The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB) was a U.S. Act of Congress that reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; it included Title I provisions applying to disadvantaged students. It supported standards-based education reform based on the premise that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals could improve individual outcomes in education. The Act required states to develop assessments in basic skills. To receive federal school funding, states had to give these assessments to all students at select grade levels.
It was coauthored by Representatives JohnBoehner (R-OH), George Miller (D-CA), and Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH). The United States House of Representatives passed the bill on December 13, 2001 (voting 381–41), and the United States Senate passed it on December 18, 2001 (voting 87–10). President Bush signed it into law on January 8, 2002.
On April 30, 2015, a bill was introduced to Congress to replace the No Child Left Behind Act, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was passed by the House on December 2 and the Senate on December 9, before being signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015. This bill affords states more flexibility in regards to setting their own respective standards for measuring school as well as student performance.
The major focus of No Child Left Behind is to close student achievement gaps by providing all children with a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education. The U.S. Department of Education emphasizes four pillars within the bill:
- Accountability: to ensure those students who are disadvantaged, achieve academic proficiency.
- Flexibility: Allows school districts flexibility in how they use federal education funds to improve student achievement.
- Research-based education: Emphasizes educational programs and practices that have been proven effective through scientific research.
- Parent options: Increases the choices available to the parents of students attending Title I schools.
Pros and Cons of NCLB for Students With Learning and Thinking Differences
On the positive side, NCLB led to inclusion. Before NCLB, many schools didn’t measure the progress of students with learning and thinking differences. These students were often shut out of the general education curriculum and left out of state tests.
NCLB also set the expectation that struggling students learn alongside their peers. By making schools report their results by subgroup, NCLB shined a light on students receiving special education services. Schools were pushed to give struggling students more attention, support and help.
And they did. The graduation rate for students with specific learning disabilities increased from 57 percent in 2002 to 68 percent in 2011.
On the negative side, some say that NCLB focused too much on standardized testing. Some schools end up “teaching to the test”—focusing only on what students were tested on. This left little time for anything else the kids may have needed or wanted to learn.
Certain penalties, such as requiring school improvement plans, were reasonable, critics said. Others could be very harsh, such as firing school staff or closing a school that’s struggling. Critics linked several cheating scandals to NCLB, citing the pressure on teachers and educators to perform.
Some argued that NCLB’s standards-based accountability was inconsistent with special education, which focuses on meeting a child’s individual needs.
Despite the controversy, most people supported parts of NCLB—especially requirements for highly qualified teachers, research-based instruction and basic reporting on school results.
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