No Child Left Behind Act (page 3)
The most recent and far-reaching federal legislation on education was enacted when Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2001 and renamed it the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). A U.S. Department of Education (2002) publication that introduced NCLB to educators described the legislation as
a landmark in education reform designed to improve student achievement and change the culture of America’s schools. This new law, which President George W. Bush described as “the cornerstone of my administration,” represents a sweeping overhaul of federal efforts to support elementary and secondary education in the United States. (p. ix)
The ultimate goal of NCLB is that all children will be proficient in all subject matter by the year 2014 and will be taught by qualified teachers highly trained in their subjects. States are expected to make annual progress toward the 100% goal by 2014, with initial emphasis on assuring that every child can read at or above grade level by the end of third grade and that all teachers teaching in core academic subjects are “highly qualified” by the end of the 2005–2006 school year. NCLB has four key principles—stronger accountability for results, greater flexibility for schools’ use of federal funds, more options for parents, and an emphasis on curriculum and instructional methods that have been demonstrated to work.
Accountability. Although IDEA already required students with disabilities to participate in state- and district-wide assessments, NCLB requires annual tests in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 for all students (Ziegler, 2002). Test results must be disaggregated for students by poverty levels, race, ethnicities, disabilities, and limited English proficiency. Each school and children from each category must achieve state-determined pass rates, which will gradually rise. Annual school “report cards” will provide comparative information on the performance of each school. By doing so, they will empower parents to make more informed choices about their children’s education. These report cards are intended to show not only how well students are doing on meeting standards but also the progress that disaggregated groups are making in closing achievement gaps. Districts and schools that do not make sufficient yearly progress toward state proficiency goals for their students are initially targeted for assistance and then are subject to corrective action and ultimately restructuring. Schools that meet or exceed objectives will be eligible for “academic achievement awards.” Thus, the term high-stakes testing refers to the system of sanctions for schools that do not meet and incentives for the schools that do.
Flexibility and Local Control. NCLB gives states and school districts increased flexibility in how they can use federal education funds. Most districts may transfer up to 50% of the federal formula grant funds they receive under the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, Educational Technology, Innovative Programs, and Safe and Drug-Free Schools programs to any one of these programs or to their Title I program without separate approval.
Enhanced Parental Choice. NCLB gives parents of children in low-performing schools several options. Parents with children in schools that fail to meet state standards for two consecutive years may transfer their children to a better-performing public school, including a public charter school, within their district. If they do so, the district must provide transportation, using Title I funds if necessary. Students from low-income families in schools that fail to meet state standards for 3 years are eligible to receive supplemental educational services—including tutoring, after-school services, and summer school. In addition, NCLB provides increased support to parents, educators, and communities to create new charter schools. Parents can also choose to have their students attend a safe school within their district if they attend persistently dangerous schools or are the victim of a violent crime while in their school.
Focus on What Works. NCLB puts a special emphasis on determining what educational programs and practices have been clearly demonstrated to be effective through rigorous scientific research. The NCLB-funded Reading First programs are a prime example. NCLB provides support for scientifically based reading instruction in the early grades under the new Reading First program and in preschool under the new Early Reading First program. Reading First is designed to help states, school districts, and schools ensure that every child can read at grade level or above by the end of third grade through the implementation of instructional programs and materials, assessments, and professional development grounded in scientifically based reading research. Evidence-based instructional programs focus on the five key areas that research has identified as essential components of reading instruction—phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle (i.e., phonics), fluency with text, vocabulary, and comprehension (National Reading Panel, 2000; National Research Council, 1998).
Implications for Students with Disabilities. It is too early to know how NCLB will affect students with disabilities and the quality of education they receive. The inclusion of all students’ scores on high-stakes tests in a school district’s report card has resulted in higher expectations for achievement by students receiving special education and increased accountability of schools to help them attain it. Some students with mild to moderate disabilities are provided with accommodations (e.g., additional time, large print) when taking district- and statewide tests. Students with severe disabilities for whom standard academic achievement tests would be inappropriate can take alternative assessments (e.g., a video portfolio demonstrating improvements in language or adaptive behavior) if their IEP team recommends them (Bolt & Thurlow, 2004). NCLB expects all students to make adequate progress, but it is not yet clear how states will define adequate progress for students with severe intellectual disabilities (Browder & Cooper-Duffy, 2003).
Noting that NCLB is a complex and controversial law, Yell and Drasgow (2005) state, “For the first time, education is accountable for making improvement in students’ academic performance. NCLB points educators toward the tool that will allow schools to make meaningful changes in the academic achievement of their students: scientifically-based research” (p. 118). Indeed, the emphasis on scientifically proven curriculum and instruction, especially with the Reading First grants, offers the promise of effective reading instruction in the early grades, which could reduce the number of children who require special education because of reading problems.
While acknowledging some of positive aspects of NCLB, Moores compared it to the overly optimistic, and subsequently scrapped Goals 2000: Educate America Act of 1994.
Despite its failure to meet unrealistic targets, the Goals 2000 effort had some positive impact. It drew attention to the need for improved instruction and accountability, especially in terms of measurable outcomes. It also provided the background for the much more ambitious No Child Left Behind legislation, which may be thought of as a sort of Goals 2014, but with more teeth and more financial backing than Goals 2000. . . . There is a clear commitment to improving American education. As with Goals 2000, NCLB has some very positive elements to it.
Having said that, NCLB could also be an unmitigated disaster. There are political and financial considerations. Bipartisan support seems to be eroding, with increasing criticism of the legislation and its implementation. Originally 32 billion dollars was authorized for NCLB for fiscal year 2004, but Congress only appropriated 22 billion dollars, with the states, many of which are facing budget deficits, expected to pick up the slack and still meet the federal requirements. This raises the specter of one more underfunded federal mandate.
The main problem, of course, is that the goals are impossible; 100% success will never be attained and we all know it. In Garrison Keillor’s mythical Norwegian-American town of Lake Woebegone in Minnesota all of the men were handsome, all of the women were beautiful, and all of the children were above average. Perhaps all of those children would meet the proficiency standards, but in real life it will never happen.
. . . I went on the web to check results for six of the largest school districts for my home state, Maryland, for 2002–2003. The goal for reading was that only 43.4%—not 100%—of students had to score at the proficient level. The results were disappointing, but expected, with children from low income or limited English environments struggling. The biggest gap, however, occurred with children in the special education category. Special education children did not meet the 43.4% goal in any school district, meaning that all the districts technically could be labeled as failing. This is patently foolish. We all know that when NCLB was passed little or no consideration was given to children receiving special services. (Moores, 2004, p. 348)
© ______ 2006, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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