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Rewriting No Child Left Behind: What You Need to Know

This week, Congress is finally tackling the task of rewriting the long-expired Bush-era law No Child Left Behind act. Here's what you need to know about what this could mean for the future of education as we know it.

What's No Child Left Behind?

The No Child Left Behind Act is the reauthorization of "The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) [which] was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who believed that 'full educational opportunity' should be 'our first national goal.'"

It was re-authorized by NCLB in 2002 by the Bush administration and expired in 2007 but attempts to change it ever since have failed; in 2012 the Obama administration allowed waivers for states to bypass certain NCLB requirements. This has resulted in federal policy on education to essentially be a mash-up of waivers from state-to-state.

Educators and policy makers are in agreement that the time for change has been long overdue and this week, beginning July 7, Congress sought to make this change a reality once again.

What's Good and What's Bad About NCLB?


The Good

There are good things that NCLB has accomplished and should be carried over into the next legislation.

For one, NCLB has improved the quality of teachers by mandating teacher certification.

"NCLB provides funds that states can use for a wide variety of efforts, from improving certification systems to supporting strategies to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers. The law also supports ongoing professional development for all teachers, regardless of their 'highly qualified' status," according to This endeavor was not perfect, but is a good stepping stone for future legislation.

NCLB has also helped get students free tutoring services and has created more public school choice as students have the option to leave schools that are not performing up to par on an annual basis.

The Bad

It's no secret that both educators and policy makers have fault with NCLB. It's hung around far too long, and people are ready for change.

NCLB is responsible for what is known as "high-stakes testing." Because it required students in third-eighth grade to take annual tests in math and reading, it started the trend of linking testing to penalties and has now led to a widespread and growing opt-out movement in response to what evolved to be Common Core tests.

Opponents of NCLB also argue that despite its well-meaning attempt to provide equal education to all and to level the playing field in education, by linking funding to Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the opposite effect happens. The consequence has been called "extremely punitive" according to Business Insider, and a culture of cheating or gaming the system to ensure funding is not lost at all costs. 

Additionally, the evolution of tying teacher evaluations to high-stake exams is another huge criticism that both educators and policy makers would like to see changed. 

What Might Replace It?

Both the Senate and the House currently are working on separate rewrites of the legislation titled" Every Child Achieves Act" and "Student Success Act," respectively.

Every Child Achieves Act

Some important components of the Every Child Achieves Act include doing away with mandates on implementing standards, such as the Common Core. Standards would be a state choice versus a federal mandate. Overall, the legislation gives more control to local and state governments to decided what low-performing means and how to make changes to fix these schools.

It will keep standardized tests but will remove the high-stakes aspect to them to the benefit of students and teachers alike.

It will continue the trend of school choice by increasing high-quality charter schools so that parents are able to chose what's best for their child. 

Student Success Act

The Student Success Act also focuses on putting local control back into the hands of states. Schools and districts will once again measure student success and achievement and aims to eliminate "65 existing federal programs that have been declared duplicative, ineffective, or were never funded. It also requires the Secretary of Education to take steps to reduce the department’s workforce," according to Speaker of the House Joe Boehner's press office.

The Obama administration vehemently protests the authorization of this legislation and President Obama has said he would veto it should it be passed, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said  it would be damning to minority children through the way it provides federal funding to the poor. 

Important to note, the Obama administration supports neither bill; Duncan has said that both do not have enough accountability.

Both bills will end teacher evaluation tied to student test scores, and in the House's Bill, "if a state chooses to use its ESEA Title II funds to evaluate educators (rather than on other authorized uses such as professional development), it must include student test scores. On the other hand, the Senate bill includes a voluntary competitive grant program that would require participating states to implement 'merit pay' based on student test scores," according to Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, for The Washington Post.

Stay Tuned

If an agreement is not reached through bipartisan efforts, it will be another two years if not longer under NCLB and the net of waivers that currently dictates education.

"Overhauling NCLB is one major battle in a protracted campaign to end test misuse and overuse. It is a necessary step toward the greater changes needed to ensure every child has access to a high-quality education," said Neill.



Compiled by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor