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No Child Left Behind Act and Teacher Accountability

The No Child Left Behind Act’s (NCLB) central purpose is to ensure that children across the U.S. receive an education which prepares them for life after high school. In 1996, a study came out which showed that teacher quality is one of the biggest indicators of future student success. NCLB therefore sought to standardize and improve teacher quality by ensuring that all teachers were “highly qualified,” that professionals would be able to return to the classroom to teach what they know, that school systems invest in professional development for teachers, and that teachers would be held accountable for student progress. School districts that can perform all these tasks are eligible for federal grants.

Teacher Qualifications

The teacher accountability requirement under the federal law requires teachers in core academic subjects to 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.

However, Congress also recognized that many people in industry may wish to become teachers and be able to impart valuable skills to students. NCLB also allows for accelerated teacher certification programs for these professionals, provided that they can demonstrate competence in a subject area.

Professional Development for Teachers

New research on the best teaching methods is constantly emerging, and teachers must work to stay abreast of the newest techniques. NCLB allows school districts to use federal money to create and execute professional development programs for teachers, provided that those programs teach methods that have been scientifically proven to improve student performance.

Performance Measurement and Accountability

School districts must be able to prove that their teachers are qualified and that their professional development programs are working as planned by administering tests to students. Students must be able to show that their understanding of core subjects has made adequate progress from year to year. Test results must be submitted to the state (sometimes federal) departments of education, and must be distributed to parents. Parents can then use this information to ensure that their children are taught by the most qualified teachers in the school district. Some school districts also tie teachers’ salaries and job security to their students’ standardized test results.

If students fail to show adequate yearly progress for a number of years in a row, then the state and federal departments of education may work with the struggling school district to develop a plan for improvement. If that improvement plan yields no results, then the state department of education may force the school district to spend NCLB funds in a particular manner.

For more information, see FindLaw’s sections on School Funding and Competency Testing.

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