The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is the most recent iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), the major federal law authorizing federal spending on programs to support K-12 schooling. ESEA is the largest source of federal spending on elementary and secondary education.
ESEA was enacted in 1965 as part of the Johnson Administration’s War on Poverty campaign. The law’s original goal, which remains today, was to improve educational equity for students from lower income families by providing federal funds to school districts serving poor students. School districts serving lower income students often receive less state and local funding than those serving more affluent children.
Since its initial passage in 1965, ESEA has been reauthorized seven times, most recently in January 2002 as the No Child left Behind Act. Each reauthorization has brought changes to the program, but its central goal of improving the educational opportunities for children from lower income families remains. The 1994 reauthorization, the Improving America’s Schools Act, put in place key standards and accountability elements for states and local school districts that receive funding under the law. These accountability provisions were further developed in the most recent reauthorization, the No Child Left Behind Act.
NCLB and Accountability
Although NCLB covers numerous federal education programs, the law’s requirements for testing, accountability, and school improvement receive the most attention. NCLB requires states to test students in reading and mathematics annually in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12. States must test students in science once in grades 3-5, 6-8, and 10-12. Individual schools, school districts and states must publicly report test results in the aggregate and for specific student subgroups, including low-income students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and major racial and ethnic groups.
NCLB requires states, school districts, and schools to ensure all students are proficient in grade-level math and reading by 2014. States define grade-level performance. Schools must make "adequate yearly progress" toward this goal, whereby proficiency rates increase in the years leading up to 2014. The rate of increase required is chosen by each state. In order for a school to make adequate yearly progress (AYP), it must meet its targets for student reading and math proficiency each year. A state’s total student proficiency rate and the rate achieved by student subgroups are all considered in the AYP determination.
|Source: Wisconsin Department of Education; New America Foundation|
The graph above illustrates the percentage of students in Wisconsin schools who must be proficient each year—in aggregate and for each student subgroup—to make AYP as outlined in Wisconsin’s 2003 plan. In the 2007-08 school year, Wisconsin expected that 74 percent of students would be proficient in reading and 58 percent in math. Like many other states, Wisconsin’s accountability plan set relatively modest proficiency goals for schools in the first 10 years of NCLB but predicts dramatic growth in the out-years. However, Wisconsin applied for and received a waiver from these targets from the Department of Education through the 2013-2014 school year.
School Improvement, Corrective Action, and Restructuring
Schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years are identified for "school improvement," and must draft a school improvement plan, devote at least 10 percent of federal funds provided under Title I of NCLB to teacher professional development. Schools that fail to make AYP for a third year are identified for corrective action, and must institute interventions designed to improve school performance from a list specified in the legislation. Schools that fail to make AYP for a fourth year are identified for restructuring, which requires more significant interventions. If schools fail to make AYP for a fifth year, they much implement a restructuring plan that includes reconstituting school staff and/or leadership, changing the school’s governance arrangement, converting the school to a charter, turning it over to a private management company, or some other major change.
School districts in which a high percentage of schools fail to make AYP for multiple years can also be identified for school improvement, corrective action, and restructuring.
|NCLB School Improvement Timeline|
|Three||Year One of School Improvement
Implement Public School Choice
|Four||Year Two of School Improvement
Continue offering public school choice. Implement Supplemental Education Services
Continue offering school choice and supplemental education services
|Six||Restructuring Planning Year
Continue offering school choice and supplemental education services
|Source: Elementary and Secondary Education Act|
Parent Information, School Choice, Supplemental Educational Services
The first year that a school is in school improvement (after it fails to make AYP for two consecutive years), the school district must offer children the option to transfer to a higher-performing school in the same district. The second year a school is in school improvement, the district must also offer children the option to receive supplemental educational services—tutoring and other outside-of-school services designed to improve academic achievement. School districts must spend up to 20 percent of their federal NCLB Title I funds on public school choice and supplemental services for students in schools identified for school improvement.
NCLB seeks to empower parents by providing them with information about how students, schools, and school districts are performing. NCLB requires that states and local school districts disseminate to parents annual school report cards describing their student and school performance. Local school districts must also produce and distribute to parents a report card for each individual school.
|State, school districts, and school report cards must include the following information:|
|* Percentage of students scoring at each proficiency level on the state assessment, in the aggregate and disaggregated by subgroup|
|* Comparison of student performance to state's annual goals for AYP and, for schools and districts, to statewide and local averages|
|* Percentage of students not tested|
|* Two-year trends in student achievement|
|* Other indicators used by the state for AYP|
|* High school graduation rates|
|* Teacher qualifications, including the percentage of classes taught by teachers who are not highly qualified|
|* For states and school districts, number and names of schools identified for school improvement|
|* For schools, whether or not the school is identified for school improvement|
Highly Qualified Teachers
No Child Left Behind requires all teachers be highly qualified. All teachers must be fully certified by the state or have passed the state teacher licensure exam and have a license to teach in the state. In addition, highly qualified teachers must demonstrate their knowledge of the subject they teach through certain credentials or test scores. NCLB also requires states to take steps to ensure that low-income and minority students are not taught by teachers who are not highly qualified at higher rates than are non-minority and low-income students.
NCLB gives parents the right to know about the qualifications of their child’s teacher. Specifically, parents have the right to know if their child’s teacher meets state licensure and other qualifications, if the teacher is teaching under an emergency license or other waiver, the teacher’s undergraduate major, and any graduate degrees he or she holds. Parents also have the right to know if their child is receiving educational services from paraprofessionals (i.e. teacher aides) and what qualifications those paraprofessionals have. School districts are obligated to inform parents in writing if a teacher who is not highly qualified teaches their child for more than four weeks.
Other NCLB Programs
Although public debate around NCLB tends to focus on the law’s testing, accountability, and teacher quality requirements, NCLB authorizes 45 programs, organized into ten sections, and funded at $21.7 billion in fiscal year 2012.
The Title I program under NCLB provides funds to local school districts to improve the education of disadvantaged students from birth through the 12th grade. It is the largest federal program supporting elementary and secondary education and was funded at $14.5 billion in fiscal year 2012. Funds are distributed to school districts according to a set of formulas based on the size and characteristics of a school district’s student population. School districts have some discretion in how they distribute Title I funds among schools within the district, but the law requires them to prioritize the highest-poverty schools. More than 50,000 schools (almost half of all public schools) receive Title I funds annually. Because Title I is NCLB’s largest program and most school districts receive some funding from it, the law’s requirements for annual testing, accountability, school improvement, and highly-qualified teachers are all part of Title I.
Teacher Quality State Grants
Improving Teacher Quality State Grants provide formula grants to states and school districts to increase academic achievement by improving teacher and principal quality and increasing the number of highly qualified teachers and principals in schools. The Improving Teacher Quality State Grants program was created by combining several smaller class size reduction and teacher professional development programs that existed prior to NCLB. In 2012, the program received $2.5 billion. The Department of Education distributes funds to states, and to school districts within states, on a formula basis. NCLB also authorizes several smaller programs to improve teacher quality, including the Teacher Incentive Fund, which supports the development and implementation of performance-based teacher and principal compensation systems in high-need schools, and the Transition to Teaching Program, which funds alternative teacher preparation programs. In 2012, the Teacher Incentive Fund received $299 million and the Transition to Teaching Program received $26 million.
Education Technology State Grants
Education Technology State Grants provide funds to states and school districts to support technology in elementary and secondary schools. The program was funded at $100 million in 2010. Congress did not appropriate funds for 2011 and beyond. Funds were distributed to states via formula. States distributed 47.5 percent of funding they receive to school districts through a formula, and distributed 47.5 percent to school districts and other local groups through a competitive grant process. States could use up to five percent of the funding they received for state technology activities.
English Language Acquisition
The English Language Acquisition Grants program provides funds to states and school districts to improve education and English language acquisition of children who do not speak English. It was funded at $732 million in 2012, with funds distributed to states and school districts within states on a formula basis. This program was created in NCLB and replaces several bilingual education demonstration and professional development programs that existed prior to the law. This change replaced competitive grant programs with a formula grant program that recognizes the growing number of English language learner students and their dispersion across a large number of school districts throughout the United States.
21st Century Community Learning Centers
The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program provides funding to states to support after-school and extended learning time programs that provide academic enrichment activities for children. It was funded at $1.2 billion in 2012. Funds are distributed to states through a funding formula. States award competitive grants to local providers—including school districts, community-based, and faith-based groups—to administer after-school and extended learning time programs.
Safe and Drug Free Schools
The Safe and Drug-Free Schools program provides financial assistance to states and districts to support programs that create safer schools, prevent violence and drug abuse, and ensure the health and well-being of students by promoting the development of good character and citizenship. In 2011, Congress moved the program to the Office of Safe and Healthy Students and eliminated grants to states and districts. The program now only funds national initiatives and received $65 million in 2012, a $150 million decrease from 2009.
The Impact Aid program provides funds to school districts that serve "federally connected" children, including children whose parents are in the military, whose parents work on federal property, or who live on Indian lands, federal property, or federally subsidized low-rent housing. This funding helps to offset school districts’ loss of revenue because they don’t collect property tax on federal land, and covers some of the cost of educating federally connected children. Impact Aid was funded at $1.3 billion in 2012. Funds are distributed directly to local school districts based on the number of federally connected children they serve. It is the only Department of Education program that allows funds to be spent directly on school construction.