No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 Research Paper Starter

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 developed out of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as well as the recommendations made by the National Commission on Education Excellence during the 1980s. Today, it forms the basis for current United States educational policy. Through its focus on standards, accountability, and parental options, it seeks to provide a quality education for all students and to close the achievement gap between low-income and minority students and their peers. The law has been hotly debated, with its proponents citing higher test scores and improved urban schools; while critics claim that federal funds are not sufficient to support the law, and that the law encourages an overly narrow curriculum.

Keywords Achievement Gap; Achievement Testing; Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP); Charter School; Highly Qualified Teacher; Local Education Agency (LEA); No Child Left Behind (NCLB); School Vouchers; Supplemental Educational Services (SES); Title I


The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has been called "the most sweeping federal education legislation in our nation's history" (McReynolds, 2006, p. 33). Since President George W. Bush signed the Act into law on January 8, 2002, opinions have not lacked regarding its benefits, drawbacks, and overall viability in bringing about long-term improvements in public education. Intended to close the learning gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students, between wealthy and non-wealthy students, and between minority and non-minority students (McReynolds, 2006), NCLB has elicited both praise and complaint from educators and legislators alike. Mathis (2005) notes that while there is general agreement regarding the overall aim of the legislation—ensuring the education of every child—there is widespread disagreement surrounding the implementation of the legislation—what will be the cost, who will fund it, and how the goal should be accomplished.

While consensus on these issues will not be reached instantly, an understanding of the history of NCLB, its main provisions, and the chief praises and criticisms directed towards it will provide a basis from which to formulate sound opinions and from which to work towards the goal of quality education for all students.


According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the history of the No Child Left Behind Act can be traced back over four decades to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 (History of the Federal Role in Education). The ESEA, signed by President Lyndon Johnson as part of his "War on Poverty," appropriated approximately $2 million for the advancement and improvement of educational opportunities for the underprivileged within the states. NCSL reports that for the next 10 years, federal investment into education grew by nearly 200 percent. Yet, a declining economy from 1975 to 1980 took its toll on federal education spending, and during this five-year period, federal investment in education rose by only 2 percent.

McReynolds (2006) also traces the roots of NCLB philosophy back several decades, but she goes even further and cites the 1957 launching of Sputnik as a foundational element in the American educational attitude that produced NCLB. According to McReynolds, the launch of Sputnik marked a significant turning point in American educational policy as it underscored a need for American children to be able to compete globally in the areas of math and science. As a result, the federal government began to take a more active interest in the education of American children in these subject areas.

The expansion of the federal government's role in education came to a near halt, however, with the swearing in of President Ronald Reagan in 1980 (History of the Federal Role in Education). According to the NCSL, during the first five years of President Reagan's administration, federal funding for education fell by 21 percent. As a result of his philosophy of smaller government and local educational control, Reagan believed that the federal role in education should decrease, and, as the NCSL indicates, he petitioned for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education.

Still, Reagan left his mark on public education through the National Commission on Education Excellence (NCEE). Convened by Reagan and then Secretary of Education Terrell Bell, the Commission was charged with examining the state of education in the United States. The culmination of the Commission's work came in the form of the 1983 report, "A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform" (History of the Federal Role in Education). Included in the report's specific scope of analysis were the following:

• "Assessing the quality of teaching and learning in our nation's public and private schools, colleges, and universities;

• "Comparing American schools and colleges with those of other advanced nations;

• "Studying the relationship between college admissions requirements and student achievement in high school;

• "Identifying educational programs which result in notable student success in college;

• "Assessing the degree to which major social and educational changes in the last quarter century have affected student achievement; and

• "Defining problems which must be faced and overcome if we are successfully to pursue the course of excellence in education" (A Nation at Risk, 1983).

In light of its findings in these areas, the commission reported that there was an "urgent need for improvement, both immediate and long term" (A Nation at Risk, 1983). To address this need, the NCEE offered recommendations in five areas: content, standards and expectations, time, teaching, and leadership and fiscal support. The commission recommended establishing core curriculum standards but left the primary responsibility for establishing these standards to the states (History of the Federal Role in Education). Likewise, the primary responsibility for financing educational improvements also went to state and local officials (A Nation at Risk, 1983).

According to NCLS, President Reagan's entrusting standards development to the states led states to begin to develop standards of achievement for different grade levels, and by 1990, almost 40 percent of high school graduates had achieved the goals set forth in core curriculum standards (History of the Federal Role in Education). The NCEE's research, analysis, and recommendations spurred the growth of standards-based accountability that, consequently, played a significant role in the development of NCLB (History of the Federal Role in Education).

President Reagan's successors, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton held a more active view of the federal government's role in education. President Bush's National Education Summit, convened in 1989, produced America 2000, a progressive educational agenda that established six goals to be reached by the year 2000. These goals ranged from school safety to academic achievement. Following in Bush's steps, President Clinton transformed America 2000 into Goals 2000. Among its initiatives, Goals 2000 created the National Education Standards and Improvement Council, which held the authority to accept or reject state-generated content standards (History of the Federal Role in Education). While many saw this as an unwelcome growth in federal involvement in education, others applauded the increased focus on accountability. Eventually, the Council was done away with, but, as the NCSL reports, the federal role in accountability continued.

In 1994, President Clinton signed the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA), which was, in essence, a revision and reauthorization of President Johnson's 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Coming full circle nearly 30 years after its original appearance, IASA required states to develop and implement content standards and mechanisms for measuring the achievement of the same (History of the Federal Role in Education).



All of these leading factors from 1957 through 2000 point to the fact that NCLB did not develop in a vacuum. Less than one week after taking office in 2001, President George W. Bush introduced the No Child Left Behind Act, which he described as "the cornerstone of … [his] administration" (Executive Summary of NCLB, 2004). NCLB was an outgrowth both of President Bush's support for public education and his belief that "too many of our neediest children are being left behind" (Executive Summary of NCLB, 2005). NCLB was intended to close the achievement gap existing in America's educational system as a result of economic and social factors and to ensure that, when it comes to receiving a quality education, no child is left behind.

As adopted in 2001, NCLB was a reauthorization of ESEA and consisted of four main components: stronger accountability for results, more freedom for states and communities, proven education methods, and more choices for parents (Four Pillars of NCLB, 2004).

Stronger Accountability for Results

NCLB set the goal to have all students perform at or above grade level in math and reading by the year 2014. NCLB's accountability measures require that states and school districts provide annual report cards to parents and communities to show progress in the schools and the state. If schools fall short of making adequate yearly progress (AYP), as evidenced in part by the achievement of students, NCLB requires that the schools provide supplemental educational services to students. These services may include tutoring and after-school programs. After five years, if a school is determined still to be failing to achieve standards in progress, the school may be forced to undergo major changes, such as restructuring, state takeover, conversion into a charter school, or dissolution (Four Pillars of NCLB, 2004; Jennings and Rentner, 2006).

NCLB Waivers

More Freedom for States and Communities

The U.S. Department of Education indicates that NCLB provides states and school districts with "unprecedented flexibility" in the use of federal education funds (Four Pillars of NCLB, 2004). One major facet of this flexibility is the allowance for states and local education agencies (LEA) to transfer up to 50 percent of federal funding received under certain grant programs to fill a qualified need of the state's choice. The allowable grant programs are Teacher Quality State Grants, Educational Technology, Innovative Programs, and Safe and Drug-Free Schools. LEAs may use funding from these programs for needs such as personnel hiring, salary raises, professional development or to their Title I programs (Executive Summary of NCLB, 2004).

The flexibility provision also allows up to seven states to consolidate federal grant funds to be used for any educational purpose allowed under ESEA. One requirement of this consolidation is that the states involved must form up to 10 local performance agreements with LEAs to allow them similar levels of flexibility in consolidating funds (Executive Summary of NCLB, 2004).

Proven Education Methods

Under NCLB, federal funding is allocated to programs that have a proven level of effectiveness in producing positive results in educational achievement. By relying on scientific research and evaluation, NCLB seeks to direct federal dollars to those programs that can show objective improvements and progress. To ensure accuracy in scientific research, NCLB seeks to move research methodology to a "medical model," in which a random population sample is taken, a control group is...

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