Quality Performance Accreditation, the state's new method of accrediting schools, is based on a simple idea: A school's success should be measured by the quality of student performance.
But critics say there could be a world of difference between how it looks on paper and how it is actually implemented.
Some critics have even charged that the state is measuring students' attitudes and have alleged the state is engaging in "social engineering." Proponents say QPA does nothing of the sort and instead will hold schools more accountable than ever before.
Approximately 150 Kansas school districts are now participating in QPA, and all Kansas districts are expected to be participating by the 1994-95 school year. Lawrence was among 50 school districts that began piloting QPA in 1991.
QPA represents an about-face from the state's traditional school accreditation process. Previously, schools had been accredited on the basis of such things as the number of books in the library and the size of the school staff.
THE NEW accreditation process defines what students should achieve using those resources. While QPA's 10 outcome goals are quite broad, schools are required to use specific assessment tools such as state math and reading tests to determine how they are progressing.
In each four-year accreditation cycle, a school must develop a profile of itself, identify areas that could be improved, develop an improvement plan to address those areas, and then use assessments to demonstrate if the plan has been effective.
Lawrence school board member Tom Murray is one person who has not bought into QPA.
"I personally believe that public education in America today consists of new fads that occur about once every five years, and this, as far as I'm concerned, has all the trappings of another fad," Murray said. "There isn't any way that they are going to be able to graduate these kids . . . with the kinds of high standards that they seek without changing other philosophies within the entire educational establishment today."
MURRAY said many educators today are too concerned with "nurturing" students and not adequately concerned about motivating students to excel.
"In my opinion, students are best motivated by high standards, tough challenges and a willingness on the part of teachers and administrators to enforce rules," Murray said. "Instead of nurturing, what we ought to be doing is challenging."
Murray said he also is concerned that QPA will focus on achieving "only minimal standards of competency on the part of all students, which I fear will substantially prejudice the highest-achieving students."
But Kansas Sen. Tim Emert, R-Independence, said he thinks Murray's concerns are unfounded. Before Emert was elected to the Senate in November, he was a member of the State Board of Education for 4 years.
Emert said he thinks QPA will improve education for all students, whether they're presently high achievers or lower achievers. He noted as an example a QPA outcome goal calling for students to learn in "an orderly and safe environment."
"That affects everybody," Emert said.
HE SAID there also are a number of teaching strategies that benefit both high achievers and lower achievers. He referred to cooperative learning, in which students actually help teach their peers.
"There's no better way to learn something that to teach it," Emert said.
Emert said some people have been bothered by QPA goals calling on students to be able to function in a "global society." He said those words have nothing to do with students' societal attitudes but merely recognize the economic interdependence of nations.
"If Lawrence High School is preparing people just to live in Lawrence, Kansas, they're making a major mistake," Emert said. "We need to be able to compete with the Japanese and the Germans. Everybody certainly compares us to them."
KANSAS Rep. Darlene Cornfield, R-Valley Center, said she also opposes QPA. Cornfield said she thinks the state program takes away control from local school districts.
"This is a document that will personalize itself for the school building where it's being applied," Emert said. "Every school develops their school improvement plan. Every school determines which of the 10 goals they're going to work on."