Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

The No Child Left Behind Act and Its Influence on Current and Future District Leaders

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

The No Child Left Behind Act and Its Influence on Current and Future District Leaders

Article excerpt


The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has generated a significant amount of debate regarding its impact on education in the United States. At the heart of the issue we find the problematic relationship between external and internal control and the implication for organizational change and improvement. NCLB's reliance on data from annual student achievement scores to determine the future of schools, students and school personnel brings about a complicated and ominous challenge to the daily professional life of school superintendents. The demand for proven results, extensive evaluations, and data-driven decision-making has moved the role of the superintendent from the sideline to the frontline of supporting student achievement. As a result, superintendent preparation programs must also change. The requirements of NCLB push programs to develop candidates with the necessary knowledge, experiences and expertise to substantively address the new reform agenda. In this manuscript we discuss the influences of NCLB on four critical areas on the job of the superintendent; (1) assessment and accountability, (2) parental choice, (3) resource flexibility, and (4) quality teachers. We also consider how these new responsibilities should be reflected in programs that prepare school and school system leaders.


In recent years enthusiasm among state and national leaders for high-stakes testing has reached a fevered pitch.1 Federal and state policy makers have concluded, right or wrong, that schools are in crisis and that one option for addressing this situation is reliance on federal mandates oriented at increasing educational outputs, especially those measured by standardized tests.2 Student achievement has become the political coin-of-the-realm and powerfully mandated external pressures for educational accountability and school improvement have become the political tools of choice. Policy makers routinely preface their actions with the mantra that success is defined by what students learn.3

Federally and state supported initiatives, like charter schools, vouchers, parental choice, high stakes testing, and decentralization, provoke substantive questions in the minds of many about the future of public education and those who staff and lead public schools. In particular, the recently revised Elementary and secondary Education Act (ESEA) (also known as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB)) has sweeping implications for those who work in public education. As a result, questions have been raised about the role district superintendents will play in this political mêlée.4

Although for decades superintendents were considered to be managers more so than leaders, the current climate and emphasis on accountability, and in particular NCLB, has placed an enormous amount of political pressure on schools to demonstrate effective leadership at the district level.5 NCLB has readjusted the lens of accountability and focused it directly on school district leaders. Superintendents are held accountable for the performance of the schools and children in their district, and rewards and sanctions are in place to goad annual yearly progress.

One example of sanctions is the removal and/or replacement of relevant school staff when schools fail to make annual yearly progress for four consecutive years. This form of mandated external pressure, while seemingly well intended, can disrupt the superintendent's ability to lead. Similarly, a significant downturn in student achievement and K-12 education's need to seek larger percentages of ever shrinking state budgets, motivated twenty-three states to pass laws authorizing state or city takeovers of districts perceived to be in crisis.6 In cities like Boston (1991), Chicago (1995), Cleveland (1998) and more recently Philadelphia (2001), the states engineered school district takeovers. Although school boards have developed a reputation of pursuing of single issues, personal power, factionalism, and undermining the authority of the district superintendent,7 state imposed changes in the governance structure severely impede the superintendent's ability to effectively implement the numerous mandates and reform initiatives thrust upon schools. …

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