values that are conveyed are by and large pre-scripted by a politically correct establishment.

When I log onto the Web site of the National Education Association, the national union of the teachers staffing our public schools, the first thing I see is a headline announcing a study that says "the goals of 'No Child Left Behind' cannot be met without a significant increase in resources." According to the Pacific Research Institute, the L.A. Unified School District spends more than $9,000 per year per student. I am confident that if inner-city parents had $9,000 through a voucher or scholarship to send their child wherever they chose to school, more than one in two would graduate.

Businesses that face competition deliver more and more for less and less. Monopolies deliver less and less for more and more. What else can we expect from the NEA and the government school monopoly than claims that spending is the alleged answer for everything?

Problems today in the inner cities are complex. Many poor families are broken, single-parent homes. This itself is a major predictor for failure in school. Kids from these homes get sent to public schools where prohibitions on providing any framework for values make it impossible to help them find meaning amidst the chaos in which they live. It doesn't take much imagination to predict where this leads.

We can educate these kids. But we need to open the education marketplace, take it out of the hands of the unions and monopolists, and let people who really want to help these families and their children have a chance with them.

Star Parker

Star Parker is founder and president of CURE, the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, a 501c3 think tank which explores and promotes market based public policy to fight poverty, as well as author of the newly revised Uncle Sam's Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America's Poor and What We Can do About It.