State to explore abandoning No Child Left Behind law

Momentum is building across the political spectrum in Kansas to give No Child Left Behind a failing grade.

President Bush’s major public school initiative is getting lambasted as unrealistic and counterproductive.

“Certainly there are a lot of things wrong with No Child Left Behind,” said State Board of Education Chairman Steve Abrams, a conservative Republican from Arkansas City.

His comments came as the state department of education released figures showing 26 schools and 11 districts with high numbers of low-income students failed to make the required progress under NCLB. None from Lawrence was identified.

That number would have been slightly higher, but the State Board of Education voted to keep the target goals the same for 2006 as they were previously.

Abrams said the board wanted to give schools a year to get acclimated to a new testing schedule.

Previously, NCLB required testing of only three grade levels. But starting in 2005-06, grades third through eighth and one grade in high school had to be tested in reading and mathematics.

The test results determine whether the school made adequate yearly progress in increasing the percentage of students who meet the standards. Each year the target increases.

Opting out

The education board has been sharply divided between moderates and conservatives on numerous issues, but it has agreed within the next couple of months to take a look at what the impact would be if the state disengaged from NCLB and refused the federal funding associated with it. The board also will explore trying to get Congress to change the law.

Abrams said the NCLB requirement that 100 percent of school children reach proficiency in math and reading tests by 2014 is “statistically impossible.”

The Kansas Association of School Boards applauded the decision by the board to hold the targets the same for the current school year.

“The board’s action will give some schools a reprieve, but if NCLB continues in its present form, virtually all schools are expected to ‘fail’ to achieve adequate yearly progress,” the association said.

Under the law, schools and districts also are required to meet adequate yearly progress among subgroups of students.

KASB said that a school with all major subgroups has at least 42 ways to miss adequate yearly progress, no matter how positive its results are on every other measure.

‘End goal’

Lawrence High School Principal Steve Nilhas said he didn’t think the board’s action would have much impact.

“I think any way you slice it, we have to be at 100 percent (proficiency) by 2014,” Nilhas said.

“So, it’s whether you want to take it in big steps or smaller steps, you still have to get there. That’s the bottom line for me,” he said. “So, I’m not losing a whole lot of sleep on where they set the targets. I’m kind of looking at the end goal and that’s where we have to get to.”

Debbie Ridgway, president of the Pinckney School Parent Teacher Organization, said the NCLB law might need restructuring.

“I think the concept in itself is a good concept,” Ridgway said.

But when funding is being cut so there are not enough remedial reading and math teachers to help students, it counteracts the intent, she said.

“Someone is going to be left behind without help,” she said.

Michelle Kirk, president of the Langston Hughes School PTO who teaches third grade at Quail Run School, said she had mixed feelings about NCLB.

She thought it had good points, but it has caused educators to “over test” and focus their lessons so students learn only the standards on the tests.

“Sometimes there are other things that are important too,” she said. “But if it’s not measurable, then we don’t teach it.”

Kirk said Congress should provide funds to keep class sizes down to about 15 to 17 students per teacher. When class sizes creep up to 21 students per teacher – and there’s no paraprofessional to assist – the teacher can’t give as much help to students who need it, she said.

“Smaller class sizes are the absolute, most essential thing they can do,” Kirk said.

Lawrence’s congressional representatives have voiced varying views about NCLB.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, a Democrat, voted for the measure in 2001, but has introduced a bill that would allow a state education agency or school district to suspend NCLB provisions until it is fully funded. Moore said the federal government has shorted the new law by $40 billion.

U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun, a Republican, voted against NCLB, but has defended the amount of money the federal government has provided under the legislation.