July 18 2013
Vicki E. Alger
Congress is debating the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) signed into law by President George W. Bush on January 8, 2002.
NCLB is the eighth reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, which was a key program in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. The law was supposed to be reauthorized in 2007, but no bill has made it out of Congress.
NCLB directs federal funds to a variety of special programs that are supposed to improve education for disadvantaged students. NCLB stands apart from previous reauthorizations because it mandates annual statewide testing for all students in grades three through eight as well as once in high school. Test results for all student sub-groups must be made public. NCLB further requires that states meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets with the goal that all students will be proficient in reading and math. Schools and districts that miss AYP targets are subject to federally-mandated corrections.
One hundred percent of American public school children, regardless of income, race, disability, or native language, are supposed to be proficient in reading and math. No state is even close. The Obama Administration has given 39 states waivers from meeting NCLB proficiency and other mandates, and reauthorization bills are pending in the House and Senate.
However, more fundamental change is needed: NCLB should be scrapped and control over education returned to states and localities.