No Child Left Behind Legislation and Impact

On Jan. 8, 2002, President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). This new law represents his education reform plan and contains the most sweeping changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since it was enacted in 1965. It changes the federal government's role in kindergarten-through-grade-12 education by asking America's schools to describe their success in terms of what each student accomplishes. The act contains the President's four basic education reform principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work.

An "accountable" education system involves several critical steps:

  • States create their own standards for what a child should know and learn for all grades. Standards must be developed in math and reading immediately. Standards must also be developed for science by the 2005-06 school year.
  • With standards in place, states must test every student's progress toward those standards by using tests that are aligned with the standards. Beginning in the 2002-03 school year, schools must administer tests in each of three grade spans: grades 3-5, grades 6-9, and grades 10-12 in all schools. Beginning in the 2005-06 school year, tests must be administered every year in grades 3 through 8 in math and reading. Beginning in the 2007-08 school year, science achievement must also be tested.
  • Each state, school district, and school will be expected to make adequate yearly progress toward meeting state standards. This progress will be measured for all students by sorting test results for students who are economically disadvantaged, from racial or ethnic minority groups, have disabilities, or have limited English proficiency.
  • School and district performance will be publicly reported in district and state report cards. Individual school results will be on the district report cards.
  • If the district or school continually fails to make adequate progress toward the standards, then they will be held accountable.

    Issues That Must Be Addressed:

    With its narrow focus upon math and reading test scores, NCLB (No Child Left Behind) is seen by some as a dangerous experiment that threatens to disrupt and dilute the education of millions of children.

    Hidden within this law and the rules promoted by the Ed Department are dozens of changes that are untested, unproven and laced with political motives that could do great damage to public education.

    The early focus on labeling schools as failures when combined with parental choice provisions represents an assault on public education, allowing virtual elementary schools, faith-based tutoring and other untested charter alternatives to creep into public systems with public tax money.

    While President Bush claims that education is one of his highest priorities, the President's Fiscal Year 2004 budget proposal fails to adequately fund No Child Left Behind Act reforms, assistance for disadvantaged and disabled students, and after-school programs, and eliminates 46 different programs, including rural education, support for small schools, and dropout prevention.

    The No Child Left Behind Act signed into law last year promised significant funding to give schools a fighting chance to meet the high academic standards required by the law. The President's budget proposes a cut in federal spending for education, impeding true education reform.

    The President's increases for the Title I program for disadvantaged students come nowhere near the amount necessary to fully fund the program. The Title I program is funded at $6 billion less than President Bush promised under the No Child Left Behind Act.

    According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), at the President's rate of increase, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) would never be fully funded. A first grader who was in school when IDEA was first passed in 1975, will be 69 years-old by the time the Bush Administration's rate of increase would even come close to fully funding special education.

  • President Bush eliminates 46 programs, including rural education, support for small schools, and dropout prevention. He cuts $400 million from the 21st Century After School program, despite strong evidence that keeping children safe after school can reduce juvenile crime and prevent children from engaging in risky behaviors. He freezes most other major K-12 education programs without providing an inflation adjustment, including funding for teacher quality, bilingual education, and state test development, despite the emphasis placed on these areas in the new education reform law.

    As a result, the President's budget further undermines the No Child Left Behind Act by cutting more than 563,000 latch-key children from after-school programs; cutting over 22,000 Limited English Proficient (LEP) children from federal bilingual education programs; and training 15,000 fewer teachers than proposed for last year.

  • No student would receive an increase in Pell grants. The current maximum Pell grant would remain at $4,000, despite evidence that an increasing number of qualified students from disadvantaged backgrounds are choosing not to enroll in college, or are leaving without finishing degree programs, because of concerns about plunging further into debt.
  • The President's budget proposal would harm current and prospective college students. Specifically, the President's budget would eliminate funding for Perkins loan programs, which help disadvantaged students, and the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships (LEAP) program, which supports state scholarship programs. The President's budget also freezes funding for other key higher education programs including campus-based aid, TRIO, and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP). Without an adjustment for inflation, fewer students will be served under these programs.
  • The President's budget includes two new private school voucher programs (a grant program and a tax initiative) that will drain over $300 million from our public schools, which serve 90 percent of the nation's children. While the President says he wants accountability for the use of federal funds, it should be noted that the higher educational standards and testing requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act do not apply to the private schools that students would attend under his voucher program.

    The Challenge Ahead

    At its core, the new law challenges states to measure student achievement more often in order to ensure that students are progressing on a path to proficiency. The idea is not to wait several years before taking the students’ academic temperature, but rather to do it in every grade. More frequent testing leads to more frequent feedback to teachers, students and parents. And that feedback should allow schools to focus instruction where it is most needed and address achievement gaps for the benefit of all students. It is also intended to enable policy makers to intervene in situations where the testing reveals inadequate progress being made.

    There are, however, a number of challenges to making this work as conceived, and although the law lists some important criteria state assessments will need to meet, Congress has left many of the toughest decisions to the U.S Department of Education and to the states themselves.

    As states fill in the gaps in their testing systems, here are some of the things to watch out for: Will the new tests be adequately aligned to state standards? How challenging are those standards--are they worth aligning to? Will the new tests be aligned with existing tests, such that they measure a logical progression of skills from 3rd to 4th grade, from 4th to 5th and so on through 8th grade? Will the tests be sufficiently challenging? Will they measure advanced concepts as well as basic skills? Will the results be comparable across school districts within each state? How rigorous an approach will each state take to defining what it means to be “proficient”? How quickly and effectively will states report scores back to schools and households? Will states be mindful of the testing burden and work with districts to ensure that, as new tests get created, old ones head for retirement?

    As education moves to meet the challenge of NCLB, will sufficient funds be provided? Without adequate funding, NCLB will be nothing more than political rhetoric and will fail to address the needs of America’s children.