Academic journal article Education Next

The Future of No Child Left Behind: End It? or Mend It?

Academic journal article Education Next

The Future of No Child Left Behind: End It? or Mend It?

Article excerpt

More than seven years ago, President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) into law. Sweeping calls for testing, intervening in persistently low-performing schools, and policing teacher quality made it the most ambitious legislation on K-12 schooling in American history. The law, due for congressional reauthorization in 2007, still awaits legislative action. This spring, the Hoover Institution's Koret Task Force issued 10 recommendations to guide reauthorization (available at In this forum, lead author of Learning from No Child Left Behind, EdisonLearning's John Chubb, and education historian and former task force member Diane Ravitch, who declined to sign the recommendations, weigh in on the future of the law.



EDUCATION NEXT: IS NCLB working? Should it be reauthorized?

Diane Ravitch: It is time to pull the plug on No Child Left Behind. It has had adequate time to prove itself. It has failed. After seven years of trying, there is no reason to believe that the results of NCLB will get dramatically better. Now is the time for fundamental rethinking of the federal role in education.

NCLB has produced meager gains in achievement. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assesses student achievement in reading and mathematics every other year. Despite the intense concentration on reading and mathematics required by the law, the gains registered on NAEP since the enactment of NCLB have been unimpressive.

In 4th-grade reading, the gains after implementation of NCLB, from 2003 to 2007, were small (three points) and exactly the same as the gains from 1998 to 2003. Fourth graders in the bottom 10th percentile of performance had a five-point gain after NCLB, but this did not compare to the 10-point jump in their scores from 2000 to 2002 pre-NCLB (see Figure 1).



In 8th-grade reading, there were essentially no gains from 1998 to 2007. Student performance was a flat line both before and after NCLB.

Mathematics was tested in 1996, 2000, 2003, 2005, and 2007. The gains preceding the adoption of NCLB were larger than those posted after NCLB. From 2000 to 2003, 4th-grade students recorded a nine-point gain in mathematics, compared to a gain of only five points from 2003 to 2007. Among 4th-grade students in the lowest decile, there was an astonishing 13-point gain from 2000 to 2003 pre-NCLB; the same group saw a gain of only five points from 2003 to 2007. The same deceleration of student improvement was seen at all performance levels, from top to bottom.

In 8th-grade mathematics, gains also slowed after the passage of NCLB. Eighth graders saw a five-point gain from 2000 to 2003, but only a three-point gain from 2003 to 2007.

John Chubb: NCLB will and should be reauthorized. Absolutely, student achievement has grown much more rapidly in the last decade--the NCLB era--than during the 1990s, especially for the lowest-achieving and most-disadvantaged students in the nation. Achievement is what NCLB is all about, so the law has met its most basic test. This is recognized by even the law's critics which is why the only discussion in Washington is how to mend the law. The Obama administration recognizes that No Child Left Behind aims to help the federal government perform its most important education function: improving the education of students in greatest need. The new president is supported in this view by a bipartisan majority in Congress, which has worked for many years to ensure that poor kids get the help they require. The education needs that NCLB addresses are not going away, nor is the need for funding. Indeed, the economic stimulus bill passed in February increased funding for NCLB by 80 percent, and these provisions of the massive and controversial bill met no objections.

Over half of poor and minority students have reading and math skills far below grade level, whether measured by the tough performance standards of the NAEP or by the standards of the various states. …

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