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No Child Left Behind vs. Common Core

The Common Core State Standards Initiative (or simply, "Common Core") is a 2010 initiative to create and implement a national education standard in language arts and math. Common Core provides schools with a detailed guideline of the knowledge and abilities that students should possess upon completion of each grade. The ultimate goal is to ensure that students across the country are prepared to enter college programs or the workforce after high school.

This article provides an overview of Common Core's standards and focuses on the initiative's relationship with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Information for consulting with an attorney also is provided.


In 2009, the National Governors Association convened a panel of experts to create the guidelines and standards that became Common Core. The initiative's purpose is to implement consistent, nationwide education standards in English and math, with the goal of helping ensure that high school graduates across the country are ready for college or for employment. Although Common Core isn't a federal law, the federal government supports it by providing grants that are only available to those states that have adopted its guidelines and standards.

Common Core's Guidelines

Common Core provides guidelines that detail the knowledge students should possess as they proceed through each grade. The initiative covers language arts and math skills, and student testing began in the 2014-2015 school year, although not without some controversy. The guidelines are specific -- students in the fifth grade are expected to begin studying basic algebra and to master the multiplication and division of fractions.

The tests that students take under Common Core are designed to check critical thinking and reasoning skills. Test scores are analyzed and compared with those from other school districts and states to provide information concerning areas of improvement and the effective use of resources.

NCLB and Common Core

The NCLB, passed in 2001, can be considered a precursor to Common Core. The NCLB demonstrated a new (and harsh, according to critics) approach to education policy by the federal government. For example, the NCLB moved away from providing federal funding for bilingual education programs to emphasizing instruction only in English. The NCLB also implemented standardized testing in several K-12 grades, with test scores to be reported and published by school, school district, and state. Schools faced the possibility of staff and teacher replacement for poor performance.

Supporters of Common Core believe that it refines the No Child Left Behind Act by providing clearer, more specific education guidelines for states to adopt. In this view, Common Core is a natural extension to the NCLB. School districts and states can use NCLB and Common Core test results to determine where improvement is most needed, and Common Core provides a clear standard for what is expected at each grade level to help schools to improve. Other supporters note that Common Core fixes some of the perceived problems with the NCLB. For example, rather than use standardized exams like the NCLB (which can encourage "teaching to the test"), Common Core's tests involve short answer and essay questions to measure a student's logic and reasoning skills.

Common Core's critics may agree that it's a natural extension of the NCLB, given that they are apt to dislike both. Many critics dislike the use of testing to measure school performance and aren't appeased by Common Core's focus away from standardized exams. Others believe that the NCLB and Common Core fail to take into consideration the difficulties faced by schools with large numbers of English-learning or low-income students, and some critics argue that while achieving a nationwide education standard is a good idea, Common Core is too inflexible.

Note that despite their similarities, there are differences between the NCLB and Common Core in addition to the latter's use of essay testing. For example, Common Core shifts accountability for student performance from schools to teachers, and states that have adopted the initiative agree to consider student test results as a factor in teacher evaluations.

Recent Developments

Although Common Core has been adopted by a large majority of the states, there has been recent pushback. Several states that previously adopted the initiative have since opted out, while other states have chosen to adopt only parts of it. As for the NCLB, an effort to amend it through a bill known as the Every Child Achieves Act has gathered some steam.

How a Lawyer Can Help

If you have questions about Common Core, such as whether your state has adopted its standards or how those standards can affect your child's education, an attorney can help. You can consult with a lawyer who specializes in education law through FindLaw.

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