Archive for Thursday, August 18, 2005

State senator, A.G. need to aim higher

August 18, 2005

We've heard it since we were young: Set your sights high. Reach for the stars. Aim high. Dream the impossible dream.

So it came as a surprise last week when Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline and state Sen. John Vratil asked the State Board of Education to lower its mandate that all Kansas public school students reach grade-level proficiency in math and reading by 2014.

The board had adopted a mandate of 100 percent proficiency after passage in 2001 of the federal "No Child Left Behind" law. That law, ballyhooed by President Bush, requires schools to make progress toward 100 percent proficiency in reading and math or face federal sanctions.

"There's probably not enough money in Kansas to attain 100 percent proficiency," Vratil told the board.

Kline expressed his sentiment that keeping the high standards would open the door to future court challenges over school funding and result in judges deciding how much and where to spend money for public education.

"The issue is who maintains the authority to set policy and set priorities," Kline said.

With all due respect, that horse left the pasture four years ago.

Clearly, No Child Left Behind is pulling the education wagon. Local and state boards of education - long the makers of education policy in the country - have taken a back seat to powers in Washington. Whether that's good or bad is an argument best left for another day, but it is a fact.

Vratil and Kline, Republicans and presumably supporters of the president, should set their sights higher: Any concerns they have with the proficiency mandate should go up the ladder and be registered with federal authorities - members of the state's congressional delegation, U.S. Department of Education officials and the president.

The case for change needs to be made at the source of power if the mandate is, as Vratil says, unrealistic.

Meanwhile, let's keep reaching for the stars in Kansas.

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