Original URL: http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascitystar/news/opinion/6544022.htm

Kansas City Star Editorial
August 17, 2003

The  "No Child Left Behind" law is badly flawed. It creates undeserved criticism for some schools and teachers that are generally doing a good job.

As required by the federal law, the Kansas Department of Education recently published the names of schools that had not met state benchmarks of student proficiency. The Missouri report is expected next month.

Several area Kansas schools were listed as failing to make adequate progress in math or reading over the last year. However, those listings
are deceiving.

For purposes of the assessments, students are divided into groups based on race, disability, income and use of languages other than English. In some of these groups students did not fare as well on tests as students in the school as a whole, and that created a rating that showed lack of adequate yearly progress.

Congress made a mistake in not taking into account the extra effort needed to educate students who do not speak English or who have learning disabilities. In many cases, Congress also failed to provide enough funding for districts to give students that extra help.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, a Kansas Democrat, says the schools have gotten $8 billion less than they were promised. He acknowledges that the law has  some real conceptual flaws that I didn't recognize when I voted for it.

Olathe Superintendent Ron Wimmer agrees there are problems. His district  was cited because 61 newcomers who are still learning English did not score as well on the tests as others.

Yet the federal government had already cut Olathe's money to help these students by $50,000 for next year. That makes no sense.

Most area schools did well on the achievement tests, as did the schools in Kansas as a whole. Statewide, the gap between poor students and others narrowed in the last year.

The labeling of a school as "failing" can lower teacher morale and confuse the public.

In Shawnee Mission, two high schools did not show enough progress in  math, and one middle school in reading. But in each case, a small group of children in each school did not do well.

The law is unfair to good districts such as Shawnee Mission and Olathe. Washington has put a particularly tough burden on districts with student diversity.

In Kansas City, Kan., where four high schools did not meet progress requirements, Superintendent Ray Daniels points out that urban schools have many subgroups of students, some of whom will have more difficulty than others in meeting the standards.

What's to be done?

School districts can improve their ratings by putting teachers and resources into programs for children who do not speak English and who
need special attention.

More early education programs can prepare children for elementary school.

Congress should fix the law so schools aren't penalized for problems they haven't caused.

Washington should do more to provide the resources to make the law work.

The goal of making sure every child receives a good education is an excellent one. Unfortunately, Congress passed a law that hobbles the
public schools with unfunded mandates and unrealistic goals.