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A Nation at Risk was the beginning of an evolution in achievement testing and standards-based education reform. On January 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) which reauthorized ESEA in dramatic ways. The No Child Left Behind Act, the landmark legislation, continues to make an important impact on education today. However, there is a push to revise many elements of this act. In all certainty, the No Child Left Behind Act may be causing students more harm than good. Has NCLB been successful or has it failed?
Education has been near the top of the national domestic agenda since the 1980s. In that time, the federal government has passed innumerable small pieces of legislation, twice reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, dabbled with national standards and tests, and supported a mixed bag of innovations such as charter schools and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Despite substantial effort, much creativity, plenty of politics, and many billions of dollars, however, none of this activity has amounted to much, with Washington continuing to foot only about 7 percent of the nation's K-12 education bill and most of the real action taking place in states and districts. (Hess, 2004) The 670-page No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was passed with strong bipartisan backing by the House of Representatives on December 13, 2001 by a vote of 381-41, and by the Senate on December 18, 2001 by a vote of 87-10. President George W. Bush signed it into law on January 8, 2002. In 2002 Congress passed the administration's controversial No Child Left Behind Act, which required regular tests of public school students. The primary sponsors of NCLB were President George W. Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, a decades-long advocate for raising the quality of public education for all American children. NCLB was partially based on education reform strategies instituted by President Bush during his tenure as Texas governor. Those Texas education reforms were reputed to result in improved standardized test scores. Subsequent inquiry revealed test-rigging by some educators and administrators. Under its terms, every state, to receive federal aid, must put into place a set of standards together with a detailed testing plan designed to make sure the standards are being met. Students at schools that fail to measure up may leave for other schools in the same district, and, if a school persistently fails to make adequate progress toward full proficiency, it becomes subject to corrective action.(Peterson, 2003) The NCLB Act significantly increases the choices available to the parents of students attending Title I schools that fail to meet State standards, including immediate relief-beginning with the 2002-03 school year-for students in schools that were previously identified for improvement or corrective action under the 1994 ESEA reauthorization. LEAs must give students attending schools identified for improvement, corrective action, or restructuring the opportunity to attend a better public school, which may include a public charter school, within the school district. The district must provide transportation to the new school, and must use at least 5 percent of its Title I funds for this purpose, if needed. At NCLB's heart is the requirement that states annually test all public school students in grades 3- 8 in reading and math and that every state measure whether its public schools (and school systems) are making "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) toward universal pupil proficiency in core subjects. In order to make AYP, schools must have a sufficient percentage of students performing acceptably and making the requisite gains from year to year. (Hess, 2004) Crucially, schools must show gains not only for their overall student body but also for pupil subgroups delineated by grade level, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, English proficiency, and special needs. If schools do not make the progress mandated by the state, various sanctions and interventions are supposed to follow, all of them intended to rectify the problem and set the school on a path toward rising achievement. (Hess, 2004)
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was put into effect to make sure that all students are proficient by 2014. NCLB is unique among the government's efforts in that it focuses not only on raising standards overall but also on increasing the achievement of students in a variety of demographic subgroups, including those from racial and ethnic minorities, disabled students, English language learners, and students faced with economic disadvantages. NCLB also is much stronger and more far-reaching than previous federal efforts to raise education standards. (Gamoran, 2007) There are many reasons to expect that NCLB's approach to increasing standards and holding schools accountable for student performance will boost the chances for poor children to succeed in school. First, by requiring schools to report test results separately for students in different demographic subgroups, NCLB shines a spotlight on social inequalities in school performance that sometimes have been obscured in the past, perhaps increasing the political will to address this profound problem. Second, in principle, the transfers and supplemental services offered to students in schools that are not making AYP should help disadvantaged students to obtain better opportunities. Third, NCLB requires districts to place a "highly qualified teacher" in every classroom. Teaching out of field or with provisional certification is more common in schools with large proportions of low-income students than elsewhere, so that requirement also may improve opportunities for the disadvantaged. Finally, NCLB requires districts participating in the Reading First program to choose curricula and teaching methods for which there is scientific evidence of success. If those methods are more effective than untested alternatives, the move to evidence-based teaching of reading may be especially important for poor children, who are overrepresented among struggling readers. (Gamoran, 2007) Yet there are many challenges to reducing inequality under NCLB. More diverse schools may be more likely to be labeled as not making adequate yearly progress simply because their larger number of population subgroups.(Gamoran, 2007)
Because of its focus on regular testing, NCLB has proven to be highly controversial. The debate surrounding NCLB has recently become especially heated since the Act is under review and in the process of reauthorization. While NCLB originally received bipartisan support, both political parties are now arguing over the Act is being implemented effectively. Both critics and advocates of the Act cite extensive evidentiary support of their own position on the controversy. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002(NCLB) was initially legislated for 5 years, and has been since temporarily extended, but not officially reauthorized. Senate Democrats were divided were divided on reauthorization, while most Senate Republicans heartily despise NCLB. In May 2008, Senate reauthorization was put on the backburner while legislators pondered hundreds of reform ideas. In early 2010 and again on March 14, 2011, President Obama said he will seek to reauthorize NCLB, but modified to be similar to his $4.35 billion Race to the Top initiative, which requires five major education reforms for K-12 public education, and pushes states to compete for education funding, rather than automatically receiving it based on a formula. NCLB is a federal law that mandates a number of programs aimed at improving U.S. education in elementary, middle and high schools by increasing accountability standards. The approach is based on outcome-based theories education that high expectations goal-setting will result in greater educational achievement for most students.
Opponents of NCLB, which includes all major teachers' unions, allege that the act hasn't been effective in improving education in public education, especially high schools, as evidenced by mixed results in standardized tests since NCLB's 2002 inception. Opponents also claim that standardized testing, which is the heart of NCLB accountability, is deeply flawed and biased for many reasons, and that stricter teacher qualifications have exacerbated the nationwide teacher shortage, not provided a stronger teaching force. Some critics believe that the federal government has no constitutional authority in the education arena, and that federal involvement erodes state and local control over education of their children.
Supporters of NCLB agree with the mandate for accountability to educational standards, and believe emphasis on test results will improve the quality of public education for all students. Proponents also believe that NCLB initiatives will further democratize U.S. education, by setting standards and providing resources to schools, regardless of wealth, ethnicity, disabilities or language spoken.
NCLB is no doubt flawed by its assumption that schools alone can eliminate achievement gaps in the face of powerful social inequalities in the wider society. Yet while that assumption is surely unrealistic, the question of what schools can do is unresolved. How much gap-closing can be expected from standards-based reform? What lessons can be learned from past reform efforts that will lead to greater progress; if not fully accomplish NCLB's ambitious goals? On one level, NCLB creates incentives for improving student performance and reducing gaps in achievement, and on that level, the policy appears to be succeeding. To an extent never before attained in the United States, educators, politicians, and the general public have been alerted to the problems of inequality, including inequality between students in poverty and their more advantaged counterparts. Incentives, however, are unlikely to suffice. Instead, specific strategies are needed to improve students' learning opportunities in schools, such as strategies to improve teacher and instructional quality and to promote evidence-based practices. Moreover, to make a difference in achievement gaps, those strategies need to target the most disadvantaged students. To what degree has standards-based reform led to improvements in the quality of teachers and teaching? If improvements are evident, have they occurred in schools with disadvantaged student populations?