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No Child Left Behind - Essay

Updated on May 10, 2014

No Child Left Behind Act

Who is Being Left Behind?

No child should be left behind. But to what extent should the government prevent a child from being left behind in school? For starters, former President George W. Bush signed the “No Child Left Behind Act” into law on the 8th of January 2002. “The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the central federal law in pre-collegiate education” (No Child Left Behind). This Act certifies that each and every student should receive a worthy education regardless of his or her nationality or socioeconomic status. A significant controversy occurred right after this Act was passed, because of the strict requirements that it entails.

According to a news report by USA Today, the proficiency requirements of the NCLB act are extremely unrealistic to meet. In addition, the article claims that the schools focus too much on test-taking practices and strategies on specific subjects, such as math and English, leaving no attention to succeed in other subjects such as science. President Obama wants to change these fundamentals of the NCLB, and give attention to schools who have less than stellar performance, but that is later in this essay.

“There has been controversy surrounding No Child Left Behind. Teachers, schools, educational organizations and even entire states have come forth and declared No Child Left Behind to be "flawed" and "ineffective" for various reasons” (Understanding No Child Left Behind). What could the contents of the bill be to make it so controversial? A simple answer would be that too much pressure is put on each school. A more complex answer follows. The bill mandates that by the 2005 school year, teachers will have met specific licensing and certification requirements to ensure quality of education. The prospective goals do not end here. Students are required to achieve mastery levels in school by 2013, but these mastery levels will vary by state, depending on what they deem appropriate.

Funding is needed for just about everything. Since each branch of government has signed it, including the president, it would mean that they agreed on the funding, right? For a bill to be approved into law, the approval of the judicial and legislative branches, and finally, the executive branch (president’s signature) is required, so it is obvious that they agreed on the funding, right? Wrong. For the NCLB to remain effective, 7 billion dollars would be required to run all these requirements, but they only approved 400 million, leaving the rest to the schools. Let’s say that this 400 million is split evenly over the 7 years, that would mean approximately 51 million per year, leaving the schools responsible for the rest of the money, which would be approximately 949 million to make one billion per year. Another source claims that the program ranges from $1.9 billion to $7 billion, while only $2.34 billion of funding was approved for the years 2002 through 2007, a period of five years. (Implementing the No Child Left Behind Act: Challenges for the States) I don’t know which one is actually reliable, but the point is that the government does not provide enough funding, period.

This is extremely burdensome for the school administration, especially since it is not a decision that they made upon themselves, but a requirement of the bill.

“…Feels that the goals of No Child Left Behind are admirable, but the means to meet those goals just aren't there. The spokeswoman fails to see how the goals will be realized without complete federal funding since states are facing deficits and ongoing issues with budget cuts as it is” (Understanding No Child Left Behind).

I am sure that the passing of the NCLB is in good means, but where is the support? Where is the proper funding? Without all this, if the state is in financial trouble, then that means an easy takeover by the government. That’s wrong. What about the children? Given that the NCLB requires each state to maintain a specific level of proficiency on subjects, and excessive testing measures, the focus goes mostly on math and reading. “The NCLB Act expands testing in reading and mathematics significantly, from at least once during each of three grade spans—3rd to 5th, 6th to 9th, and 10th to 12th—to every student, annually, in Grades 3 through 8, and once in high school.” (Implementing the No Child Left Behind Act: Challenges for the States).

How will children be affected by so many tests? There is a lot of pressure to take a state test annually, especially given its emphasis to do well. What if a child does not meet the standards by one single point, why should he/she be left back a grade? The families would be outraged. And what about the teachers? They will also be pressured with the responsibility to have children do well in English and math, giving attention solely to those two subjects. Because so much attention will be given to those two, other subjects such as science, art, music and such will be ignored, and where is this “quality of learning”?

The NCLB is also unconstitutional. Why is it? Simply because nowhere on the constitution mentions anything about educational standards. This raises a new issue that the government has crossed boundaries. Arguments against this controversy argue that despite it being under federal order, each state has its freedom in how they decide to spend the funds and it is also up to them to set proficiency levels. “It is also important to note that the federal government has had a hand in educational standards for quite some time, so No Child Left Behind is not the first instance of federal influence on school standards.” (Understanding No Child Left Behind).

The NCLB, as I stated earlier, claims for excellent education for students regardless of nationality and socioeconomic status. The truth of the matter is that it does not; it’s probably just a statement made to create a good reputation of the act. I came across a journal article titled “High‐Flying Schools, Student Disadvantage, and the Logic of NCLB,” written by Douglas N. Harris from Florida State University. He is an assistant professor of education and economics. In this article, he sets out to explain the NCLB’s accountability.

We live in a world where racism is as real as ever, where social class is important, and where education is not the same for everyone. Off point, it would be factual to say that black people are typically less financially stable than white people. Most of the top private colleges are ridiculously expensive – Harvard, Yale, Columbia, etc. These same colleges also have the highest amount of white students, and receive tons of grants from other wealthy individuals. Many black people do not go to college because of the ridiculous tuition of these colleges. Back to the point, how would you know the same does not apply for public schools from grades K-12? They do not have to be top schools, but certainly those who have more white students of a higher socioeconomic status will have better chance of upholding to NCLB standards of high proficiency.

Those who study and debate the issue of educational inequity, while they may disagree on important issues of politics and ideology, can almost always agree on two conclusions. First, despite significant advances in recent decades, inequities in educational outcomes across racial and income groups are still large. Second, these inequities represent one of the most significant problems of the educational. (High‐Flying Schools, Student Disadvantage, and the Logic of NCLB)

These issues, including inequality, are some of the top factors as to why students in some schools succeed better than those in others. Because of the high standards set by the NCLB, more children are sent to special needs classes. Not because they actually require special needs, but because schools are responsible to uphold proficiency levels, and if these disadvantaged children remain in those schools and the average score of the test is low, then it shows that the school fails as a whole.

What does it mean when a student is disadvantaged? Mainly, it means that they learn at a slower pace than other children. In turn, this makes schools more liable to them, because they would have to put double the time and effort on these children. Basically, they would have to help them learn faster than the other students. According to the NCLB, if these schools become successful, then they would be rewarded more than schools that have regularly advantaged students. However, if these schools fail at improving these children to their proper grade level proficiency, they will be punished.

Moving on, schools that have children that come from high poverty are more likely to have children who suffer academically. As Harris stated:

With more stringent definitions of performance, low‐poverty schools are 22 times more likely to be high performing than high‐poverty schools and low‐poverty, low‐minority schools are 89 times more likely to be reach this performance level compared with their high‐poverty, high‐minority counterparts. (High‐Flying Schools, Student Disadvantage, and the Logic of NCLB)

Why does this happen? For one, students that live in high-poverty families are less likely to attend because they often become sick, considering the lack of insurance and living conditions, which include nutrition. This of course causes them to miss many lessons and eventually fall behind in school. Also, children who come from these home conditions suffer more emotional and physical abuse because parents become financially stressed – and take it out on their children. And of course, how are children able to perform well academically, when at home they have to endure these situations? Let’s not forget that most of these students are also minorities.

The unfortunate truth of these causes is that the NCLB ignores accountability of the students. What does this mean? Like I mentioned earlier, schools have different programs in order to help disadvantaged children succeed. The NCLB does not believe in there kind of programs. In fact, it only believes in short-term solutions in order to make children succeed, instead of actually making them learn. The way they see it, these disadvantaged children contribute to insufficient scores and make the school appear as if they are failing, so instead the NCLB forces them to change how the school runs.

In addition to schools that are high-poverty and high-minority, and schools that are low-poverty, low-minority, there are the so-called “high flyers,” which are schools that are high-poverty as well as high performing and there are about 4,000 schools in this category. Sounds good right? But not necessarily, this actually makes up a small fraction of schools.

This brings me to a new subject, education for the deaf. The NCLB act focuses on improving schools, but they actually “leave behind” special education. Why did this happen?

The law has great and lofty goals, but some will be difficult to attain for many children with disabilities, including many deaf children. One issue is the age-old problem of how to teach deaf children to read. No Child Left Behind focuses on the “Reading First” initiative, which is part of the Title I requirements. (Navigating the Difficult Waters of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2011: What it Means for the Education of the Deaf)

This initiative allows for five factors, such as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. (Navigating the Difficult Waters of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2011: What it Means for the Education of the Deaf) This makes it unable for deaf children to pass the required tests established by the Reading First initiative put forth by the NCLB. Sure, educators could put themselves through school to come up with a solution for this conflict, but a general teaching degree and education for the deaf require more years than a teaching degree alone. Also, teaching degrees also tend to focus on one subject area, and deaf educators would need to be experts in every subject in order to truly be able to be considered proficient under the NCLB, which is nearly impossible and would take many years of education.

I understand the difficulty of this situation, but I do not agree with it. Educators do not necessarily need to be experts in every subject area; there can be different teachers teaching different subjects in one school. Speaking from experience, once I moved to the United States after living in two countries, English language was foreign to me. I was first enrolled in a deaf school, in a small class with less than 10 students, and was assigned an Italian translator (NOT a sign-language interpreter) because I did not know English. From that point, I refused to do any assignments until I completely learned English, and thus motivated myself into learning English. I had all types of books to help me with this – grammar books, spelling, vocabulary. I lost my hearing a year or two before moving to the United States in 1997, and began school the following year, beginning in the 4th grade. By the 6th grade, the curriculum of my deaf class was too slow for me – and I am not saying it to sound good. All my teachers felt that it was best for me to go into a mainstream school.

This was obviously before the NCLB was passed, but this makes me wonder why if teachers know that the deaf program is certainly not good enough for me, why is it OK for others to remain in a deaf class? I am sure most of them did not have the same proficiency as me, but that’s because these deaf schools hinder progress by teaching the same topic for nearly two weeks. What if many teachers notice a student progressing but do not conclude that they should mainstream? Does that mean they have to endure a lesser education? And I am not saying this to insult deaf schools; I just truly believe that changes can be made to improve deaf education. There are many teachers that know sign language and teach different subjects.

Moving on, after President Obama took office in 2008, he took a vow to change the NCLB act. As I mentioned earlier, it is believed that the goals are too great to achieve. According to USA Today, President Obama said: “he would waive requirements in exchange for a promise that states adopt…higher academic standards and a promise to intervene in the lowest-performing schools.” (No Child Left Behind Option Meets Praise and Caution). This, in my opinion, is a more realistic measure than what the NCLB offered, it puts so much stress on schools and scores, and scores can vary in so many ways. Adopting a new scoring system, of course, would be expensive. But most states are in approval of this proposal. “Under NCLB, states must set aside about $1billion for tutoring and school transfers — two provisions that would go away under the waivers.” Why wouldn’t schools want to save money?

In my opinion, I believe that the reason that the NCLB was created was for a good purpose. However, I do not think that the government actually put much thought on the consequences for the schools and the financial burden it would put them through. I also do not believe that the NCLB gives kids actual proficiency, because even if there are 90% of schools scoring well on proficiency, how do we know how the schools got to that point? Especially in the current times, many teachers will help students cheat – or go out of their way to obtain an answer sheet to each exam. The fact that so much responsibility is put on the schools, if they want to avoid state takeover I believe they would try anything to achieve NCLB standards.

Obama definitely has better intentions than Bush originally did with the NCLB, but I’m certain that there is much more to the NCLB than I can explain in a 10-page essay. I think that an effective solution would to be to give each state an option on whether to be part of the NCLB act or not. This is especially useful for schools that are not financially stable, because the price of the NCLB is ridiculous.

In conclusion, the NCLB has a lot of flaws, in my opinion. It is definitely a good thing that Obama is taking action to reform the NCLB act. I also think that it is important that the NCLB focuses on high-poverty and high-minority schools, as well as with deaf schools, because they are also in need. You cannot achieve proficiency if you stick to a specific range of students. Where is the success in that?


Anonymous. (2004. Updated 2011). No Child Left Behind. Retrieved from 15 Nov 2011

Chen, G. (2007). Understanding no child left behind. Retrieved from 19 Nov 2011

Goertz, M. E. (2005). Implementing the No Child Left Behind Act: Challenges for the States. Peabody Journal Of Education, 80(2), 73-89. doi:10.1207/S15327930pje8002_5

Harris, D. N. (2007). High-flying schools, student disadvantage, and the logic of NCLB. American Journal Of Education, 113(3), 367-394. doi:10.1086/512737

Steffan, R. r. (2004). Navigating the Difficult Waters of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001: What It Means for Education of the Deaf. American Annals Of The Deaf, 149(1), 46-50. doi:10.1353/aad.2004.0017

Toppo, G. (2011) No Chld Left Behind option meets praise and caution. USA Today. Retrieved from 2 Nov 2011

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