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What are Some Criticisms of No Child Left Behind?

No Child Left Behind aimed to boost education, but critics argue it narrowed curriculum, overemphasized standardized testing, and underfunded mandates. Teachers felt pressured to "teach to the test," potentially stifling creativity and critical thinking. Equity gaps persisted, questioning the law's effectiveness. How might these challenges inform future educational reforms? Join the conversation and explore the impact on our schools.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is a controversial piece of legislation passed in the United States in 2001 to fulfill President George W. Bush's promises of sweeping educational reform. Many Americans agree that the public education system is in need of drastic changes so that American children can be better served. However, some Americans feel that the legislation was not a productive response to the problem. Many classroom teachers, educational activists, and advocates for alternative education have spoken out against NCLB.

One of the most serious criticisms of No Child Left Behind is an issue of funding and unfunded mandates. Critics say that education funding is not a high priority in the United States, with many schools finding their budgets cut repeatedly year after year. This makes it difficult to purchase textbooks, let alone implement policies required. Many teachers or potential teachers who can offer excellent instruction are often reluctant to enter the public school system, which is notorious - especially in urban areas - for having decaying facilities and low compensation for teachers. In especially poor districts, teachers are sometimes forced to purchase classroom supplies out of pocket if they want their students to have access to art supplies, paper, and other educational tools. The strict requirements of NCLB can be a financial drain on schools and districts already strapped for cash.

Standardized tests are used to help assess schools under No Child Left Behind.
Standardized tests are used to help assess schools under No Child Left Behind.

Many critics of No Child Left Behind also argue strongly against the use of standardized testing to evaluate school progress. Studies have shown that some students simply perform better on standardized tests than others, and that good performance on testing does not necessarily reflect a higher quality education, especially when many classroom teachers feel pressured to “teach to the test” in order to ensure good scores for their school district. Furthermore, some school districts may feel tempted to stack the deck in their favor by excluding students whom they know will perform badly, such as the developmentally disabled and English as a Second Language students. Also, because the tests are set on a state by state basis, individual states have the ability to manipulate the material on them to make test taking easier for their students, making them an invalid measure of progress and abilities. Opponents of NCLB also point out that the standardized tests are thought to have cultural and linguistic biases; including testing recently immigrated non-English speaking students in English.

Many classroom teachers have spoken out against NCLB.
Many classroom teachers have spoken out against NCLB.

If a school is determined to be "failing" under the NCLB standards, sanctions are imposed on the school. Many organizations including the American Federation of Teachers believe that these sanctions are not a helpful way to address failing schools, because they are viewed as penalizing, rather than supportive. Some of the sanctions are sensible; for example, when a school is identified as in need of improvement, a school improvement plan is developed as a cooperative effort between parents, teachers, administrators, and the department of education. This improvement plan must clearly address the ways in which the school intends to rectify the situation.

Some teachers argue that children learn at different paces, even in a classroom setting.
Some teachers argue that children learn at different paces, even in a classroom setting.

However, many of these sanctions are perceived as punitive, and potentially harmful to the troubled school district. Parents with children in schools undergoing sanctions are allowed to transfer them to another district, and the failing district is required to pay for transportation costs to the new school. Furthermore, while the sanctions include measures like providing extra assistance to students in need of it, this assistance must fall within guidelines which some teachers feel are very narrow, because No Child Left Behind places a heavy emphasis on specific scientific research. While some students may be well-served by the services that schools can offer them under this legislation, many teachers wish to be able to offer a wider range of assistance, even if this help includes non-conventional educational approaches.

Many great teachers come under scrutiny because their students do not perform well on standardized tests.
Many great teachers come under scrutiny because their students do not perform well on standardized tests.

Some critics also believe that the requirements for corrective action are too restrictive. These requirements include firing “school staff relevant to the failure,” according to the Department of Education, along with restructuring school management, bringing in educational professionals from outside the school district, and creating a new curriculum. If a school continues to struggle, it may be closed, or reopened under new management, often under an umbrella corporation that offers educational services to various states which need to close and reopen schools under No Child Left Behind sanctions. Some teachers feel that these sanctions ultimately harm the school district and children that they are supposed to be helping. Critics of NCLB point out that this "restructuring," or "reconstitution," is likely to dismantle school community, disrupting the working environment, learning environment, and community connections to the schools.

Frequently Asked Questions

What were the main criticisms of the No Child Left Behind Act?

Some people say No Child Left Behind doesn't take the importance of arts education into account.
Some people say No Child Left Behind doesn't take the importance of arts education into account.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) faced criticism for its one-size-fits-all approach, which often did not account for the diverse needs of students. Critics argued that it placed too much emphasis on standardized testing, leading to a narrowing of the curriculum and teaching to the test. Additionally, it imposed unrealistic proficiency goals, which many schools found unattainable, and it did not adequately fund the mandates it set, leaving schools struggling to comply.

How did No Child Left Behind affect teachers and their teaching methods?

Some people believe the importance of standardized testing scores is overstated in No Child Left Behind.
Some people believe the importance of standardized testing scores is overstated in No Child Left Behind.

No Child Left Behind significantly impacted teachers by increasing the pressure to improve test scores. This often resulted in a narrowed focus on math and reading at the expense of other subjects. Teachers reported feeling compelled to teach to the test, which some argued stifled creativity and reduced the quality of education. The high-stakes nature of the testing also led to increased stress among educators, with their performance being closely tied to student test results.

Did No Child Left Behind improve student performance?

Some opponents believe that standardized tests have cultural and linguistic biases.
Some opponents believe that standardized tests have cultural and linguistic biases.

While No Child Left Behind aimed to improve student performance, the results were mixed. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, there were some initial gains in math and reading scores, but progress plateaued and achievement gaps persisted. Critics argue that the focus on testing did not translate into long-term educational improvements or adequately prepare students for college and careers.

What were the consequences for schools that did not meet NCLB requirements?

Some teachers may feel pressured to "teach to the test" so that their students perform well on standardized tests.
Some teachers may feel pressured to "teach to the test" so that their students perform well on standardized tests.

Schools that failed to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements set by No Child Left Behind faced a series of escalating sanctions. These could include offering supplemental educational services, school choice options for students, corrective action plans, and restructuring measures. Persistent failure to meet AYP could lead to staff replacement, state takeover, or conversion to a charter school, which critics say unfairly penalized schools serving disadvantaged communities.

Has No Child Left Behind been replaced or updated?

Yes, No Child Left Behind was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015. ESSA aimed to address many of the criticisms of NCLB by giving states more flexibility in setting their own educational standards and reducing the emphasis on standardized testing. It also sought to provide a more holistic approach to student success and school accountability, though the long-term impacts of these changes are still being evaluated.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon1007386

It's worth noting that No Child Left Behind was repealed in 2016 and replaced by the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), which changed all of this.

anon309798

I think it would be vital to note that the NCLB legislation which was passed in 2001 is merely a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which was passed as part of Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty." Not too many in the liberal left are willing to admit that tiny tidbit.

anon250871

As public school teacher I am disheartened to realize the large amount of time, resources, effort, etc. for almost nothing. Unfortunately, students do not test for the sake of learning. Spending so much just to 'make the grade' or to save a school from failure is a dog and pony show.

The teaching needs reform, no doubt, but there is too much politics involved here.

anon246397

Opposition to No Child Left Behind is disingenuous at best. It's basic reading and math at grade level If you aren't able to teach that, you shouldn't be teaching. There's nothing tricky about this. It's been done successfully for centuries (without fancy materials), and now suddenly it is difficult?

Claims of "teaching to the test" is a smokescreen phrase used by the teachers' unions in their turf war over the hiring and firing of teachers. Hello! Now poor teachers can be fired. Yeah!

Also, the cultural sensitivity issue is absurd. This is a standardized, across-the-board requirement for commonality. It is necessary and should be desirable. Without this, we are creating communities which are destructive to national integrity and progress.

anon123377

it's a tricky situation. on one hand you do need standards, and you have to enforce this somehow, but if you penalize the school monetarily, and with budget cuts, how is that going to help. Teachers also only teach the test. I had a class where we had a previous test version or something and we used it like a textbook for at least two weeks.

anon103409

Its not only the no child left behind but the WASL (or what ever they changed it to) testing.

The schools are only teaching the material that's on the test! No more history, PE, etc. So we will have fat kids who know nothing about the history of the country?

I think its wrong!

These kids need to be given all the tools they need to survive in the world after graduation because some kids won't be going to college after high school. What do the schools offer these kids? Nothing!

comfyshoes

Sunny27- I agree with you. Standards are required in every business and every job, why is this different? I think that the problem with the schools is not the funding but the unions.

School districts with the highest concentration of unions offer the poorest education. Why? It is far more difficult to fire a unionized teacher.

But if the performance of the school is lacking than the teachers along with the administration should be held accountable. No Child Left Behind does that.

Sunny27

Excellent article, but I have to say that standard testing offers a standard measurement of what the student has learned. How else are we finding out how our children are doing?

While standardize testing creates a certain level of stress for the student and the teacher, it also identifies failing schools and exemplary ones as well.

Standards have to be set and education is no exception. Schools need accountability and this is the fairest way to accomplish that. A school district in New England fired the entire staff of teachers at a failing high school. This was thought of as controversial, but do the parents of the students that attend that school think so?

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    • Standardized tests are used to help assess schools under No Child Left Behind.
      By: R MACKAY
      Standardized tests are used to help assess schools under No Child Left Behind.
    • Many classroom teachers have spoken out against NCLB.
      By: paylessimages
      Many classroom teachers have spoken out against NCLB.
    • Some teachers argue that children learn at different paces, even in a classroom setting.
      By: sepy
      Some teachers argue that children learn at different paces, even in a classroom setting.
    • Many great teachers come under scrutiny because their students do not perform well on standardized tests.
      By: Andres Rodriguez
      Many great teachers come under scrutiny because their students do not perform well on standardized tests.
    • Some people say No Child Left Behind doesn't take the importance of arts education into account.
      By: libyphhoto
      Some people say No Child Left Behind doesn't take the importance of arts education into account.
    • Some people believe the importance of standardized testing scores is overstated in No Child Left Behind.
      By: Lisa F. Young
      Some people believe the importance of standardized testing scores is overstated in No Child Left Behind.
    • Some opponents believe that standardized tests have cultural and linguistic biases.
      By: AntonioDiaz
      Some opponents believe that standardized tests have cultural and linguistic biases.
    • Some teachers may feel pressured to "teach to the test" so that their students perform well on standardized tests.
      By: Lisa F. Young
      Some teachers may feel pressured to "teach to the test" so that their students perform well on standardized tests.