Vratil, Kline challenge NCLB goals, link to school funding
by Elaine Bessier
Kansas Senate Vice President John Vratil of Leawood warned the State Board of Education Tuesday against linking school accreditation with student proficiency, as measured by the No Child Left Behind Act.
Vratil said there is nationwide concern that the law's goals are unrealistic and unattainable.
"Requiring 100 percent of students, including special ed, bilingual and English as a second language students, reach proficiency in math and reading by 2014 will, in effect, wreak disrespect for accreditation standards," Vratil, a Republican, said.
The current goal is to have 60 percent of students proficient in math and 63 percent proficient in reading. The goals will rachet up 4 or 5 percent each year.
"It's important to set goals but you must be realistic," said Vratil, who served on a task force of more than 60 state legislators who studied NCLB for eight months. "The panel listened to hundreds of hours of testimony and none of the legislators believed it was possible to attain the goal. The panel made over 40 recommendations, but only one was implemented."
Vratil said the Legislature will be more concerned now that student outcomes have been tied to funding by the Kansas Supreme Court.
"This is an issue for which there is growing concern, an issue which is not going to go away. There probably is not enough money in Kansas to fund 100 percent proficiency in math and reading."
Vratil said the law lacks flexibility and is based on one-size-fits-all when we do not have a one-size-fits-all student population. More than 50 percent of the factors affecting student achievement are beyond the control of public education, including single parents, health, day care and whether parents read to their children, he said.
"No Child Left Behind needs to be modified or scrapped," Vratil said. "Three states are contemplating dropping it; Texas has instructed its schools to ignore it, and 86 percent of Florida schools failed to reach proficiency."
Vratil said he supports providing children an opportunity to receive quality education and closing the achievement gap.
"I do not support lowering expectations for student achievement, nor do I support dumbing down the curriculum or reducing state funding for education," he said. "But I think you have established impossible standards with 100 percent proficiency and no flexibility and are setting yourself up for failure."
Attorney General Phil Kline, speaking after Vratil, said the June 3 Kansas Supreme Court decision set new standards and goes further than any other state in establishing student outcomes as a determinant for funding.
Board member Bill Wagnon of Topeka said, "I'm hearing a lot about unrealistic expectations. I see nothing that hasn't been set out in our Quality Performance Accreditation. We have 450,000 students. If we do anything less than 100 percent, I want to know the names of the ones you want me to leave behind."
Vratil said, "The goal should be 100 percent but you should be realistic and it may be a long time, it may be never."
Sue Gamble of Shawnee said a goal provides less focus than standards.
"It is impossible to reach 100 percent on any given day but if we are satisfied with less, we are dooming our economy to failure. You're asking for a dual accountability system. Kicking and screaming is too mild for how I would come to that. We can be adjustable, but I don't want to abandon where we're going."
Vratil said later that No Child Left Behind "will fix itself. It will implode and go away. In the meantime, the Supreme Court has said the Legislature must fund to the state board's standards.
Board chairman Steve Abrams of Arkansas City said, "I think the ability to get 100 percent proficiency is statistically impossible and for funding to be tied to improvement goals is a serious problem.
"Nobody wants to lower goals, but the problem is in tying funding to NCLB or adequate yearly progress. It's possible within a few years it will be replaced with some flexibility." Abrams said the board would discuss the issue if a member makes a motion and it passes.
Johnson County Sun
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES