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Eagle editorial: More school meddling

  • Published Thursday, April 11, 2013, at 12 a.m.

A case study on why state lawmakers shouldn’t set education policy is the Read to Succeed Act, which requires schools to hold back first-graders who don’t meet a certain standard on state reading assessments. Unfortunately, it’s just one of many examples of legislative meddling this session.

Gov. Sam Brownback originally proposed holding back all third-graders who don’t pass a reading assessment as part of his campaign goal to boost fourth-grade reading proficiency. But his plan couldn’t make it out of committee in the House or Senate – and for good reason.

In many cases, holding children back can be counterproductive to their academic progress, education experts say. It also can be unfair and inaccurate to make such decisions based on only one test. And as many experts noted, a better way to boost reading is to invest in early childhood education.

But rather than moving on to other issues, the full Senate changed the bill – seemingly on the fly and without any data – to move the retention requirement to first grade. After it passed the Senate, a compromise plan was hammered out by House and Senate negotiators. Both chambers approved it last week.

The new plan targets districts with a higher-than-average percentage of students scoring at a low level on state assessment tests. It also exempts certain special education and bilingual students. Schools also must allow students to retake the assessment test, and parents can override the retention mandate and have their children promoted.

The changes certainly improve the bill, including a provision allowing other measures besides just the state test to be considered. Still, it is troubling how freely lawmakers approve new mandates that aren’t backed by teachers or academic studies.

Some other bills considered by lawmakers this session have included mandating that schools teach the history of our nation’s founding during a particular week in September (approved), blocking Common Core education standards (not approved – at least not yet), and restricting the collective-bargaining rights of teachers (deferred until next year).

Lawmakers also have approved several changes to school finance, which is their area of responsibility. But some of those proposals are misguided or deceptive.

For example, the House approved a bill (which is still in conference committee) that would require school districts to send a portion of their local-option budget funding to the state, which would then return it to the districts as “state aid.” It is intended to fool the courts and the public into thinking the state has increased funding.

“It’s like if you lost the basketball game and you take 10 points from your opponent and then say you won,” complained Rep. Jim Kelly, R-Independence.

But when it comes to education policy, that’s how the game is played in Topeka.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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