Every Child Left Behind

“We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.”

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered this quote on May 17, 1954, following the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision, thus putting an end to segregation in all schools. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) had a similar goal. NCLB was an act of legislation passed in 2001, pertinent to education, which aimed to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their “more advantaged peers.” The act aimed ultimately to provide and to maintain an equal education to all students; to leave no child left behind. Standardized testing was re-emphasized with this act, encouraging a statewide proficiency base for all schools who required federal funding, which also determined how much of this funding they would receive. State departments have thus become dependent on federal categorical grants for any school-related improvements, such as an increase of staff members or an improvement of a subject’s curriculum. The act’s prescriptive requirements essentially deemed the amount of money every school district would receive to be based on the proficiency in standardized testing for each school district. Every school district that needed federal funding would get an amount based on these requirements. An equal education cannot be provided to students who receive one that is supported by the amount of money their zip code receives. One school will excel further than another, naturally, causing an imbalance among school districts. The more money a school district receives, the higher quality an education a school district can provide to their students. The dependence school districts had on these disproportionate federal funds therefore provided a different education to each school district. The No Child Left Behind Act failed to provide equality of opportunity to students in the educational system.

The No Child Left Behind Act was a heavily-reformed reauthorization of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s (LBJ) Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). It carried on with district report cards and standardized testing, but unlike the preceding act, it aimed mainly to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers. It aimed to close said gap by appropriating Title I federal categorical grants to schools who exhibited the most need for it. According to the Ohio Department of Education, “Title I, Part A of the No Child Left Behind Act provides financial assistance to local educational agencies and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging academic standards.” These federal grants provided aid to schools, but unfairly; they were distributed based on the performance of school districts, which would give some districts more of an advantage as they have potential to receive more money. The National Association for the Education of Young Children stated that, “The 2001 reauthorization of Title I shifted the program’s emphasis from remedial education to helping all disadvantaged students reach rigorous state academic standards of all children.” Rather than helping disadvantaged students in subjects they struggled with, districts were required to implement a state-approved base standard for all students in standardized tests. The goal then is to help them achieve proficiency in the required testing areas.

According to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), “NCLB requires each state to establish a state academic standards system that meets federal requirements.” The NCLB act required states to design a rigorous universal testing system, which was included for determining the standard for state academics, that would be applied to all state Title I schools that met the strict federal requirements.

The NCLB act imposed federal requirements which held teachers and schools accountable for student performance. According to Education Laws, “The Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) scale is a measurement explicitly defined by the United States federal government that enables the Department of Education to determine how each public school and school district in the US is performing according to the results of standardized tests.” This new scale held schools, and ultimately, teachers, responsible for the achievement their students performed on federally mandated standardized tests. Education Week states, “The core of NCLB is made up of a number of measures designed to drive broad gains in student achievement and to hold states and schools more accountable. [One of] these measures included academic progress, which is where schools were required to bring all students to the ‘proficient level’ on state tests by the 2013–2014 school year, and also for each individual school to meet the AYP.” These measures were meant to encourage improvement in schools; however, they did not. The Title I funds a school district receives is based on the AYP of a school district, which is determined by students, not the school district.

The No Child Left Behind Act is embedded in the roots of equality of opportunity and an equal education. The Equal Protection Clause under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, when applied to education, seeks to expose every single student to an equal, fair education. According to Natalie Boyd, “For nearly half a century after the Civil War, black and white students in the American south attended separate schools. Segregation meant that many students had no choice in which school they attended. Black schools were woefully underfunded compared to white schools, and students were not able to transfer to all-white schools that would provide them with more opportunities.” School segregation provided an extremely unequal education to black students because they were separated and exposed to a less-developed educational curriculum than white students. The United States Supreme Court decision in the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education. usurped segregation in American schools, integrating black and white students in schools. According to author Dan J. Nichols, “The Brown v. Board of Education decision and the No Child Left Behind act share the common goal to provide every child with a quality education.” The act, however, failed to do so, as the achievement gap between students remains today. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) was apart of LBJ’s social welfare package, “Great Society,” which promoted social equality of opportunity in all aspects of society. “As a former teacher, President L.B. Johnson believed that equal access to education was vital to a child’s ability to lead a productive life,” stated Social Welfare History. The NCLB act succeeded ESEA as a heavily modified version, emphasizing federal involvement in education, raising the standard for schools, and also appropriating more funds to Title I schools. Title I, Part A is a formula grant program established under the ESEA that is designed to aid the needs of children who struggle to learn, and also to push them towards state academic achievement proficiency. The OSPI says, “Title I, Part A is a program that serves the unique needs of children who struggle to learn. Title I services provide customized instruction and curricula that helps these students meet academic standards.” These services are aimed to provide a more equal education to disadvantaged students to help them level with other students. The National Association for the Education of Young Children states, “Nearly 14,000 of the nation’s 15,000 school districts in the nation conduct Title I programs.” These services, however, will ultimately provide an unequal education to students as Title I aid and services are determined by the AYP of a school district. Inadequate student performance will result in a decrease of federal Title I funds, ultimately creating an imbalance in federal grants each school district will receive. This imbalance will also cause an imbalance in the quality of education each student will receive.

The No Child Left Behind Act did not close the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers. Title I funds are appropriated to schools for improvement of different areas of a district based on achievement in Adequate Yearly Progress of each district, propagating a sporadic and unfair system for funding schools. Education Week stated, “Traditionally high-performing schools made headlines as they failed to meet their set rates of improvement, and states saw increasingly high rates of failure to meet the rising benchmarks. By 2010, 38% of schools were failing to meet AYP, up from 29% in 2006.” As shown in the above statistic, the set rates for improvement are difficult for schools to meet and maintain state academic standards. According to Kevin Gerrity, an associate professor of Music Education at Ball State University, “The number of Title I middle schools failing to meet AYP goals under NCLB increased from 18% in the 2002–2003 school year to 36% in the 2004–2005 school year. Similarly, 42% of all Title I schools failing to meet AYP goals come from urban school districts.” With 42% of all Title I schools failing to meet proper AYP requirements, the AYP program itself can be considered inadequate; a funding program which aims to level the achievement gap between students has managed only 58% of the 14,000 Title I schools in the nation.

The standardized testing requirements of NCLB were incompatible with schools, thus making it more difficult to provide an equal education to students. According to authors Eve Cary, Alan Levine, Janet Price, “Washington D.C. circuit judge J. Skelly Wright held the educational tracking system [standardized testing] to be unconstitutionally discriminatory in the federal court case Hobson v. Hanson (1967). He stated, ‘Because these tests are standardized primarily on and are relevant to a white middle-class group of students, they produce inaccurate and misleading test scores when given to lower class and negro students. As a result, rather than being classified according to the ability to learn, these students are in reality being classified according to their socioeconomic or racial status…’” (Cary, Levine, Price 98–99). This tracking system, which is standardized testing, measures each district based on the improvement and maintenance of improvement in each school. If students are provided with a test that is biased towards a certain socioeconomic or racial group, the students will be provided with an unfair, unequal education, and are ultimately set up to fail. Authors Eve Cary, Alan Levine, and Janet Price also stated, “…Students whose first language is not English may have their test scores brought down by the vocabulary sections on standardized tests as well as the test’s assumptions about attitudes and common experiences,” (Cary, Levine, and Price). Students whose first language is not English are held at a disadvantage as they are not completely fluent in English. NCLB standardized tests stress the importance of reading and writing, but an English-language learner cannot be held to the same standard as their English-speaking peers as they are not as skilled as their peers. The students peers’ more developed knowledge of the English language will therefore hold them at an inherent advantage over their less-informed peers.

No Child Left Behind narrowed the curriculum to focus mainly on reading and math proficiency, taking resources as well as focus away from other curriculars. Emphasis has been directed towards reading and math education in order to benefit disadvantaged students who struggle in these subjects. According to the National Education Association, “Elementary and Secondary Education Act [NCLB] is designed to support programs to level the playing field for the most vulnerable, including impoverished. children, students with disabilities, and English-language learners.” The groups above struggle mainly in reading in writing due to learning disabilities. English-language learners. struggle especially, as English is not their native language. Testing and curricula centralized on reading and writing, therefore, will be more difficult for these students as they will be held to the same academic standard as their English-fluent peers. Mariana Kihuen states, “Post-NCLB advocates have not been successful in advancing the educational landscape for English-language learners at the state level.”

School subjects, such as musical or art education, have suffered from the NCLB Act due. to the decreased class times in order to focus more on “core” subjects. According to Kevin Gerrity, “In the report, ‘From the Capitol to the Classroom,’ the center of educational policy found that 43% of school districts require schools to devote a specific amount of instructional time to language arts and/or mathematics, to have reduced instructional time for art and music. Specifically, 23% of the districts in Ohio reduced instructional time ‘minimally,’ while 11% of districts report their [time] reductions as ‘somewhat.’” Centralization of language arts and mathematics as the core classes of education lessened the emphasis on the arts, such as musical or art education. Students who flourish in the arts will be disadvantaged if more school time is being devoted to “core classes.” If time is being taken from other classes in order to accommodate the requirements of NCLB, then the students whose time is being taken from arts education are therefore receiving an unequal education.

Standardized testing, implemented originally under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and then revised in. the No Child Left Behind Act, begat a competitive high-stakes testing environment with an unfair and unreliable medium of assessing student achievement. A high-stakes testing environment puts great pressure on students, therefore causing an underperformance in state academic achievement. According to authors David Berliner and Sharon Nichols, “Social scientist Donald T. Campbell warned against measuring effectiveness via a ‘consequential indicator [standardized testing],’ claiming that the more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.’ Testing students with a single-score result reflects the kind of process Campbell worried about more than 30 years ago,” (Berliner, Nichols 47). Using this “consequential indicator” to measure student achievement exposes students to pressure and stress, causing invalid and accurate test scores which reflect poorly on the students.

The AYP requirements were often too difficult for school districts to meet, causing the quality of education to vary from district to district, as the quality of the school was determined by the amount of federal grants received. The National Education Association states, “Instead of raising student achievement, NCLB has perpetuated a system that delivers unequal opportunities and uneven quality to America’s children based on the zip code where they live and created a culture of high-stakes testing that makes it impossible for educators to do what is important: instill a love of learning in their students.” Rather than help students learn the subject matter they require, schools attempt to educate students solely for the purpose of improvement in AYP scores, which determines the academic achievement of a school. According to Education Laws, “A school that fails according to the AYP calculation for a second consecutive year will be publicly labeled as a facility ‘in need of improvement.’ Once labeled, the school is required to develop a two-year improvement plan for the specific subjects that the school is failing to teach up to par. Students are then given the option to transfer to a better facility within the school district.” If a school fails AYP requirements for two years in a row, the school is then held responsible to develop a plan to improve the suffering subjects. In order for schools to make improvements, they need federal grants. The amount of money received in a grant by a school is determined by the achievement a district has in AYP. If a school is suffering to meet AYP requirements, they will receive less money, therefore making it more difficult for a school to perform up to standard with federal requirements.

The universal requirements of NCLB made it impossible to distribute a different, more efficient assessment test that would better benefit students. According to author Monty Neill, “While state laws and practices have often promoted the same harmful policies as NCLB, the federal law has made such programs more onerous, adding more testing and layers of counterproductive ‘accountability mandates.’ And NCLB has made it harder and less likely for states or districts to implement improved assessment and genuine school improvement programs,” (Neill 23). Since schools are required to follow the strict rules of NCLB, there is no wiggle room to create a better assessment test, because these tests are developed by the state and used universally. The lack of customization in achievement assessments for schools, therefore, makes it impossible for schools to make a test more tailored for their students.

Though the NCLB failed to provide an overall equal education to all students, the act was able to establish an educational system that encourages student proficiency in education. Students with learning disadvantages or disabilities are supported by federal funding programs, which distribute federal grants that aim to ensure these students stay on the same page as their peers. According to the Center for Parent Information and Resources, “The U.S. Department of Education provides Title I funding (through four formula grant programs) to local education agencies with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards.” According to Author Sam Malberg,” the use of Title I funds rests with each school. Title I funds can be used to improve curriculum, increase staff, and also program improvement.” Flexibility of federal funds is implemented under NCLB in order for schools to appropriate funds where they are needed most, leading to a customized improvement for each school.

NCLB implemented an educational system proven to be effective through scientific studies. According to the Office of Superintendent of Education, “Research-based education emphasizes educational programs and practices proven to be effective through scientific research.” Educational programs which are proven to work by scientific research can contribute to an increase in student proficiency, and also student achievement.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which evolved into the No Child Left Behind Act, had major consequences for legislation in the future. The passing of this act signalled the switch from general federal aid to education towards categorical aid, more specifically known as Title I funding. According to the Ohio Department of Education, “School improvement grants [categorical grants], authorized under section 1003 (g) of Title I of the Secondary and Elementary Education Act, are grants to state educational agencies. These state agencies then distribute these grants as competitive subgrants to local education agencies that demonstrate the greatest need for the funds, the strongest need for the funds, and the strongest commitment to use the funds to provide adequate resources in order to raise substantially the achievement of students to their lowest-performing schools.” This shift in appropriation of federal grants negated the emphasis on equal funds for the benefit of all students, and instead pushed for the use of these funds as a means to improve the achievement score proficiency of disadvantaged students. State departments of education were responsible for distributing federal funds to schools, resulting in an increased involvement of government in educational decision-making, and therefore control over education. The Obama administration met with education reformers to create a better law which would focus on the goals of preparing each student fully for success in college as well as future careers. The bipartisan bill that resulted, labelled as the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” aims to “help all of America’s students by holding all students to high academic standards, preparing all students for success in college and careers, providing kids access to high-quality preschool, guaranteeing steps are taken to help students and their schools to improve, reducing the burden of testing, and promoting local innovations and investments in what works,” according to the U.S. Department of Education. President Barack Obama stated, “With this bill, we reaffirm that fundamental American ideal — that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live, deserves the chance to make of their lives what they will.” The reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, the Every Student Succeeds Act, aims for the truly important goal which it’s predecessor did not; success in the future. This new act educates students by preparing them for college or to be ready to enter the workforce, rather than teach students how to get a certain score in a certain subject on a high-stakes test.

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