No Child Left Behind

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The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), signed in January of 2002, re-authorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Although the primary purpose of the initial act was to provide federal funding for schools in poverty, the provisions of the current NCLB also include federal mandates for annual state assessments, teacher and paraprofessional qualifications, assessments at the pre-school level, and sanctions for schools and districts that fail to meet "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) as defined in the act.

The provisions that we tend to think of as "No Child Left Behind" were based on the success--if you can call it that--of the Houston Independent School District under the guidance of Superintendent Rod Paige, who recently served as George W. Bush's Secretary of Education. Later revelations have shown that the great success there has turned out to be mere deception. For more, see The Texas Miracle.


House Voting Record on 2001 NCLB

House vote

Senate Voting Record on 2001 NCLB

Grouped By Vote Position

YEAs - 87

  • Allard (R-CO)
  • Allen (R-VA)
  • Baucus (D-MT)
  • Bayh (D-IN)
  • Biden (D-DE)
  • Bingaman (D-NM)
  • Bond (R-MO)
  • Boxer (D-CA)
  • Breaux (D-LA)
  • Brownback (R-KS)
  • Bunning (R-KY)
  • Burns (R-MT)
  • Byrd (D-WV)
  • Campbell (R-CO)
  • Cantwell (D-WA)
  • Carnahan (D-MO)
  • Carper (D-DE)
  • Chafee (R-RI)
  • Cleland (D-GA)
  • Clinton (D-NY)
  • Cochran (R-MS)
  • Collins (R-ME)
  • Conrad (D-ND)
  • Corzine (D-NJ)
  • Craig (R-ID)
  • Crapo (R-ID)
  • Daschle (D-SD)
  • DeWine (R-OH)
  • Dodd (D-CT)
  • Domenici (R-NM)
  • Dorgan (D-ND)
  • Durbin (D-IL)
  • Edwards (D-NC)
  • Ensign (R-NV)
  • Enzi (R-WY)
  • Feinstein (D-CA)
  • Fitzgerald (R-IL)
  • Frist (R-TN)
  • Graham (D-FL)
  • Gramm (R-TX)
  • Grassley (R-IA)
  • Gregg (R-NH)
  • Harkin (D-IA)
  • Hatch (R-UT)
  • Hutchinson (R-AR)
  • Hutchison (R-TX)
  • Inhofe (R-OK)
  • Inouye (D-HI)
  • Johnson (D-SD)
  • Kennedy (D-MA)
  • Kerry (D-MA)
  • Kohl (D-WI)
  • Kyl (R-AZ)
  • Landrieu (D-LA)
  • Levin (D-MI)
  • Lieberman (D-CT)
  • Lincoln (D-AR)
  • Lott (R-MS)
  • Lugar (R-IN)
  • McCain (R-AZ)
  • McConnell (R-KY)
  • Mikulski (D-MD)
  • Miller (D-GA)
  • Murray (D-WA)
  • Nelson (D-FL)
  • Nickles (R-OK)
  • Reed (D-RI)
  • Reid (D-NV)
  • Roberts (R-KS)
  • Rockefeller (D-WV)
  • Santorum (R-PA)
  • Sarbanes (D-MD)
  • Schumer (D-NY)
  • Sessions (R-AL)
  • Shelby (R-AL)
  • Smith (R-NH)
  • Smith (R-OR)
  • Snowe (R-ME)
  • Specter (R-PA)
  • Stabenow (D-MI)
  • Stevens (R-AK)
  • Thomas (R-WY)
  • Thompson (R-TN)
  • Thurmond (R-SC)
  • Torricelli (D-NJ)
  • Warner (R-VA)
  • Wyden (D-OR)

NAYs - 10

Not Voting - 3

  • Bennett (R-UT)
  • Dayton (D-MN)
  • Feingold (D-WI)
  • Hagel (R-NE)
  • Hollings (D-SC)
  • Jeffords (I-VT)
  • Leahy (D-VT)
  • Nelson (D-NE)
  • Voinovich (R-OH)
  • Wellstone (D-MN)
  • Akaka (D-HI)
  • Helms (R-NC)
  • Murkowski (R-AK)


The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was originally part of President Johnson's War on Poverty. Designed to address the educational needs of children in poverty, the ESEA allocated resources through compensatory education programs for the poor. Through ESEA, the federal government initially funded Title I programs in public schools with high concentrations of children in poverty; began Head Start programs for pre-school children in poverty; and, through the 1968 Title VII amendment to the ESEA, began federal funding of bilingual education programs.

The ESEA marked a change in federal support for schools; instead of simply giving general aid, the federal government targeted its aid for education in specific categories (some of this "categorical" support for education at the federal level had also occurred under the earlier 1958 National Defense Education Act as a response to Sputnik). In addition, the ESEA put state agencies in the role of administering federal education funds.

The ESEA has had several additions and revisions over the years. It was re-authorized in 1994 under President Clinton and re-titled the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA). Among the changes instituted in IASA were requirements for states to establish standards for math and for language arts; for states to use multiple measurement systems to evaluate student achievement in these areas; and for states to set criteria for what constitutes "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) for schools receiving Title I money. Under IASA, the federal government left states with the flexibility to determine for themselves which schools and districts were struggling to meet AYP targets by the state's definition, and to provide supplementary assistance where necessary.

Current provisions of NCLB

  • More testing. Under NCLB, states must provide annual assessments of reading and mathematics at all grades 3-8 and at least once again in high school. (Science will also need to be tested at least three times.) All English Language Learners must take tests of English speaking, listening, reading and writing every year, K-12.
  • 'Scientifically based' reading. A controversial portion of of NCLB is the Reading First section, with moneys targeted to grades K-3 initial literacy programs. Such literacy programs can only be funded if they are based upon so-called 'scientifically based' research, which, under Reid Lyon and the NICHD, has come to be equated with the summary of the NICHD's National Reading Panel work and is heavily slanted toward scripted phonics reading instruction. (See Gerald Coles' article for more information on 'scientifically based' reading.)
  • Underfunding. There is disagreement over whether the amount of spending authorized under NCLB is sufficient to assist schools who need the help, particularly when many states are enduring fiscal crises of their own. Even so, the most recent funding bill before Congress would underfund even the authorized spending levels by over $8 billion. Presently, a multi-factioned lawsuit is pending over whether or not schools should be held accountable to the provisions of NCLB when the funding to do so is not provided (thereby raising the tax burden on the local community).
  • Disaggregation of data. The idea of slicing up the piles of test scores into smaller, analyzable piles (by race, gender, language proficiency, poverty, and special needs) is not a new one. But for the first time, a school must be labeled as failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress if even one subgroup of students fails to have a sufficient percentage of students meeting the standard in one subject. And in the case of English language learners and special education students, two categories that are largely defined by low test scores, this requirement is a recipe for guaranteeing that schools will be branded as failures.
  • Punitive measures. For the first time, the federal government has attached specific and severe sanctions and consequences for schools who fail to meet AYP requirements for at least two years in a row. The consequences increase in severity and can eventually lead to a public school closing, its staff members being fired, and the school re-opening as a privately run charter school (see Punitive Measures below).

Punitive Measures

After a school fails to meet AYP requirements for two years in a row, it is determined to be in "in need of improvement" status (INOI). A school remains in improvement status until it meets AYP requirements for two years in a row.

For each year (beginning with the second year of failing to meet AYP) that a school is in improvement status, the following sanctions are required under NCLB:

  • 1st year of INOI: provide free transportation for students from the INOI school to another school in the district that is not INOI
  • 2nd year of INOI: set aside 20% of district Title I moneys to provide the above, plus provide tutoring for students from the INOI school. Tutoring can be provided by any private tutoring business on the state's approved provider list.
  • 3rd year of INOI: all of the above plus implement at least one of the corrective actions on the list provided under NCLB:
    • Replace some of the staff (those 'responsible' for the failure)
    • Change the way staff is organized
    • Decrease the principal’s power or replace the principal
    • Adopt a new curriculum
    • Provide technical assistance from outside experts
    • Extend the school day or year
  • 4th year of INOI: all of the above plus "restructuring," which must include at least one of the following changes:
    • re-open as a public charter school
    • replace all or most of the school staff
    • enter into a contract with an outside entity, such as a private company, to run the school
    • turn the operation of the school over to the state
    • some other major restructuring of the school's governance that makes fundamental reform


  • Barbara Miner on the political agenda of NCLB
  • Gerald Bracey on the objectives of NCLB
  • FairTest report: Failing Our Children
  • National Assessment of Education Progress report - a more positive view

See Also

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