State stuck with NCLB

It wasn’t surprising that federal officials denied a request by Kansas for a temporary waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. But it is disappointing that Kansas public schools have to keep chasing an impossible standard.

Kansas State Board of Education chairman David Dennis of Wichita wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in February and a followup letter in April asking for the waiver. Kansas wanted the annual targets for reading and math tests to be held at 2009-10 levels until it implements new Common Core achievement standards.

But Michael Yudin, U.S. deputy secretary of education, told Kansas officials last week that the best way to assist states was for Congress to reauthorize and reform the law, not to grant Kansas a waiver.

“I’m very disappointed in this decision,” Dennis said in a statement, adding that he hoped Congress would “understand the urgency involved for our schools” and heed President Obama’s call to reauthorize the law by the start of the next school year.

Getting a waiver was a long shot. Still, the U.S. Education Department granted the McPherson school district a waiver earlier this year to enact its own testing standards, which raised some hope for flexibility.

But the No Child Left Behind law is anything but flexible.

Under the law, districts are required each year to increase the percentages of students who are proficient in reading and math. By the 2013-14 school year, 100 percent of students are supposed to be proficient — a statistically impossible standard.

Already, 254 of 1,380 Kansas schools, or 18 percent, aren’t hitting their yearly progress targets. Nationally, 33 percent of schools failed to hit the annual goals in 2008-09, the most recent numbers available, according to the Center on Education Policy.

“Unfortunately, as the targets move closer to 100 percent over the next couple of years, we’ll begin to see more and more schools miss the mark,” Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said in a statement.

Though the NCLB law has focused needed attention and resources on groups of children who might have been left behind, the 100 percent mandate is unrealistic and, ultimately, counterproductive. Congress needs to act soon to reform the law or, better yet, to scrap it.

— For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee