Star Parker

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said recently, "Our K-12 agenda can be summed up in one word: reform."

If only it were true. But what Duncan calls reform is indeed putting lipstick on a pig. In this case, the pig is Washington's never changing formula for solving everything: spending ever-increasing sums of taxpayer's money.

"Reform" means generating new ideas about how to spend and coming up with clever new titles for programs.

So today it's called "Race to the Top." Duncan has been handed $4.35 billion, taken out of last year's $830 billion stimulus bill, and given personal discretion for dispensing it to states that propose education reform ideas that strike his fancy. It's the largest discretionary sum ever given to an education secretary.

This past week 40 states submitted proposals.

How do we know that Duncan can identify good ideas? We don't.

He says he likes charter schools and performance pay for teachers. He's open to new colors of lipstick that the pig has not sported before. But a pig is still a pig.

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There appears to be not a shred of evidence that funneling more taxpayer dollars through Washington to states improves education. Data compiled by the conservative Heritage Foundation analysts shows that since 1970, federal spending per student, adjusted for inflation, has more than doubled with no discernable change in test scores.

Now a new study released by the Department of Health and Human Services shows that the Head Start program -- the federal program started in 1965 aimed at getting low-income, preschool children prepared for school -- has no impact.

Some $166 billion of federal funds has been poured into Head Start. Yet this new study shows that first graders who have been through the program perform essentially the same as those who haven't.

In response to Texas Governor Rick Perry saying "no thanks" to new money with stipulations from Washington bureaucrats, Duncan said, "If states are half-hearted that's probably not a place where we'll invest."

It says it all that Duncan calls a long and unblemished history of shoveling taxpayer funds into a black hole "investing." Can you imagine any investment banker or venture capitalist "investing" in anything with this kind of track record? Chances are zero.

So why must we tolerate it?

If there was evidence that billions of dollars directed into new spending was going to improve education, we taxpayers might be prepared to be put on the hook. But not only is there no evidence, the real problems that the charade pretends to address also just get worse.

It's black and Latino kids who languish year after year in failing public schools as the game goes on.

In normal markets, customers drive the quality of the product. In the case of the public education monopoly, the customers -- kids and their parents -- are pawns in the game. Anything that would give the customers power -- such as school choice -- government and union bureaucrats fight.

The Obama administration, with all its lofty rhetoric about reform, quietly has allowed congressional Democrats to kill the successful Washington D.C. voucher program. The program has demonstrably given 1,300 inner-city kids a better education in private schools at a third of the cost their counterparts are getting in D.C. public schools.

Even the liberal Washington Post has editorialized to save the program, as President Obama and Secretary Duncan turn deaf ears.

Duncan was chastised for recently saying the "best thing" to happen to education in New Orleans was Katrina. But education has markedly improved there as parents were given school choice in the wake of the disaster.

The best thing that could happen to inner-city education nationwide would be a political Katrina that would give birth to parental empowerment and school choice.


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.