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No Child Left Behind (2001)

No Child Left Behind (2001)

Kelly A. Woestman

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) (P.L. 107-110, 115 Stat. 1425) is a major revision of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The key components of the new version of this legislation, passed with significant bipartisan support, are two goals associated with accountability and the closing of the achievement gap between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Critics of the original 1965 legislation argued that the law provided federal funding to schools but did not mandate accountability for academic results; NCLB does both. In contrast, critics of the current legislation, including the National Educational Association, have claimed that adequate funding is not provided to satisfy the more stringent accountability requirements included in NCLB.

To satisfy NCLB requirements, schools must prove that each one of its students is proficient, or on grade level, in key educational areas, such as reading and math, by 2014 in order to continue to receive federal funding. Beginning in 20022003, NCLB requires school districts to prepare annual reports for families and the public at large describing academic achievement in the aggregate (for the entire district), by individual schools, and by grade level. Since the federal government provides only about seven percent of the total funding for public elementary and secondary schools, however, it may have trouble demanding the level of accountability that NCLB seeks.


The federal government plans to make the results from the accountability tests available in annual report cards so parents can measure school performance and statewide progress, and evaluate the quality of their child's school, the qualifications of teachers, and their child's progress in key subjects. In addition, statewide reports will show progress for all student groups in closing achievement gaps between disadvantaged students and other groups of students.

Under NCLB, each state sets its own benchmark for purposes of demonstrating that it has achieved "adequate yearly progress." This is part of a larger trend in education that focuses on the collection of data and the analysis of that data in relation to student learning. Adequate yearly progress is measured over-all for each school as well as disaggregated, or reported separately, for students from major ethnic and racial groups, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and students with limited English proficiency. No Child Left Behind clearly provides that states must raise their target goals over time and that the federal government expects increasing numbers of students to meet them. More important, states are to evaluate all students, and each subgroup is to make adequate yearly progress or the school fails in its entirety. Schools that do not consistently meet these requirements may eventually have to reorganize and/or surrender to state control. The requirements of NCLB, however, do not apply to private schools or to students who are home-schooled.

"Scientifically based research" is a key element to the accountability standard established by NCLB. Scientifically based research means research that involves the application of rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures to obtain reliable and valid knowledge about education activities and programs and involves rigorous data analyses that are adequate to test the stated hypotheses and justify the general conclusions drawn. Mentioned 111 times in the pages of the legislation, "scientifically based research" nevertheless is not defined within the act in such a way that schools and school districts clearly understand how to apply it to their various educational settings. Teachers are most concerned that the actual implementation of the proposed research methodology would mean that they would have trouble actually using these methods in a classroom, and these NCLB provisions might also severely limit classroom teaching methods and materials. Critics also assert that increased standardized testing is too expensive, too restrictive, and impossible to administer effectively.


In addition to measuring student achievement, the law requires that an increased accountability standard be applied to the nation's teachers. It mandates that all teachers who teach core academic subjects must be highly qualified by 20052006. In the past, teachers were able to obtain teaching certificates labeled as temporary, provisional, or emergency ; now NCLB prohibits this practice. Existing teachers at all levels must demonstrate sufficient content knowledge in the subjects that they teach. Elementary teachers entering the profession must possess full state certification, have earned at least a bachelor's degree, and have passed a rigorous state test demonstrating subject knowledge and teaching skills in curriculum areas such as reading, writing, and math. New teachers in the middle and secondary schools must also have full state certification, at least a bachelor's degree, and have passed a rigorous state test in the subjects he or she teaches or have successfully completed an academic major (or equivalent course work), graduate degree, or advanced certification in each subject taught.


Other NCLB provisions simplify federal support for bilingual education and allow students to change schools if their school is deemed persistently dangerous. In the area of sex education, schools may not use federal funds to operate a program that distributes condoms or other contraceptives in the schoolsthe school must emphasize abstinence. Furthermore, public school districts must certify each year that none of their policies prevent or deny participation in constitutionally protected prayer in elementary and secondary schools.

Proponents of NCLB believe that this new legislation will allow individual schools more choices regarding the students they teach. As an ideal, states are to set their own standards, or benchmarks, of performance to fulfill the needs of their students. In certain critical curriculum areasreading, math, and sciencethe law will measure students and schools in comparison to the performance of students throughout the country in annual testing by 20132014.

Numerous factors, however, determine a student's academic success, and no amount of legislation can effectively control the student's home life, his or her socioeconomic background, whether or not he or she lives in a bad neighborhood, or whether he or she is personally motivated to succeed. Students without essential support systems outside of school may have trouble meeting the ambitious goals of NCLB despite a massive increase in efforts made by his or her teachers. Finally, critics assert that many schools that are thought to be failing are notthey are simply serving poor neighborhoods and are underfunded and that the proposed "adequate yearly progress" system cannot tell the difference between a learning gain and random noise created by a large number of statistics.

See also: Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.


U.S. Department of Education Official Web Site. No Child Left Behind. <>.

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No Child Left Behind Act of 2001


On January 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act. This act was a congressional reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) and is also known technically as Public Law 107-87.

In April 1965, almost thirty-seven years prior to the enactment of Public Law 107-87, the 89th Congress and President Lyndon Baines Johnson had overseen enactment of the original ESEA (Pub. L. 89-10). This federal government statue proved enormously important for American education. It also proved enormously difficult to implement and manage. The nature and complexity of the No Child Left Behind Act suggests that it too will be both equally important and equally challenging to those charged with overseeing its operation.

The Original ESEA

The significance of the original ESEA resided in its emphasis on the schooling of students from low-income households. The ESEA, through a remarkably creative financing formula, distributed federal funds to states, and thence to counties and school districts, proportionate to the number of enrolled students from low-income households. By the turn of the twenty-first century, this act was responsible for distributing more than $13 billion each school year to public and, through a few minimal provisions, private and religious K12 schools. The act also supplied substantial financial subsidies for the operation of state education departments.

Prior to 1965, not only did the federal government have only the most minimal presence in education, education also had only a minimal presence in the lives of low-income students. These were children who had legal access to public schooling. But public schooling had few mechanisms, other than the dedication of certain teachers and principals, for educating them. Low-income students were permitted to stay in school, often being promoted from one grade to the next. Prior to the ESEA, however, there were few expectations that schools would expend on their behalf the added resources that might be necessary to compensate for the poverty-impacted nature of their neighborhoods and households. The ESEA was, if nothing else, a powerful symbolic message that even poor children were to be schooled.

Administration of the ESEA proved challenging. School districts frequently did not realize that the added federal funding was intended for low-income children. They accepted the money as "general financial aid," suitable for whatever purpose they chose to spend it. Congressional amendments in 1968 made the statute's purposes more clear. Nevertheless, these new regulations were so strict that it became equally clear that the federally funded poverty programs, however much needed, were intruding deeply into the operation of schools. The narrowly focused instructional programs they financed were at best wasteful and possibly counterproductive to the education of children.

By the mid-1990s, Congress undertook another midcourse correction and began to permit schools to deploy the ESEA funds with greater local discretion. Still, by 1998, a General Accounting Office report suggested that only fifteen states were adequately implementing the ESEA. This was more than three decades after its enactment.

The New Act

The No Child Left Behind Act promises to be as important as the original ESEA not only because of the added federal funding it authorizes for education but also because of the pathbreaking measures required of states accepting the money.

The new ESEA is also symbolic of a major shift in American education. Until the latter part of the twentieth century, it was generally sufficient simply to offer schooling and to ensure that all children had equal access to it. By the turn of the twenty-first century, however, global economic changes had so altered that societal landscape that Americans were expecting far more of their education systems. Now, simple access was no longer sufficient. Learning was coming to be expectedand not simply learning for the slender elite that for more than a century had graduated from privileged public and private schools and attended the nation's highest-ranking universities. Now learning was expected of all children, and performance was expected of all schools. The No Child Left Behind Act is filled with accountability provisions to ensure that states and participating schools understand the new expectations.

The No Child Left Behind Act is symbolic of the transition in American education from a period where the main concern was that the inputs of schooling be present to a period where it is the outcomes of schooling that matter. To accomplish this new purposeto render schools effectivethe reauthorized ESEA provides added funding to school districts, through states. In addition, it requires that states have learning standards and testing programs capable of assessing each child's performance in achieving those standards. The accountability mechanisms in the statute provide for negative sanctions to schools and districts that persistently fail to elevate student achievement.

However important practically, financially, or symbolically, the No Child Left Behind Act will doubtless prove difficult to implement. The statutory language offers only the most rudimentary solutions to a number of issues and questions, such as the comparability of testing forms across states, or whether improvement in student achievement is sufficient or must a school attain absolute standards of achievement to be approved.

In that the original ESEA was not fully understood nor faultlessly managed even three decades after its enactment, it is unlikely that the 2002-enacted version, which if anything is even more complicated, will achieve success at a faster pace.

internet resource

U.S. Department of Education. 2002. No Child Left Behind. <>.

James W. Guthrie

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No Child Left behind Legislation


The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) national legislation was enacted into law in 2001 and represents major changes in public schools at both the elementary and secondary level. NCLB is based on the concept that "no child will be left behind" in every aspect of children's academic education. NCLB legislation has created many detailed and challenging pieces in the process of its implementation.

The NCLB Act reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and incorporates strategies and principles of President George W. Bush. These include:

  • Increased accountability for individual states, school districts, and individual schools
  • More school choice for parents and students, with special emphasis on students attending low-performing schools
  • More choice for states and local educational agencies in the use of money from the federal government
  • A stronger emphasis on reading instruction, with special emphasis on younger children


Accountability for instruction is now being required by all states in that they are required to develop and implement a process of statewide accountability for students attending public schools.

Incorporated into the accountability process is a development and assessment procedure to establish state standards in subject areas, with an initial focus on reading and mathematics. States are responsible for annual testing of all students in grades 38, with the overall goal that students will reach proficiency by grade 12. In the process of doing this, results are sorted by race, ethnicity, poverty, disability, and limited English proficiency. School districts that fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward statewide proficiency goals will be subject to improvement, corrective action, and/or restructuring to get them back on track. Schools that meet or exceed the AYP goals will be eligible for special recognition.


As a result of the NCLB Act, parents have greater options available to them in determining what schools their children attend. This process may involve restructuring in a variety of configurations to provide a student with the opportunity to attend a school that better meets the student's individual needs. Whenever this occurs, the current school district must provide transportation to the new school using a portion of government funds to do so.

The new law also requires school districts to spend up to 20 percent of their Title I (federal funds) allocations to provide students and parents with choice and additional educational services to eligible students.


Funding from four major state grant programs may transfer up to 50 percent of their funding to meet the needs of the NCLB Act. The covered programs include Teacher Quality State Grants, Educational Technology, Innovative Programs, and Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Also included are financial resources dealing with emphasizing reading instruction, with special emphasis for younger children.


To ensure that every child can read by the third grade, Bush introduced the Reading First initiative. This initiative has increased federal funds in the early grades to promote more scientific instruction in reading. Reading First provides incentives to schools and teachers who are helping students develop their reading skills at an earlier age through grants and recognition programs. Teachers are also being provided with a multitude of professional development opportunities in the area of reading.


The NCLB legislation is still in the process of being implemented and presents a wide variety of unique challenges to schools and school districts at both the elementary and secondary level. The long-range effects of the legislation have yet to be determined.


U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). No child left behind. Retrieved February 27, 2006, from

Dorothy A. Maxwell

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