No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

views updated May 23 2018

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

Sections within this essay:

Provisions of No Child Left Behind
Title I and Reading First
Adequate Yearly Progress
Failure to Meet AYP Goals
Title II: Teacher Accountability
Sex Education and School Prayer
School Safety and Drug Use

Criticism of No Child Left Behind
Education as Domain of the States; NCLBA as an Unfunded Federal Mandate
Emphasis on Standardized Testing

The Future of NCLBA
Additional Resources
U.S. Department of Education
National Education Association
National School Boards Association


On January 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLBA). This legislation reauthorized, and provided major reform, to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA).

The Cold War and the Soviet Union's successful launch of the Sputnik spacecraft in October 1957 brought calls for improvements to the nation's educational system. In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy developed proposals to ensure that American students were competitive with students around the world. His proposals were intended to guarantee that students of every race, religion, and social standing would receive a good education. After Kennedy's assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson revised Kennedy's proposals, and oversaw their introduction in Congress. Part of Johnson's "War on Poverty," ESEA was the most expansive federal education legislation ever passed. The bill passed with little debate and in only three months' time.

ESEA provided federal funding for 90 percent of the nation's public and parochial schools. Title 1, the law's most important provision, provides guidelines for the education of "educationally disadvantaged" students. It also provides funds: more than 80 percent of the original appropriation under ESEA went to ESEA. In 2005, President Bush's proposed budget for fiscal year 2006 asked for an appropriation of $13.3 billion for Title 1, a $4.6 billion, or 52 percent, increase for Title I since enactment of NCLBA. According to the Department of Education, 12.5 million students in public and private schools are served through Title I.

Part of ESEA's legacy has been controversy. Prior to ESEA, educational policy decisions had been almost exclusively in the hands of state and local governments. Critics have charged that the federal government has become too involved in regulating educational matters better left to local school districts. The federal government now provides approximately seven percent of the total funding for elementary and secondary schools.

Critics of ESEA have also charged that Title 1 has done little to raise student performance, because it did not mandate accountability for academic results. No Child Left Behind was crafted to address that issue. According to Congress, the two goals of NCLBA are accountability for schools and teachers, and closing the achievement gap for students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, "so that no child is left behind." No Child Left Behind's lofty and worthy goals brought it broad bipartisan support in Congress, but its implementation has engendered considerable controversy.

Provisions of No Child Left Behind

No Child Left Behind is comprised of hundreds of pages of text. The law is divided into ten sections, called titles. The titles are:

  • Title I: Improving Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged
  • Title II: Preparing, Training, and Recruiting High-Quality Teachers and Principals
  • Title III: Language Instruction for Limited English Proficient and Immigrant Students
  • Title IV: Twenty-first Century Schools
  • Title V: Promoting Parental Choice and Innovative Programs
  • Title VI: Flexibility and Accountability
  • Title VII: Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native Education
  • Title VIII: Impact Aid Program
  • Title IX: General Provisions
  • Title X: Repeals, Redesignations, and Amendments to Other Statutes

Title I and Reading First

Title 1 of NCLBA amends and expands Title I of ESEA and has as its purpose "to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments." More specifically, Title I encompasses the following goals and methods:

  • Using high-quality academic assessments and other methods to measure progress against common expectations for student academic achievement
  • Closing the achievement gap between high-and low-performing children, especially the gaps between minority and nonminority students, and between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers
  • Meeting the needs of children in need of reading assistance, including minority students, English-language learner students, students with disabilities, and poor students
  • Careful distribution and targeting of resources
  • Holding schools, local educational agencies, and states accountable for improving the academic achievement of all students
  • Improving and strengthening accountability, teaching, and learning by using state assessment systems

According to the Department of Education, prior to enactment of the NCLBA, only 32 percent of the nation's fourth graders were reading at a level deemed "proficient." The huge "Reading First" program in Title I of No Child Left Behind is intended to address the reading deficiency in elementary students. In 2003, more than $990 million was appropriated for the program; the number pushed past the $1 billion level in subsequent years. Money for Reading First is distributed in two ways. First, states receive distributions on the basis of the number of low-income children ages 5-17 who live in the state. Second, districts compete for funds in state-run competitions. Priority goes to districts with high rates of poverty and reading failure.

Reading programs under the Reading First program must be devised from "scientifically based research." This phrase recurs dozens of times in NCLBA, although it is not clearly defined within the act. Essentially, "scientifically based research" means that there is reliable evidence that a program or practice works. With regard to Reading First, students must be explicitly and systematically taught five skills:

  • Phonemic awareness (the ability to hear and identify sounds in spoken words)
  • Phonics
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension
  • Fluency

Adequate Yearly Progress

No Child Left Behind requires that schools demonstrate that each student is on grade level, in key areas such as math and reading, by 2014. Schools that cannot demonstrate this proficiency stand to lose federal funding. States must set goals which will demonstrate schools are making "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) in math and reading on the way to the 2014 deadline. Initially only math and reading/language arts were required to be assessed. However, by the school year 2007–2008, science assessments must be administered at least once during grades 3-5, grades 6-9, and grades 10-12.

States set their own minimum levels of improvement, which must be measurable in terms of student performance. School districts and schools must achieve these minimum levels within NCLBA time frames. States select a "starting point" based on the performance of its lowest-achieving demographic group or of the lowest-achieving schools in the state (the higher of the two). The state then sets a level that schools must reach after two years to show adequate yearly progress. After that, subsequent thresholds are set for at least every three years. As states raise their target goals over time, increasing numbers of students are expected to meet them. After 12 years, all students in the state are expected to attain the proficient level on state reading and math assessments.

School districts are required to make an annual report to the public. This NCLBA report card describes academic achievement for the district at large, for each individual school, and by grade level. The report cards classify student performance as basic, proficient, or advanced. Moreover, the report cards disaggregate the data by student subgroups according to: race, ethnicity, gender, English language proficiency, migrant status, disability status and low-income status. All students must be evaluated, and each subgroup must meet the AYP goals or the school as a whole fails. A district's report card also tells which schools have been identified as needing improvement, corrective action, or restructuring.

NCLBA requires states to provide academic achievement awards to recognize schools that close achievement gaps between groups of students or that exceed academic achievement goals. States may also use Title I money for financial rewards for teachers. Schools that have made the greatest gains in closing the achievement gap or in exceeding achievement goals receive the designation of "distinguished schools."

Failure to Meet AYP Goals

The consequences of failure to meet AYP, as defined by a state, depend upon how long the school has failed to do so. A Title I school that has not met state goals for two years is called a "School in Need of Improvement" (SINI). SINI designation means that the school will receive extra help to improve its standing. The school must develop a two-year improvement plan, and local education agencies must provide assistance in development and implementation. Students from low-income families are particularly targeted for assistance when a school is designated as needing improvement. These students may receive free tutoring and other homework help. Students from low-income families are also allowed to transfer to other non-SINI public schools in the district. The district must provide transportation for the student. A school that has failed to make adequate yearly progress for three years, in addition to consequences above, must offer students from low-income families supplemental educational services from a state-approved provider. Supplemental educational services include tutoring and remedial classes.

Drastic changes await schools that do not attain adequate yearly progress in the fourth or fifth years. In the fourth year, in addition to previous remedial actions, a district must implement certain corrective actions to improve the school. Corrective actions include replacing staff and fully implementing a new curriculum. In the fifth year, a school district must implement plans to restructure the school. Options for restructuring include:

  • Reopening the school as a charter school
  • Replacing all or most of school staff
  • Turning over the school operations to the state or to a private company with a demonstrated record of effectiveness

Title II: Teacher Accountability

Teachers are held to an increased accountability standard under NCLBA. The act prohibits teaching with a temporary, provisional, or emergency teaching certificate. However, under the law, states are encouraged to find ways of alternative certification to allow talented individuals to teach subjects they know.

Teachers in core academic subjects must be "highly qualified." Core subjects are English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history and geography. Highly qualified means teachers must have full certification, a bachelor's degree and demonstrated competence in subject knowledge and teaching. Title II includes grants intended to strengthen teacher quality, and funding for other teacher quality-related programs. Under Title II, states and individual schools are required to document that they are complying with the highly qualified teacher requirements.

Sex Education and School Prayer

Under NCLBA, schools must emphasize abstinence, and may not use federal funds for programs to distribute condoms or other contraceptives in the school. School districts must certify each year that their policies do not prevent or deny participation in constitutionally protected prayer in elementary and secondary schools.

School Safety and Drug Use

NCLBA provides funds to states to award to school districts for drug- and violence-prevention programs. These programs must address specific local needs and involve parents. Under Title IV, states are required to establish a uniform management and reporting system to collect information on school safety and drug use. Reporting must include anonymous student and teacher surveys and incident reports prepared by school officials. Students have the option to change schools under certain circumstances, when school safety is an issue. Students are eligible for school choice when they attend a "persistently dangerous school," as defined by state law. Any child who has been the victim of a violent crime on the grounds of his or her school is also eligible for school choice.

Criticism of No Child Left Behind

Numerous vocal critics oppose No Child Left Behind. Criticism of NCLBA typically falls into three different categories. First, as with ESEA, critics charge that NCLBA causes the federal government to intrude too much into what has traditionally been the domain of the states. Second, opponents contend that NCLBA has resulted in unfunded federal mandates, which essentially passes financial problems from the federal government to state and local governments. Finally, detractors allege that the law places too much emphasis on standardized testing and stringent teacher qualifications.

Speaking on behalf of its 2.7 million members, the National Education Association (NEA) is an outspoken opponent of the law. The NEA argues that NCLBA requires stringent accountability, but does not provide adequate funding necessary for schools to meet those requirements. The NEA also claims that NCLBA punishes schools rather than providing assistance, and that it promotes privatization of education.

Education as Domain of the States; NCLBA as an Unfunded Federal Mandate

The United States Constitution strikes a balance between powers reserved for the federal government, and those given to the states. The Tenth Amendment provides, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." The Supreme Court has established in rulings that the Constitution does not implicitly or explicitly delegate education matters to the federal government. In fact, in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case from 1954, the Supreme Court recognized, "Education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments." Nevertheless, the federal government has often involved itself in education policies without running afoul of the Constitution.

Congress is able to enact legislation over education because of another constitutional provision, the spending clause in Art. I, sec. 8, clause 1: "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States…." Under the spending clause, if federal funds are merely an inducement to meet certain conditions, the federal government may intrude on an area normally reserved to the states.

The Supreme Court has held that Congress must meet certain requirements where it relies on the spending clause to enact legislation over which it has no specific authority. Such legislation must:

  • Not be prohibited by other constitutional provisions
  • Be in pursuit of the "general welfare"
  • Be related to the federal interest in particular national projects or programs
  • Be unambiguous in describing the conditions for the states' receipt of federal funds, to enable states to knowingly decide to participate or not

Critics of NCLBA charge that the law is unclear in describing what states must do to receive federal funds. Critics support this contention by referring to the Department of Education's massive efforts to clarify the act, as evidenced by regulations, guidance documents, and letters and other communication to various state and local officials.

Virginia politicians called No Child Left Behind "the most sweeping intrusions into state and local control of education in the history of the United States." The Republican-controlled House of Delegates formally asked Congress to exempt it from requirements of the law, because of the way it complicates and conflicts with state education programs to raise standards.

In 2005, Utah approved legislation to allow schools to prioritize the state's standardized testing system ahead of the NCLBA requirements. HB1001 requires school officials to "provide first priority to meeting state goals, objectives, program needs, and accountability systems as they relate to federal programs, and provide second priority to implementing federal goals, objectives, program needs, and accountability systems that do not directly and simultaneously advance state goals, objectives, program needs and accountability systems." Numerous other states have considered or are considering similar measures, including opting-out of NCLBA completely.

Often related to the criticism that the federal government is interfering with the traditional domain of the states, some critics contend that No Child Left Behind has resulted in billions of dollars of unfunded mandates. In other words, the Congress has failed to provide the funding states need to meet mandates in the law. In April 2005, the NEA, on behalf of a number of school districts, sued to exempt the school districts unless program requirements are funded by Congress. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in November, but Connecticut filed a similar suit in August. Supporters of the law argue that NCLBA does not present an unfunded mandate, because states are not required to adopt the federal program.

In 2004, Texas was fined $840,000 for exempting too many special education students from standardized testing. Moreover, in 2005 the Department of Education announce it was withholding some Title I funds in Minnesota, because of noncompliance with the law. Some schools have taken matters into their own hands. Consolidated High School, District 230 in Orland Park, Illinois, chose to reject $136,000 in Title I funds to avoid being forced to offer supplemental services and school choice after failing to make their adequate yearly progress goals. Another Illinois school in Palatine returned $238,000 in Title I money to avoid the cost of sanctions for failure to make AYP.

Emphasis on Standardized Testing

One recurring criticism of No Child Left Behind is that it forces teachers to "teach to the test" in order to get students to pass standardized tests. These critics say that a consequence of teaching to the test is that teacher creativity and student learning are stifled. Moreover, critics charge that it is unrealistic to expect learning disabled students and non-English speaking students to pass the test.

Another criticism related to testing is that the law often leads to anomalous results. For example, in 2005, Tennessee officials announced that 87 percent of the state's eighth grade students were proficient in math, a number that authorities said was a "cause for celebration." Yet according to the federal standards, only 21 percent of the state's eight graders were proficient in math. Tennessee's experience is by no means unusual, with well over a dozen states showing similar discrepancies. Eighty-nine percent of fourth graders in Mississippi tested at or above proficiency in the state reading assessment, but only 18 percent scored that way on the federal test, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

The Future of NCLBA

What lies in the future for NCLBA is unclear, but it is clear that many states and school districts will simultaneously strive to implement its requirements, while challenging certain provisions in court, in legislatures, and by lobbying the Department of Education. Changes to the law will no doubt be made, but Congress appears committed to continued overall support of the program. The law is up for reauthorization in 2007.

There is some evidence that the federal government is moving towards more flexibility in the implementation of No Child Left Behind. This approach coincides with the appointment in late 2004 of Margaret Spellings as Secretary of Education. In January 2005 Spellings replaced Rod Paige; Paige had garnered a fairly hard-nosed reputation in his approach to implementing No Child Left Behind. In April 2005, Spellings said she wanted to take a "common sense" approach to implementing the law. Then the Department of Education announced plans to promote flexibility in parts of NCLBA, including assessment of students with significant cognitive disabilities, assessment of limited English proficient students, determination of when teachers meet the highly qualified definition in NCLBA, and calculation of rates of participation in state assessments to determine is schools and districts have met their AYP goals. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Secretary Spellings gave her approval to allow some schools and districts heavily affected by the storms to create separate subgroups of displaced students for the 2005–2006 year. Students in those subgroups will not be counted in any other subgroup when calculating progress for the year.

In November 2005, Spellings announced a pilot plan to allow ten states to better gauge student progress over the long term, rather than just year to year. The program is intended to allow schools to demonstrate that they are not failing, even when their test scores are not high. Schools will set test-score goals specific to that school. In making the announcement, Secretary Spellings said, "[The] growth model is not a way around accountability standards. It's a way for states that are already raising achievement and following the bright-line principles of the law to strengthen accountability … There are many different routes for states to take … but they must all lead to closing the achievement gap and every student reaching grade level by 2014."

Additional Resources

No Child Left Behind: A Parents Guide. U.S. Department of Education, 2003. Available at No Child Left Behind, Department of Education website, 2006.

Tough Call: Is No Child Left Behind Constitutional? April 2005. Ann McColl, Phi Delta Kappan, April 2005, available at

Many Children Left Behind, Beacon Press, Boston, 2004. Deborah Meier and George Wood, editors.

Quick Facts: No Child Left Behind, Legislative Activity 2004–2005, National Conference of State Legislatures, 2006. Available

A Progress Report on the No Child Left Behind Act, Education Week, December 14, 2005.


U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20202 USA
Phone: (800) 872-5327
Primary Contact: Margaret Spellings, Secretary

National Education Association

1201 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036-3290 USA
Phone: (202) 833-4000
Fax: (202) 822-7974
Primary Contact: Reg Weaver, President

National School Boards Association

1680 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314 USA
Phone: (703) 838-6722
Fax: (703) 683-7590
E-Mail: goac [email protected]

No Child Left Behind (2001)

views updated Jun 11 2018

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. <>.

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

views updated Jun 08 2018


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

No Child Left behind Legislation

views updated May 18 2018


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