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No Child Left Behind Policy Analysis

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The role of the federal government in setting education policy increased significantly with the passage by Congress of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, a sweeping education reform law that revised the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. "Federal policy has played a major role in supporting standards-based reform since the passage of the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA) of 1994. That law required states to establish challenging content and performance standards, implement assessments...hold school systems accountable..." (Goertz, 2005, pg. 73)

American attitudes toward the public schools have changed radically in the last 50 years. In the 1940s public opinion polls showed that 87 percent of Americans were satisfied with the public school system. By the late 1990s, however, many Americans believed the school system was in need of an overhaul, and in the November 1998 congressional elections voters in nearly every state ranked education reform as the number one or number two issue on their minds.

This change in attitude began in the 1960s and 1970s, but a major impetus was a 1983 U.S. Department of Education report titled A Nation at Risk. By linking U.S. economic troubles in the late 1970s and early 1980s to perceived problems with the U.S. education system, A Nation at Risk sent the message that the public schools were standing in the way of a strong economy, sparking a crisis of confidence in the public school system.

As a result many politicians found themselves called upon to "fix the schools" and "restore their greatness," triggering a 15-year period of reform. Although most experts believe further reforms are warranted, the agreement ends there. Some want to toughen curriculum requirements and increase teachers' salaries to attract more competent teachers, while others think the answer lies in tackling issues such as poor parenting and poverty, which they believe are the main impediments to progress in education. Still others want to offer parents greater choices in selecting schools for their children by establishing new types of schools that would compete with public schools for students and resources.

Description of the Policy

Signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, the NCLB Act seeks to identify poorly performing public schools by requiring states to test students in grades three through eight annually in reading and math. Schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward state proficiency standards must allow students to transfer to better-performing public schools. If poor performance continues, schools must offer supplemental services such as private tutoring; persistently failing schools must take corrective actions, such as replacing certain teachers or changing the curriculum, or risk being restructured or taken over by the state.

The reasoning behind passing this legislation was to bolster the academic programs in schools and is amended from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The purpose of the No Child Left Behind Act "is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments." (Department of Education, 2002, pg. 15) The government has spelled out specific points in how to achieve these goals. These include: establishing academic assessments, accountability, ample teacher certification, associated with stimulating State educational standards. Another large aspect of this policy is the issue of accountability. Schools who are consistently failing must either improve or allow their students to go elsewhere at the school's expense.

While many school choice supporters believe choice programs will force public schools to improve in order to compete for students and funding, opponents fear that the loss of students to choice programs will consign poor and disadvantaged students to shrunken, under-funded public school systems. Students who come from richer background, for example, could afford to arrange transportation to a more attractive school located outside their immediate vicinity. Poorer students, however, would have to rely on public funds for transportation. If these funds were not forthcoming, these students would see their choices effectively curtailed.

The intended beneficiaries of the policy are students in public schools. In addition, schools, teachers, and communities may improve as a result of these enhanced standards. The success or lack there of, of this policy is defined by the assessments students complete to measure AYP.

NCLB sets some new strategic directions to reform American education. The focus of President Bush's education agenda is to shift federal education dollars away from an emphasis on improving schools to an improvement of student performance and a closing of the gap between disadvantaged students and their peers. NCLB is structured to tie funding to accountability and results.

All states are now required to set high standards in math and reading and to develop assessments that will measure progress by annually testing of all students in grades 3 through 8 in both math and reading. The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), also known as "the Nation's Report Card," will be used to test a sample of students in each state as a validation of the of the state test results.

The law requires that levels of progress toward proficiency must rise incrementally, leading to 100% of the students at the level of academic proficiency at the end of twelve years. If a public school fails to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years, additional resources will be provided by the district to spur improvement. Also, at that time students must be offered the alternative to transfer to a better performing public school, with the district providing transportation. If a school fails to progress for a third year, the school must offer students supplemental services chosen by the parents. Such services may include private tutors or programs sponsored by religious organizations.

Although NCLB federally mandates accountability, the law remains true to the principle of local control and flexibility by allowing states to develop their own standards and assessments and grants greater discretion to local school districts (LEAs) to spend up to half of their federal education dollars at programs that will assist them in achieving their goals. Districts may consolidate programs, apart from Title I to fund initiatives that would best achieve their goals, but they may not do so in ways that would exclude private school students from equitable



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