On January 8, 2002 President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act of2001 (NCLB Act). This historic piece of education legislation reauthorized and considerably expanded the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, first endorse in1965. Its most important title, Title I, has focused federal government attention and money on students in high poverty schools for over 35 years. Congress made noteworthy changes to the law in 1994, and the most recent changes build upon them dramatically. It also provided momentous funding increases. The new Act is the result of bipartisan leadership among five political leaders -- President Bush, Senators Kennedy and Gregg and Representatives Boehner and Miller -- and a large majority of the U.S. Congress who were clearly fed up with insufficient learning among the groups of students that federal programs are most supposed to help.(Dickard, 2001)
While a determined band of educators, advocates, and their philanthropic clique have pushed hard over the past decade and a half to improve the achievement and development of young adolescents, federally funded programs have practically ignored these students. Title I funds touched them infrequently, focusing chiefly on elementary school grades. Vocational education funds were for high school students. Safe and Drug Free Schools, Gear Up, and fractions of other programs helped students in the middle grades a bit, but no federal money supported their core academic learning.
The year 2001 began with the arrival of a new federal Administration that made education its top domestic precedence. In January 2001 President Bush sent to Congress his No Child Left Behind proposal. He specifically noted that over two-thirds of low-income and minority fourth graders are unable to read at a basic level and that "the federal government is partly at fault for tolerating these abysmal results."(Bush, 2001) He decried that "[t]he academic achievement gap between rich and poor, Anglo and minority is not only wide,
But in some cases is growing wider still."2 He called for bipartisan solutions to these challenges and proposed new programs, tougher accountability, and appropriations augment. Obviously, Congress responded in a bipartisan fashion. The NCLB Act continues the historic federal role of promoting equity and quality in elementary and secondary education, but with more money and teeth. It continues the federal "take it or leave it" approach that says, "if you want our money, you must meet our requirements." Of course this presuppose that federal politicians and bureaucrats will monitor implementation closely and "enforce" their requirements. The record of accomplishment here is spotty at best.
Implications and Predictions
The No Child Left Behind Act and the accompanying fund amplify offer many opportunities -- if taken by educators, advocates, parents, communities, and students -- to improve teaching and achievement of young adolescents. It aims federal money more than ever to high-poverty schools and districts. It is also includes tougher requirements because most educators did not take critically enough the provisions of the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Will the law be implemented as intended?
There are signs that many of its requirements make sense because states and districts have already begun conforming to them. The bully pulpits of the President and Secretary of Education have constantly sent an unwavering message of seriousness of purpose.
1. Building on this with more focused policy and program implementation, technical aid, and research strategies directed to children historically left behind. The Title I office in the U.S. Department of Education is refurbishing its monitoring and compliance activities. This spring it is initiating success-focused audits of states starting with those with the lowest student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and biggest achievement gaps.
2. Some states will comply voluntarily with the new requirements. Others will quietly wait and see if the federal government is solemn about enforcement. Still others will challenge the government every step of the way and use political pressure to attempt to stop its enforcement activities. A very few may refuse to apply for funds, but they may be susceptible to civil rights litigation if they do.
3. Much better data on student achievement and teacher qualifications and performance will be available soon from all states. It will provide powerful tools for advocates, parents, and the publics who can demand alter through publicity and the ballot box.
4. There is possibility to get more attention to reading and language arts in the middle grades as well as the earlier grades. NAEP data shows more progress in math than reading. The ultimately reporting of reading and math achievement scores for each middle grade is likely to depict more clearly the stagnation in middle grade reading and language arts performance, mainly for low income and minority youngsters. The typical African-American, Latino, or low-income 12th grader reads at the same level as the typical white and non-poor 8th grader.
5. Getting information out to schools about prospect in the NCLB Act will be a major challenge. It is hard to break the pattern of "business as usual" at the district and school level. The answerability and testing messages will be heard first.
6. On the other hand, states will be strengthening, sharpening, and refining their accountability systems particularly with regard to use of accomplishment data. This is an opportunity to align school and district data and to push for high-quality tools.
7. All states will now hold accountable all districts and schools for student triumph gains toward proficiency by subgroups. There is a good chance that this will result in new state attention to low performing districts and schools. There are facts that this is happening in some states, usually through a combination of court rulings, state legislative action, and enlightened bureaucracy execution. These states are learning from other states that have already made substantial progress with low-income and minority students by following frameworks very comparable to the one laid out in the NCLB Act.
8. There will be less wiggle room about which schools are low performing. There are likely to be more schools identified as in need of enhancement because of constraints on states in the law about the use of nonacademic indicators.
9. There should be more and better help, although getting good, honest lists of programs and strategies that are precisely-based will be difficult. Several major national initiatives are underway to do this. grade improvement strategies and programs.
11. The unprecedented focus on recognize unqualified teachers and paraprofessionals and requirements to strengthen teacher quality and professional development may well stimulate development of new teacher reimbursement systems based on skills and performance and increases in teacher pay. This is the time for teacher advocates to join forces with advocates for disadvantaged children and state elected officials.
12. It is also likely to lead to primary improvements in teacher preparation programs because if this does not happen Congress may next impose accountability requirements on universities receiving federal funds. Finally, there is the issue of whether a goal of getting all students to be proficient learners in 12 years is absolutely unrealistic. Many say it is. Perhaps it is. But if you do not know where you want to go, how can you ever get there? Surely it should be possible to at least get every low-income and minority student performing at the basic achievement levels by 2014 -- instead of the two-thirds performing below the basic level now -- and a majority performing at the proficient level. This would be an amazing triumph for this nation, if still far from a goal it should keep pursuing.
In most places, big changes are coming in state testing for elementary and middle schools.
1. The provisions of the NCLB Act will require a more homogeneous pattern of state testing than has ever been seen in the United States. By school year 2005-2006, all states taking NCLB Act funds must assess reading/language arts and math every year in every school from third through eighth grade. In school year 2007-2008, they must add annual science assessments in at least one upper elementary, middle, and high school grade. They must also add one extra academic indicator -- graduation rates for high school and optional one for elementary and middle schools. While states may design their own tests, they must be associated with state academic standards and be comparable from year to year. They must include measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding. The tests must be valid and trustworthy. States must report scores in terms of proficiency against state standards, not percentiles. As noted above, states must make regular public reports about the results, disaggregated by student subgroups. At least 95% of each student subgroup must take these tests. Sensible accommodations must be made for disabled and second language learners. For the latter group, until they reach English proficiency (but for no more than five years) they must be tested in reading/language arts and math, if feasible, in their native language. Beginning next year, second language learners must also be tested annually on…