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Then and Now: An Evaluation of No Child Left Behind

Bethany Foxx ’16  Inside Politics

The education reform act, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was implemented during the George W. Bush administration, has reached the 2014 deadline that was set for states to have 100 percent of students proficient in math and reading. The bill stated that performance standards were scheduled for all students to reach proficient status in the 2013-14 academic year; however, that goal has been far from accomplished.

The NCLB legislation placed performance standards in almost every public school in the United States and included various measures that were aimed at elevating student achievement and subsequently holding both schools and states accountable. According to Education Week, these measures included providing annual testing, academic progress checkpoints, state report cards, teacher qualifications, a program called “Reading First,” and funding changes.

Annual testing involved yearly testing for those students in grades 3 through 8 in mathematics and reading comprehension, along with a science test that would occur once at each academic level: elementary, middle, and high school. As for academic progress, in the 2013-14 academic year, all students were supposed to have been brought up to a “proficient” level on state tests. Additionally, schools were required to demonstrate “adequate yearly progress” to display that they were keeping on track. Report cards required states and school districts to provide student achievement data.

The NCLB act, which has been deeply criticized for encouraging an academic culture that teaches to the test and values the “one size fits all” style education was signed into law in 2002.

In 2011, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, strived to get Congress to rewrite the legislation and issued “dire warning that 82 percent of schools would be labeled as ‘failing’ that year,” according to Education Week. While the actual percentage was in reality 50 percent, the number was still labeled significant, especially because high performing schools did not necessarily meet the designated criteria for rates of improvement, and failed to meet set benchmarks because their performance was already higher than average.

The testing movement has inspired documentaries such as “Race to Nowhere,” which gives an inside look into the lives of high school students and how the testing culture is shaping not only the academic outlook, but the social mindset of students as well. According to the documentary’s website, the documentary tells the “heartbreaking stories of students across the country who have been pushed to the brink by over-scheduling, over-testing, and the relentless pressure to achieve.” “Race to Nowhere” is an attempt to reach a large demographic about education reform from the grassroots level.

In an article by Lisa Guisbond of the Huffington Post, she evaluates the downfall of NCLB and how the National Center for Fair and Open Testing has released data that shows children are still getting left behind. Additionally, she states that the Race to the Top program and the NCLB waivers are “increasing the amount of testing, not cutting back.” President Obama and his administration have offered waivers from NCLB that give states flexibility from the confines of NCLB if other education ideas are adopted.

Furthermore, the Obama White House released a blueprint in 2010 for reform to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was the original act that was reauthorized into NCLB in 2001. Additionally, the Obama administration has outlined flexibility and waivers from NCLB for states that “close achievement gaps, promote rigorous accountability, ensure that all students are on track to graduate college and career ready standards… and reforms to support effective classroom instruction,” stated in a press release from the White House Press Secretary in September of 2011.

Since the NCLB legislation, additional forms of education reform have taken place. One such example is the Race to the Top grant competition, which was created to spark innovation in education reform across the country and awarded funding to states that did well. As part of Race to the Top, Al Baker of the New York Times stated that the Obama administration, “encouraged states to adopt the Common Core.”  The Common Core was a result of the concerns that NCLB legislation hindered what students could learn because “the law required improvement in test scores but left it up to states to write their own tests,” stated Baker.  According to the mission statement of the Common Core, the state standards “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn… the standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world.”

The struggle with education reform involves the complexity of trying to implement an education system that will give all Americans the same standard of education, while finding a productive and meaningful way to assess the level of learning that is reached by each student. This is in addition to the difficulty of trying to cater each child’s individual education because students across the country have diverse needs and skill sets. Only time will tell how education reform will be shaped as the testing generation grows up and has the ability to influence the way in which education is designed.