Little Oliver asks for more

Nevadans press for more charter schools, and the board of beadles blanches in fear.

By Steven Miller
  • Friday, December 14, 2007

Have you ever wondered why government seems so utterly, repeatedly failure-prone when it comes to meeting the education needs of Nevada kids?

If so, the state Board of Education late last month provided you with the perfect object lesson.

Going into its November 30 meeting, the board faced a challenge. Several members believed, noted Las Vegas Review-Journal capital reporter Sean Whaley, that the state Education Department was “being overwhelmed” by all the applications coming in to create charter schools.

The reason for the applications, observed the Reno Gazette-Journal in a subsequent editorial, is that “Increasing numbers of families are seeking an educational experience for their children that is different from what is available in the traditional school system.

“Many desire more control over schooling, they are unwilling to trust the public system with their children’s special needs, and they are causing the numbers of charter schools to balloon.”

So, faced with the clear, massively expressed call by Nevada parents for more charter schools in the Silver State, how did members of the Board choose to respond?

By halting all processing of new charter school applications until further notice.

Only in the bizarro world of government is it thought reasonable to meet the clearly expressed desire of the public with a complete stiff-arm.

Faced with a similar challenge, any business enterprise would try to bend heaven and earth to meet customers’ needs. Even arch-competitors, if necessary, will be called in. But of course people in business live in a different reality, one where the expressed needs and desires of customers are recognized as real opportunities — chances for both patrons and businesses to make their lives better.

In the realm of government monopoly, on the other hand, it’s altogether different. There, the needs and desires of people are merely burdens, state-mandated responsibilities legally imposed upon government functionaries. Effortlessly, such a regime breeds surly recalcitrance. Quickly the operational rule becomes: “You will take what we give you — or else.”

Thus, the state of Silver State schools.

Collectively, Nevada’s state Board of Ed types resemble nothing so much as the workhouse trustees in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Remember when orphan Oliver, desperate with hunger, comes up to the kitchen master and the copper pot of porridge? With bowl and spoon in hand, writes Dickens, Oliver says:


“Please, sir, I want some more.”

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralyzed with wonder; the boys with fear.

“What!” said the master at length, in a faint voice.

“Please, sir,” replied Oliver, “I want some more.”

The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloud for the beadle.

The board were sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr. Bumble rushed into the room in great excitement, and addressing the gentleman in the high chair, said,

“Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked for more!”

There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance.

“For more?” said Mr. Limbkins. “Compose yourself, Bumble, and answer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more, after he had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?”

“He did, sir,” replied Bumble.

“That boy will be hung,” said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. “I know that boy will be hung.”


Like Mr. Bumble the beadle and the workhouse board, members of Nevada’s state Board of Education see themselves as defending good order against the unenlightened hordes. Parents, they are sure, fail to appreciate the magnitude of the problems with which worthies such as they have agreed, oh-so-charitably, to wrestle.

In actuality, however, it is the board’s worthies who reveal themselves as swaddled in illusion. Uncritically, they have accepted the priorities of the very interests that, controlling the state’s highly politicized education apparatus for over a generation, have stymied all reform.

With Nevada public schools in the nation’s performance cellar, for example, it is absurd of the board to freeze the processing of new charters — a powerful and cost-effective route to higher student achievement, abundant research has shown.

Similarly, given Southern Nevada’s rapid growth, it is hare-brained of the board to be blocking people actually eager to raise the money to open brand new schools.

Public K-12 education, notes Eva Moskowitz, the New York City Council’s former education chair, “is a monopolistic structure in which management and labor have colluded for the better part of four decades to protect the interests of adults over those of children.”

Nevada’s state Board should stop facilitating this collusion. 

Steven Miller is policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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