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No Child Left Behind

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was a federal education law. The act aimed to improve student achievement and change the culture of America's schools. Congress passed the law in 2001 as a reauthorization and overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). President George W. Bush signed NCLB into law in 2002. Technically, the law expired in 2007, but it was not replaced until 2015.

The act was created to address the widening achievement gap among students. It also sought to promote accountability for academic results. NCLB required states to develop assessments in basic skills. To receive federal school funding, states needed to test students at selected grade levels.

The act did not assert a national achievement standard. Individual states developed their own state standards. Critics argued that the act did little to increase student performance and address the issues it sought to fix. Over a decade later, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced NCLB.

This section provides information on the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

The Main Goals of NCLB

NCLB had big goals for school improvement. It aimed to make all public school students proficient in reading and math. It also tried to close the academic achievement gap that left many groups of students behind. Children from low-income families, members of minority groups, and those with disabilities were a key part of that goal.

States were required to set up accountability systems that kept track of school performance. Schools had to test students in reading and math every year from the third to eighth grades, plus one or more times in high school. Each state put forth its own tests to check on students' academic achievement.

Based on test scores, states could tell if schools were meeting their targets for adequate yearly progress (AYP). If schools missed their AYP targets for many consecutive years, they faced consequences, usually in the form of sanctions or corrective actions. This could mean changes in staff, restructuring, or closing the school.

NCLB worked to make sure all groups of students made progress. Key subgroups were learners with limited English proficiency, those with special education needs, and students of different races and ethnicities. If one subgroup didn't make progress, the whole school might not meet the AYP. Students with disabilities had to be included in state tests. This meant schools had to make sure they were making progress, too. It was a big step in education reform because it made schools focus on every student's educational progress.

No Child Left Behind Act and Teacher Accountability

NCLB was intended to ensure that children across the U.S. received a quality education. It also aimed to prepare them adequately for life after high school. Since studies show teacher quality is one of the biggest indicators of students' future success, NCLB sought to ensure and improve the quality of educators. The act also helped hold teachers accountable for student progress.

The NCLB provided standards for the certification of teachers. These standards, intended to ensure schools hired highly qualified teachers, also streamlined the process for teacher certification.

No Child Left Behind also allowed school districts to spend federal money for certain initiatives. They could use their funding to create and carry out professional development for teachers. But these investments were limited to certain programs, which had to be scientifically proven to improve student performance.

Finally, NCLB required that students show adequate progress from year to year in their understanding of core subjects. The state and sometimes federal departments of education submitted the test results, which were then distributed to parents. Some school districts also tied teachers' salaries and job security to their students' standardized test results. Failure to meet standards could result in implementing an improvement plan or issuing other requirements for the spending of NCLB funds.

Funding and Support Under NCLB

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 gave federal funding to schools, with the bulk coming through Title I funds. This funding source focused on schools with many low-income students. No Child Left Behind required schools to research-based educational strategies. If schools failed to meet targets for three straight years, the law directed them to use Title I funding for supplemental services, such as tutors or after-school programs. That was a notable expansion of how Title I funds could be spent.

If a public school didn't meet AYP for two years straight, it was labeled as “needing improvement." Then it had to let students transfer to a better-performing school. Schools that kept failing could become charter schools or get other types of help to improve. Failing schools received support to remedy their status. The U.S. Department of Education gave guidance and funds to help these schools succeed.

NCLB aimed to keep parents and communities well-informed. Every school year, states had to give out report cards showing how schools and districts were performing. They shared information on test scores and whether schools met their AYP targets. Parents could see if their child's elementary school or secondary school was at a proficient level.

Individual schools weren't the only ones tasked with ensuring students were learning. The entire state had to be involved. Statewide academic standards were set. Every student, no matter where they lived, was expected to reach these standards. NCLB paid special attention to disadvantaged students, especially children from low-income families or areas. The goal was to ensure these students had the same chances as everyone else. By focusing on these students, NCLB aimed to close the achievement gap.

Criticism of No Child Left Behind

No Child Left Behind resulted in a storm of criticism from various groups and individuals. There are three basic kinds of criticism relating to NCLB. Critics complained that the act caused the federal government to intrude into areas traditionally under states' control. They also contended that NCLB resulted in unfunded federal mandates, which passed financial problems from the federal government to state and local entities. Finally, detractors alleged that the law placed too much emphasis on standardized testing and teacher qualifications.

These complaints became the talking points of major educational institutions and unions such as the National Education Association. Educators felt that NCLB restricted teachers' ability to deal with their students using creativity, innovation, and an understanding of local culture. Concerns about federal control coming at local expense took a central role among NCLB's opponents.

Critics argued that communities, by tradition, had the right to direct the education of their children. They argued that local authorities were best equipped to determine the tools their children needed to succeed. They also felt that the law created expectations that were unreasonable for some students, such as those with learning disabilities and non-English speakers.

The Evolution from NCLB to ESSA

NCLB directed its focus toward ensuring every student did well in school. From Title I funds to the emphasis on school performance, the act reshaped how people think about education in the United States. With its push for better test scores, more school choice, and focus on all groups of students, NCLB aimed to make every elementary and secondary school better for everyone. The act's mandates expired in 2007, though it remained the law of the land until Congress could agree on a replacement.

In 2015, the Obama administration and lawmakers came together behind a new law called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Another reauthorization and update of 1965's ESEA, the 2015 act kept some parts of NCLB but made changes to the accountability systems. ESSA gave states more say in setting academic standards. It also lets states ask for waivers, which means they could skip some NCLB rules if they had a good plan for their school.

For more information about the NCLB and the ESSA and how they may relate to your child, you can consult with an education law attorney.

Learn About No Child Left Behind

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