No Child Left Behind Act

From Academic Kids

Signing ceremony at Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio.
Signing ceremony at Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (PL 107-110) is the reauthorization of a number of federal programs that strive to improve the performance of America's primary and secondary schools by increasing the standards of accountability for states, school districts, and schools, as well as providing parents more flexibility in choosing which schools their children will attend. Additionally, it promotes an increased focus on reading and re-authorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA).

The effectiveness and desirability of the Act's measures continue to be a matter of vigorous debate. On May 3, 2005, Utah governor Jon Huntsman signed a measure into state law that allows that state's districts to ignore provisions of the law which conflict with that state's program [1] (, making it the first state to pass such a law. The Department of Education has threatened to withhold federal education funding as a result.



The act is the result of U.S. President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind program, a slogan used by Bush during his 2000 presidential campaign to describe his education policies. This program was based primarily on the reform strategies instituted by President Bush during his tenure as governor of Texas, reforms which were supervised by Rod Paige, who became Education Secretary largely on the strength of these reforms. The reforms (dubbed "The Texas Miracle") however later came into question [2] ( in Texas, where allegations surfaced that schools were manipulating data to improve their results. [3] (

The act began as House Resolution 1 in March 2001 during the 107th Congress. The 670 page act was eventually passed by the House of Representatives on December 13, 2001 by a vote of 381-41. It passed in the Senate by a vote of 87-10 on December 18, 2001. It was signed into law by President Bush on January 8, 2002 at Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio. On hand for the signing ceremony were Democratic Rep. George Miller of California, Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Republican Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, and Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education entered into a contract with Ketchum Inc. to promote the law. A $240,000 subcontract was provided to the Graham Williams Group which included political commentator Armstrong Williams promoting the act via his television show and additionally television and radio advertisements. [4] ( USA Today reported that his contract included the stipulation that he "regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts." Rep. Miller, a member of the House Education Committee, called the contract "a very questionable use of taxpayers' money" that is "probably illegal." Armstrong said that he "wanted to do it because it's something I believe in," but later said "my judgment was not the best. I wouldn't do it again, and I learned from it." [5] ( [6] ( The same public relations firm that arranged Williams' contract also produced a video promoting the No Child Left Behind Act designed to come across as a news story. The advertisements were pulled after a similar ad for the new Medicare law was challenged by the GAO for being 'covert propaganda' which is against federal law. The firm also provided the Department of Education with monthly rankings of reporters based on how they cover the law.[7] (

Major Provisions

Adequate Yearly Progress

The law requires states to create an accountability system of assessments, graduation rates, and other indicators. Schools have to make adequate yearly progress (AYP), as determined by the state, by raising the achievement levels of subgroups of students such as African Americans, Latinos, low-income students, and special education students to a state-determined level of proficiency. All students must be proficient by the 2013-2014 school year. An escalating set of assistance is provided to students who are in schools that repeatedly do not improve.

Schools receiving Title I funds that do not meet AYP requirements for two consecutive years will be identified "in need of improvement" and required to offer parents the option of sending their children to another public school within the district. Upon being identified as "in need of improvement" the school is also required to develop or revise an existing school improvement plan which must be approved by the district. If the school does not meet targets the next year, supplemental educational services such as tutoring and after school programs must also be offered in addition to the option to transfer. If the school continues in "in need of improvement" status the following year it will be required to take corrective action such as removing relevant staff, implementing new curriculum, decreasing management authority, appointing outside experts to advise the school, extending the length of the school day or year or restructuring the school's internal organization. Only schools receiving Title I funds are subject to these sanctions.

34 CFR Part 200 Title I Final Regulations (

Teacher Quality

The No Child Left Behind act requires that by the end of the 2005-2006 school year all teachers will be "highly qualified" as defined in the law. A highly qualified teacher is one who has fulfilled the state's certification and licensure requirements. New teachers must meet the following requirements:

  • Possess at least a bachelor's degree
  • At the elementary level they must pass a state test demonstrating their subject knowledge and teaching skills in reading/language arts, writing, mathematics and other areas of basic elementary school curriculum.
  • At the middle and high school levels they must pass a state test in each academic subject area they teach, plus have either an undergraduate major, a graduate degree, coursework equivalent to an undergraduate major or an advanced certification or credentialing.

Teachers not new to the profession must hold a bachelor's degree and must pass a state test demonstrating the subject knowledge and teaching skills. These requirements have caused some controversy and difficulty in implementation especially for special education teachers and teachers in small rural schools where they are often called upon to teach multiple grades and subjects.

For further information see the Teacher Quality Guidance ( from the U.S. Department of Education.

Student Testing

All student's progress will be measured annually in reading/language arts and math in grades 3 through 8 and at least once during high school. By the end of the 2007-2008 school year, testing will also be conducted in science once during grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12.

Parent Involvement

In order to better inform parents, states are required to issue detailed report cards on the status of schools and districts. Under the law, parents must also be informed when their child is being taught by a teacher who does not meet "highly qualified" status. Schools are also required to include and involve parents in the school improvement planning process.

Scientifically Based Research

The phrase "scientifically based research" ( is found 111 times in the text of the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools are required to use "scientifically based research" strategies in the classroom and for professional development of staff.

Public School Choice

Schools identified as needing improvement are required to provide students with the opportunity to take advantage of public school choice not later than the beginning of the school year following their identification for school improvement. NCLB authorized – and Congress has subsequently appropriated – a substantial increase in funding for Title I aid, in part to provide funding for school districts to implement the law’s parental choice requirements. -- From NCLB FAQs in External Links

Arguments for

  • Requires schools and districts to focus their attention on the academic achievement of traditionally under-served groups of children, such as low-income students, students with disabilities, and students of color. Many previous state-created systems of accountability only measured average school performance, allowing schools to be highly rated even if they had large achievement gaps between affluent and disadvantaged students.
  • Supports early literacy through the Early Reading First initiative.
  • Increases the quality of education. Schools are required to improve their performance under NCLB by implementing "scientifically based research" practices in the classroom, parent involvement programs, and professional development activities.
  • Measures student performance: a student's progress in reading and math must be measured annually in grades 3 through 8 and at least once during high school via standardized tests.
  • Provides information for parents by requiring states and school districts to give parents detailed report cards on schools and districts explaining the school's AYP performance. Schools must also inform parents when their child is being taught by a teacher or para-professional who does not meet "highly qualified" requirements.
  • Gives options to students enrolled in schools failing to meet AYP. If a school fails to meet AYP targets two or more years running, the school must offer eligible children the chance to transfer to higher-performing local schools, receive free tutoring, or attend after-school programs.
  • Increases flexibility to state and local agencies in the use of federal education money.
  • Provides more resources to schools. Federal funding for education has increased 59.8% from 2000 to 2003.

Arguments against

  • Supports early learning, an approach criticized in "Better Late Than Early", by Raymond Moore, et al.
  • Requires public secondary schools to provide military recruiters not only with access to facilities, but also with contact information for every student. Schools that do not comply may be cut off from all federal aid.
  • Organizations such as ACORN have criticized the unwillingness of the federal government to fully fund the act. While promoted by President Bush and applauded by both parties, neither the Senate nor the White House have requested funding up to the authorized levels for several programs such as Title I. Republicans in Congress have viewed these authorized levels as spending caps, not spending promises and have pointed out that President Clinton never requested the full amount of funding authorized under the previous ESEA law. [8] (
  • Indicators of school performance are not accurate or viable.
  • Because schools, districts, and states are punished if they fail to make adequate progress according to the goals they themselves establish, the incentives are to set expectations lower rather than higher [9] ( to increase segregation by class and race and push low-performing students out of school altogether [10] ( The schools, districts, and states are also potentially set to game the system by manipulating which students are included or excluded from test-taking (to enhance apparent school performance) and by creative reclassification of drop-outs (to reduce unfavorable statistics) [11] (
  • States and school districts should be granted greater freedom to target assistance to schools with the most extensive academic difficulties.
  • After-school programs are neglected.
  • NCLB is designed to set the stage for the eventual privatization of the U.S. public school system: reports about struggling schools sour public opinion and may cause more and more voters to question the viability of public education.
  • NCLB violates conservative principles by federalizing education and setting a precedent for further erosion of state and local control. Some conservatives believe that the federal government has no constitutional authority in education.
  • Students with learning disabilities do not receive extra help when taking the standardized tests, and can jeopardize the assigned rating the entire school is given.
  • Some of the standardized tests tend to be opinion-based and favor students with conservative ideals.
  • Focus on improving the average student's education may ignore individual differences between students, and potentially harm both special and gifted education programs.
  • NCLB focuses on basic educational classes and removes funding from music programs, art programs, etc. This results in schools being forced to remove elective and after school programs.


The name "No Child Left Behind" is unusual, and evokes the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, which talks about life during the end times, a fate which parents would not want to let their children face. Its most likely origin is the motto of the liberal advocacy group The Children's Defense Fund, "Leave No Child Behind," but which may also stem from Atticus Finch's speech in To Kill a Mockingbird, in which he chastises the government for working so hard to not let one child be left behind the other, more advanced children.

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