by Donna Krache, CNN
Update: President Obama announced today that ten states have qualified for waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandates. In exchange for this flexibility, the states will implement accountability, raise standards and improve teacher effectiveness. The NCLB primer that follows was first published last month, on the tenth anniversary of the law's signing.
(CNN) Ten years ago, on January 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law. Since then, the law has been the topic of numerous discussions among lawmakers, educators and parents. Want to know more about it? If you’ve got five minutes, you can learn the basics of NCLB here. Read on.
NCLB, as it came to be called, enjoyed bipartisan support in its early days. Although it is often associated with President George W. Bush, one of its sponsors was the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts. The bill was actually an update of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was aimed at supporting disadvantaged students in low-income area schools. ESEA was part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. With Bush’s signature in 2002, NCLB became the most sweeping federal legislation on education, with far-reaching impact in the nation’s schools.
There are many provisions to NCLB, including sections on safe and drug-free schools and parental involvement, but its intention is to drive and measure student achievement. At the heart of the law is a mandate for accountability and measured student outcomes, derived primarily from state-administered standardized tests that are given annually in grades 3 through 8 in math and reading.
Under NCLB, all schools are striving toward “100 percent proficiency” in math and reading by the 2013-2014 school year. That means that all students must perform to satisfaction on state tests in these subject areas by spring 2014. Since this provision went into effect, states have set their own benchmarks toward achieving the 100% goal. The yearly benchmarks are called Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP.
Schools are held accountable for making AYP. If a school fails to make AYP for two consecutive years it is labeled as “Needs Improvement” and school officials must formulate and implement a “turnaround plan” for that school. Schools that remain on the Needs Improvement list for additional years must offer other public school choices and/or tutoring options to their students and parents. Five years on the Needs Improvement list could cause the school to face restructuring, including terminating staff and administration and turning the school over to a private operator.
Pros and cons
Supporters of NCLB applaud the law’s intent and its attempt to bring accountability into the classroom. There are also those who say that NCLB has resulted in movement toward closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers.
Many NCLB opponents are focused primarily on what many call “high-stakes testing.” They argue that the testing mandated by NCLB turns classrooms into test preparation centers and takes time away from subjects that aren’t tested, like social studies and science. They also question the expense of test administration and the feasibility of attaining the 100% proficiency goal. And there are some who say that last year’s school cheating scandals are a byproduct of an education system that leans too heavily on test scores.
Where it stands now
More schools were listed as failing last year than in any previous year since the passage of NCLB. Almost half (48%) of U.S.schools did not make AYP in 2011, according to the Center on Education Policy.
In August 2011, the Obama Administration announced that states can apply for waivers from provisions of NCLB if they meet other federal mandates. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said that the goal of the waivers is to provide flexibility for states while maintaining accountability and high expectations.
Critics argue that the issuance of waivers is an end-around move to circumvent a law passed by Congress, and some question its constitutionality. Others question whether the waivers amount to additional federal control of education.
In spite of a bipartisan Senate committee attempt to address changes to the law, Congress did not vote on NCLB in 2011.