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Issue Analysis: No Child Left Behind

qjules's picture

            The No Child Left Behind act has been a constant source of questioning to me for a while now. I have heard of it many times, but was never formally introduced to it. For this reason, when we read No Child Left Behind as an anti poverty measure by Jean Anyon and Kiersten Greene I was inspired to finally get acquainted with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). When I learned what NCLB entails I realized why is it such a hot topic in education; it is inseparable from other core issues in education, including: charter schools, testing, the achievement gap, and funding.

No Child Left Behind is federally enforced legislation that was put in place 2001 to hold schools and states more accountable for test scores, with an original intended goal of proficient scores by 2013-14. The NCLB act requires all schools receiving Title 1 funding (also known as Title 1 schools) to meet the AYP  (adequate yearly progress) report for students of all identities including race, class, gender, and ability.  

Title1 schools make up the majority of public schools- criteria being that 35% of students must be low income in order for the school to be eligible for title 1 funding. The eligibility for a school’s funding is measured by the number of students receiving free or reduced lunch in a school. This funding is meant to go toward student’s academic achievement, and for this reason many see NCLB as a follow up to Lyndon B. Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 which was then part of the war on poverty.

The ESEA’s mission was to the improve quality of elementary and secondary education by funding many facets of education including: low income college scholarships, districts that served low income students, resources such as textbooks and library books, and education centers.  In 2002 ESEA was reauthorized by congress and signed by President George W. Bush under the name of No Child Left Behind, however the renewed law had a new feature- standardized testing which is where NCLB differs from ESEA.

According to  “NCLB requires states to align tests with state academic standards and begin testing students on an annual basis in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and at least once during grades 10 through 12 by the 2005-2006 school year… it requires the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics tests to be administered to a sample of fourth and eighth graders in each state every other year in order to make cross-state comparisons.” The issue many educators find with the tests is that they are a “one size fits all model” meaning these tests are constructed from a dominant narrative, (White, upperclass, American) and require high performance from children who are low income, minorities, or both.

The reason why this testing is seen as unjust by many is because non-title 1 schools are not given improvement status, therefore there are students who are predominantly white and/or middle class are not being tested, while poor and minority students are being tested in a way that does not acknowledge their differences from mainstream white America.

            These tests which students struggle with, eventually become a deficit to the school when students do not perform well on them. Furthermore, “ NCLB also mandates school districts to hire teachers designated as "highly qualified" to teach core academic subjects in Title I programs. Finally, states must issue annual report cards for schools and districts” ( students do not perform well on the standardized tests their scores become apparent in the adequate yearly progress report.

Schools that do not meet the AYP after 2 years or more are classified as “schools in need of improvement” which can be stigmatizing language for the members of particular school communities, and can present a sense of “stereotype threat”- the sense among the community that because the federal government says the school is underperforming, that it may actually begin to underperform in other aspects. Testing does not take the culture of a school and what strengths it possesses into account and only views school from a deficit based framework.

Schools in need of improvement face several consequences as a result of failure to pass the AYP and these consequences get worse over time.

There is five year window of consequences for a school in need of improvement.  Within the first year of a school failing their AYP, a parent can transfer their child out of their school to a school that is not in need of improvement. If many parents made this choice the school would not be sustainable. Further, if the school persists to be trouble after 3 years students are eligible for supplemental services such as state approved tutoring and educational services at the school that parents can opt for which is more along the lines of President Lyndon B. Johnsons ideals.

If the school continues to struggle with their AYP, the district takes more drastic measures “the district must implement at least one of the following corrective actions [after 4 or more years]: replace school staff; implement new curriculum; decrease the authority of school-level administration; appoint outside experts to advise the school; extend the school year or school day; and/or restructure the internal organization of the school.” These consequences do not guarantee the turn around of a school because they not include a plan for the wellness of the most crucial party within the situation- the people taking the test - the students.

It is hard to believe that students with an extended school day or school year, who are culturally disconnected from a curriculum, and are disrupted from the routine and familiarity of their school, will be able to produce the necessary test scores to save their school. Anyon and Greene oppose NCLB and state “NCLB is often criticized for the ways in which it attempts to privatize a publicly controlled function by moving to a capitalistic market model in which educational service creates profits for private business” (Anyon & Greene 160).

            What Anyon and Greene are alluding to in their statement, is the final consequence for failure to pass the AYP which states that after more than 5 years of  a school being in need improvement, the district can first plan for a year to make staff and administrative changes. If the “failure” persists in the following year the district can close the school and it can be reopened as a public charter school.

            Anyon and Greene express disdain for the capitalistic model of charter schools which replace public schools. In addition, Anyon and Greene allow readers to see multiple implications of NCLB. Not only is NCLB an issue for students who struggle with test performance, but it also proves to problematic for students who do perform well on standardized tests. Anyon and Greene express frustration with the federal push for academic achievement among low-income and/ or minorities because the job market does not uphold the promise of class mobility that academic achievement ensures.

NCLB is meant to ingrain a sense of academic achievement in schools, and states, and individuals, but the mode of achieving the academic standard i.e. testing is no narrow that many children in fact do get left behind. Because of this legislature, it becomes the challenging duty of great teachers in rural and urban environments to teach the children who are not reflected in these tests. Further No Child Left Behind places an unfair responsibility on the ability of the child to keep their school open- a pressure that their white middle class counterparts do not have to live with- nor do their teachers. Many people agree that NCLB has run its course and it needs to go. It happens to be one thing that democrats and republicans can agree on, so we will surely be seeing the end of it soon. The bigger concern is what the government will think of next.


Works Cited


            Anyon, Jean, and Kiersten Greene. "No Child Left Behind as an anti-poverty measure." Teacher Education Quarterly (2007): 157-162.


            "Elementary and Secondary Education Act." Elementary and Secondary Education Act. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2015.


            "No Child Left Behind (NCLB)." No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Department of Education, n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2015.