No Child Left Behind Act

Update as of 12/27/2012:  This piece of legislation was scheduled to be updated around 2007, as it was put into place around 2001.  However, the 2007 revision did not take place.  As a result, lawmakers have elected to allow states to apply for a "waiver" to certain requirements to NCLB.  The biggest exemptions to the law are in regard to the requirements for adequate yearly progress (AYP.)  Approximately 45 states have been granted this waiver to certain NCLB requirements.  If you have been out-of-the-loop regarding the status of the Kansas NCLB waiver, you might want to check out the KSDE website for current information.  For a news release (non-KSDE) of the excitement, check out this page.  Kansas has been conditionally approved for a "waiver" out of the requirements of NCLB.

Ever wonder about the legal precedence and governance needed to run schools?  If so, you came to the right place; this page offers an overview of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act which governs all education programs in the United States.  This is not a specific special education law, but a large collection of laws designed to regulate the education of all students.  NCLB is the defining act that governs American education today.

NCLB is the current revision of the older Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  ESEA has been around 1965.  The 2001 revision to the ESEA (aka, NCLB) was scheduled to be revised again in 2007, but that didn't happen. 

In a (very generalized) nutshell, NCLB mandates that:
  • All children be proficient in reading and math by the year 2014.
  • It also requires that schools employ "highly qualified" individuals to teach children. 
  • NCLB states that federal funding will be removed for schools that fail to meet these requirements (termed Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP.)
  • Schools who do not meet AYP for three consecutive years may be closed or taken over by the federal government.
As with most federal laws, there is much leeway in how to achieve this.  As with most federal education laws, it's left up to the states to determine how to implement and monitor progress towards meeting AYP and NCLB requirements (which is why some states tend to be higher-ranked academically and other routinely lag behind.)  Differences in reporting and state-engagement within NCLB can vary greatly just walking across a state line.

When the law first went into effect in 2001, few schools immediately felt the consequences of NCLB.  After a few years though, school professionals began to realize that failure was no longer an option if they wanted to keep their school doors open, and their paychecks coming.

Let's look at three drawbacks of NCLB:
  • Schools will lose funding if 100% of their students are proficient in reading and math by 2014.
  • Increased pressure on schools to prove completion of curriculum standards.  (AKA, more testing!)
  • Not a funded initiative.  Uncle Sam requires more from schools without offering money to do it.
Now let's look at three positive points of NCLB:
  • Requires 100% of students to achieve to grade level standards.
    • Yes, this was above also.
    • Most would argue that while 100% proficiency is an unattainable goal, it is also the only goal that is worthwhile. 
    • Why would schools want to set an achievement goal of less than 100%?
  • Requires schools to hire teachers who are "highly qualified."  In the past, many teachers have not kept up-to-date on current teaching practices and changing models of education.  Now, schools must remove these ineffective teachers and replace them with individuals who are more capable of facilitating student success.
  • Creates a uniform system of checks-and-balances across all states.  Up until NCLB, some states were lagging far behind the national norms in education.  Now, all states are required to perform at their states' requirements, or else face consequences from the Federal Department of Education.  Prior to NCLB, there was no real punitive action for schools who didn't meet their state requirements.

I do realize that NCLB has caused considerable reform, and hefty amounts of criticism from classroom teachers.  My objective in writing this page was to inform the reader about the 670-page No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.  My objective was to provide unbiased, factual information about the legal side of the law.  As a school psychologist, I am required to understand the legal ramifications of NCLB, which is why I wanted to provide a quick summary of the important items that NCLB addresses.

Now, let me provide some opinions on NCLB.  I fully admit the following are biased and likely a soapbox against NCLB.  However, the following are still important criticisms of NCLB which need to be addressed.  The good news is that the Obama Administration is currently in the process of revising NCLB.  Take a look at what's proposed, here.
  • Teachers often report how they no longer have time to teach the fun things they used to - like science, social studies, art or music.  Many teachers agree that they must now "teach-to-the-test" and how they can't teach things if they are "not on the test."
  • Many opponents of NCLB refer to the mandate as the "No Child Left Untested" law.
    • While it does have some grain of truth (all students must pass state-approved standardized tests) this misnomer suggests that students were not given such tests prior to NCLB. 
    • As explained above, these tests have always been given to students, however there had previously been little concern of the outcome of these tests prior to NCLB.
Finally, let me offer some suggestions and observations:
  • Teachers: If teachers focused on instruction that aligned with what their state standards require, "teaching to the test" would be irrelevant.  No state assessment will test a student over what is not already in their state standards.  (The problem with old-school teachers is that they typically do not align their instruction with what their state says is required.  This happened LONG BEFORE NCLB came into play.)
  • School Administrations: Administrators need to be proactive about monitoring their school's success.  Using research-based, data-driven educational decisions is an important component to making schools excel.  Administrators should suggest changes and collaborate with other school professionals about how to increase student achievement long before the state assessment scores come in.
  • Parents: Finally, parents need to play an active role in their child's education.  Too often, parents are under the false assumption that "the school knows what is best for my child."  Wrong.  Schools know what is best for most children, in most circumstances.  Your child's educational needs will be different from the others in his or her class.  Keep in touch with your child's teacher to discuss what you child has and hasn't mastered.  Utilize time at home as an extension of time in the classroom.