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Established in 2001, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was a federal reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education. NCLB sought to improve student outcomes by mandating certain standards and measurable goals and required all states to develop assessment measures regarding student skill level in order to receive federal education funding. States were also responsible for ensuring that all students at certain grade levels were given the assessments and results were reported at the federal level.

Although NCLB was formulated and passed with bipartisan support, that support began to wane significantly in the years following its passage. Many critics claimed that the act allowed the federal government too much oversight into the educational systems created and maintained by the states, while others believed that the rigid standards and assessment requirements placed too much focus on standardized testing results and caused a decline in effective teaching and student learning. The opposition to NCLB grew so strong that the act was repealed in 2015 and replaced with Every Student Succeeds Act.

Despite the criticism NCLB garnered, there were several key successes to the act. It is important to examine these successes alongside its failures to ensure that the concepts that have proven effective continue to be utilized and that the education system learns from its missteps. Here are some of the key successes and failures of the No Child Left Behind Act.


1. Schools with the Means and Ability to Improve Did
One of the primary successes of the No Child Left Behind Act was the fact that those schools and districts with resources and means which had been skating by on just below average achievement were forced to create and implement an effective plan of action to improve student success. These districts no longer were able to hinge their funding on mediocre results and instead began putting more thought and effort into the educational success of each student. For many schools with means simply receiving a warning was enough to spur conversation regarding how teachers and administrators could change their educational program to best meet the needs of the students in such a way that the improvement in achievement could be seen through standardized assessment.

2. Significantly Changed Collection and Use of Data in the Education System
Prior to the enactment of the NCLB, most states did not have a concise system for the collection of educational data or a process for strategic policy changes and implementation based on the data obtained. The adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act not only encouraged state education departments to develop a system of data collection, but it also forced states to analyze that data and implement specific changes to encourage student progress. Most prominently, it forced state education departments and school districts to acknowledge the achievement gaps and inequities faced by vulnerable populations and create and implement an effective plan of action to help affected students meet achievement benchmarks. In essence, it stopped the cycle of school districts being simply satisfied with general achievement and forced the educational systems to begin giving more focus to students who historically have been ignored.

1. Student Achievement Gap Remained Wide
Although much emphasis was placed on standardized testing and teaching became more focused and deliberate on educationally vulnerable populations, the No Child Left Behind Act failed to meet its primary goal of decreasing the achievement gap between affluent and economically disadvantaged students. In fact, studies of the NCLB found that many students within educationally vulnerable populations saw wider gains in the areas of math and reading prior to the enactment of NCLB.

3. Consequences for not Meeting Goals were Punitive and Ineffective
Proponents of NCLB reasoned that by hinging federal funding on improved progress and students meeting annual yearly progress goals, school districts would be highly encouraged and motivated to implement and abide by a protocol which ensured the success for all students within the state. However, that reasoning backfired, as the schools which desperately needed federal funding to continue to serve economically disadvantaged and vulnerable populations were often the ones that had difficulty meeting the set mandates. In more affluent communities, where property taxes help to fund the schools, students had access to the resources necessary to thrive academically and as such, were neither at risk for losing funding nor in need of said funding. Schools in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods began to lose funding and resources necessary to operate schools at the most basic of levels and often saw a decrease in educational progress. Instead of being motivated to effectively improve student achievement, many school districts in poorer neighborhoods instead saw increased state oversight, school closures, and restructuring as a means to mask the ineffectiveness of policies and procedures centered solely on preparing students for standardized testing.

The enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act was done on good intentions. Lawmakers, concerned with the status of the American institution of education, set out to devise a plan of corrective action to jump-start states and school districts into requiring and expecting improvement in achievement amongst all students and not just amongst those with access to considerable resources. While well intended, the act failed to acknowledge the pitfalls of how a punitive system would affect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged students in the country. Instead of acting as a motivator for improvement, the act instead relied too heavily on standardized testing, enacted heavy punishment to schools and districts already struggling and levied resources for progress when many schools needed additional resources in order to meet even minimal benchmarks. 

While NCLB has been abandoned and replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act it is important to note that, while many critics of NCLB claim that the act was an overall failure, there were some key components that worked and should be continued in the future. Most notably the implementation of a system for the collection and reporting of achievement data, as well as policy for implementing effective change based on data collected. In the end, education policy will remain fluid as times change, but by learning from past mistakes and successes, education systems at the state and federal level can continuing striving for student success.


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