No Child Left Behind Act

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Glossary of education terms

The No Child Left Behind Act was a piece of federal education legislation that passed into public law in 2001. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) supports standards instituted education reform based on the philosophy that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals for schools would improve individual outcomes for public school students. The legislation required states to develop standardized tests and to give these assessments to all students at certain designated grade levels in order to receive federal funding. Each individual state was responsible for developing its own standards. The bill passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President George W. Bush on January 8, 2002.[1]



No Child Left Behind was a re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the primary federal law regulating K-12 education. The ESEA was first enacted in 1965 and re-authorized in 1994. The law includes Title I, the flagship program for disadvantaged students. The core of NCLB aimed to improve student achievement through annual standardized assessment of students, thereby quantifying education progress and making schools accountable for student performance. The law also included provisions to allow school districts increased flexibility in spending federal funds.[1][2]

At the time of its passage, there was increasing public concern regarding the state of public education. The law was created with the intention of increasing accountability of school districts for poor student performance and rewarding districts for excellent student performance.[3]

Legislative history

President George W. Bush initially proposed the No Child Left Behind Act on January 23, 2001. It was co-authored by Representatives George Miller and John Boehner and Senators Ted Kennedy and Judd Gregg. The United States House of Representatives passed the bill, voting 384-45 on May 23, 2001.[4] The United States Senate also passed the bill, voting 91-8 on June 14, 2001. The bill was signed into law on January 8, 2002.[5]


The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to implement minimum performance benchmarks for students, schools and school districts based on standardized testing. School districts must meet performance goals as a prerequisite to receive federal funding. The law required states to expand and develop standardized tests in both mathematics and reading, which must be administered during from 3rd to 5th grade, 6th to 9th grade and 10th to 12th grade. Beginning in the 2007-08 school year, schools were required to assess students in science once during each of those three grade spans. When the law was first enacted, 48 states had existing statewide tests in reading and mathematics. Of those states, 34 also administered tests in science, but not in all of the three grade spans. The federal government appropriated $2.34 billion in order to implement state assessments between 2002 and 2007.[6][7]


In 2012, President Barack Obama granted waivers from some of the law's mandates to several states. In exchange for flexibility regarding No Child Left Behind, these states agreed "to raise standards, improve accountability, and undertake essential reforms to improve teacher effectiveness." These waivers were granted in five stages which are listed below.[8]

  • February 9, 2012 - Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee
  • February 15, 2012 - New Mexico
  • May 29, 2012 - Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island
  • June 29, 2012 - Arkansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Utah and Virginia
  • July 6, 2012 - Washington and Wisconsin

Eight states were granted conditional waivers meaning their state's plans are still under review. Five states did not complete their waiver requirements. Those states, Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Maine and West Virginia were granted a one year freeze on rising targets for standardized test scores.[9]

As of the start of 2014, 42 states have been granted waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act. North Dakota and Wyoming withdrew their waiver requests, while California and Iowa's waiver requests were rejected. Neither Nebraska nor Montana requested waivers, and Illinois's waiver request remains pending.[10]


A central component of No Child Left Behind is that school districts must administer statewide standardized tests to all students. In order for school districts to receive Title I funding, schools must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), meaning that student's test scores must improve when compared to the previous year's students at that grade level. If schools fail to meet this requirement they are held accountable through the following steps:[11]

  • Schools that miss AYP for two consecutive years are publicly labeled as "in need of improvement." These schools must develop a two year improvement plan for the subject in which the school is not meeting AYP. Students are given the option of transferring to a better school within the school district.
  • Missing AYP for a third consecutive year mandates that schools offer free tutoring and other supplemental education services to students that are struggling.
  • Schools missing AYP for a fourth consecutive year are publicly labeled as "requiring corrective action," which may include changes in the staff and administration, introduction of a new curriculum or extending the amount of time students spend in the classroom.
  • If a school fails to meet AYP for a fifth consecutive year, planning is put in place to restructure the entire school. This plan is implemented if the school then fails to meet AYP for a sixth consecutive year. Options for this include closing the school, hiring a private company to run the school, changing the school into a charter school or asking the state department of education to directly oversee school operations.

States must create AYP objectives that are consistent with these seven requirements:

  • States must develop AYP statewide measurable objectives for improved academic achievement and for groups such as students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students and students with limited English language proficiency.
  • These objectives have been set with the goal of having all students at a proficient level in 12 years.
  • AYP must be based on statewide standardized assessments, but must include one additional academic indicator.
  • AYP must be assessed on a school-wide level. Schools not meeting AYP for two consecutive years are identified as needing improvement.
  • School AYP results must be reported separately for each of the identified student groups in order to determine if the district is meeting AYP.
  • At least 95% of each group of students must participate in the statewide assessments.
  • States may aggregate three years of data when making AYP determinations.

States are required to provide "highly qualified" teachers to all students. Each state is responsible for creating their standard for "highly qualified." States are also required to create "one high, challenging standard," which the state defines, and the state must apply these curriculum standards to all students.

The law also required schools to allow military recruiters to have access to students' contact and academic information if the school also provides this information to colleges or employers, unless the student chooses to opt-out.


As part of the funding for No Child Left Behind, Congress increased federal spending on elementary and secondary education from $42.2 billion to $55.7 billion in 2001, the fiscal year prior to the law's implementation. This was accompanied by a $1 billion Reading First program and its $100 million companion program, Early Reading First. Total federal funding for education was increased by 59.8% from 2000 to 2003. Funding for school technology grants was also increased to $692 million alongside $2.9 billion in grants for improving teacher quality. Another $11.1 billion in grants was made available for special education and $2.7 billion was allotted for vocational technology education.[12]

School districts were also granted increased flexibility to allocate federal funds to Title I programs or programs for improving teacher quality, improving student achievement through integration of technology into the classroom, safe and drug free school programs or programs to expand school choice.

Education Discretionary Approriations.gif


Inadequate funding

Criticism of No Child Left Behind funding increased following the law's passage. Its requirements increased demands on state and local education agencies without providing full reimbursement for the expenses it incurred. NCLB co-sponsor Senator Ted Kennedy criticized the amount of funding, stating, "The tragedy is that these long overdue reforms are finally in place, but the funds are not."[13] Many organizations claimed that the provisions of NCLB were not fully funded by the Department of Education appropriations. Critics of the law also claimed that the Enhancing Education Through Technology Program funding decreased over time as demand for classroom technology increased. In fiscal year 2007, funding for NCLB remained stagnant, which left school districts to cover the difference in their funding. Further criticism of the law's funding arose when districts struggling to make AYP faced escalating penalties while being denied the resources necessary to address these shortcomings.[14]

Total proficiency

Many education advocates expressed concerns about the law's proficiency requirements despite initially supporting the legislation. Education historian Diane Ravitch labeled the provision that all students attain proficient scores in reading and mathematics by 2014 as flawed, since it did not fully take into account students with special needs, economically disadvantaged students and students whose native language is not English. School districts could face consequences if they do not meet 100% proficiency in reading and mathematics by the year 2014. Ravitch also criticized the provision that places failing schools in jeopardy of becoming charter schools, being taken over by state education organizations or closing as a result of not meeting progress requirements.[15]

Emphasis on standardized testing

Many critics of No Child Left Behind have denounced its requirement of and emphasis on standardized testing. Many advocates, including Diane Ravitch, believed that this emphasis would result in increased educational focus on the subjects of reading and mathematics, while taking away instructional time from subjects not covered by the law.[15]

Individuals with disabilities

Under No Child Left Behind, disabled students with Individualized Education Programs and 504 plans are counted just as other students' scores are counted. Schools have argued against having disabled populations included in their AYP measurements because they claim that there are too many variables involved. The National Council for Disabilities was concerned that NCLB may conflict with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act because of its focus on group achievement instead of individual achievement. The NCD also had concerns that NCLB focuses on skills associated with state standardized testing, rather than the work based experience necessary for obtaining employment.[16]


In 2004, a proposal from 156 national organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, released a joint organizational statement on No Child Left Behind. The statement condemned NCLB based on its perceived overemphasis on standardized testing, narrowing curriculum instruction and using sanctions that do not improve schools. These organizations proposed significant reforms to NCLB based on progress measurement, assessments, building capacity, sanctions and fully funding Title I to ensure that all students are served.[17]

In 2010, President Obama presented the Blueprint for Reforming the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to Congress. One significant provision of the proposed law rewarded school districts with high poverty rates that show improvement. It also identified and intervened in districts that fail to meet these goals. Additionally, the Blueprint requires states and districts to create methods of measuring teacher and principal effectiveness in order to ensure that every classroom and school has high quality teachers and principals. This reform effort also acknowledged and responded to the criticism that NCLB could give states an incentive to lower standards in order to make them more attainable.[18][19]

Recent news

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See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Josie Canales, James Frey, Cathy Walker, Sherry Freeland Walker, Suzanne Weiss and Anna West, Education Commission of the States, "No State Left Behind: The Challenges and Opportunities of ESEA 2001," accessed January 28, 2014
  2. PBS, "The New Rules: An overview of the testing and accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act," accessed January 28, 2014
  3. Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker, "Letter from Washington: Testing Limits," July 2, 2001
  4. Clerk of the House of Representatives, "FINAL VOTE RESULTS FOR ROLL CALL 145," accessed January 23, 2014
  5. Senate of the United States, "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 107th Congress - 1st Session," accessed January 23, 2014
  6. Margaret E. Goertz, Taylor and Francis Online, "Implementing the No Child Left Behind Act: Challenges for the States," November 18, 2009
  7. United States Department of Education, "State and Local Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act: Volume IX - Accountability under NCLB: Final Report," accessed January 28, 2014
  8. CNN, "10 states freed from some 'No Child Left Behind' requirements," accessed February 10, 2012
  9. Joy Resmovits, Huffington Post, "No Child Left Behind Waivers Granted To 33 U.S. States, Some With Strings Attached," August 13, 2012
  10. Education Week, "NCLB Waivers: A State-by-State Breakdown," October 2, 2013
  11. Andrew J. Rotherham and Erin Dillon, Education Sector at American Institutes for Research, "States' Evidence: What It Means to Make 'Adequate Yearly Progress' Under NCLB," July 23, 2007
  12. United States Department of Education, "Fiscal Year 2005 Budget Summary — February 2, 2004," accessed January 24, 2014
  13. W. James Antle, III, The American Conservative, "Leaving No Child Left Behind," August 1, 2005
  14. Larry Abramson, NPR, "Funding Stagnant for No Child Left Behind Program," August 20, 2007
  15. 15.0 15.1 Diane Ravitch, National Education Association, "Stop the Madness," September 2010
  16. American Youth Policy Forum, "No Child Left Behind: Improving Educational Outcomes for Students with Disabilities," accessed January 24, 2014
  17. FairTest, "Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act," accessed January 27, 2014
  18. White House, "Reforming No Child Left Behind," accessed January 27, 2014
  19. United States Department of Education, "ESEA Reauthorization: A Blueprint for Reform," accessed January 27, 2014