The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 is having a major impact on the education of deaf and hard of hearing children, and in many ways has taken on an importance far in excess of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which has been evolving since 1975. Congress has appropriated less money for both laws than their authorizations have called for. NCLB has 10 titles, none of which address the education of disabled children, of whom almost 7 million are identified as attending public school. Three components of NCLB have major implications for all children, including deaf and hard of hearing students: assessment; demonstrated annual yearly progress; and the mandate for highly qualified teachers. The implications for deaf and hard of hearing children, many of whom will not be identified in the present statewide assessment system, are mixed but, on balance, negative.
American education is in a state of flux, largely due to the reauthorization of, as PL 107-110, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), more commonly known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2002 and its stated goal that all American children will demonstrate academic proficiency, as measured by rigorous testing by 2014. At present, actual implementation of the law is inconsistent, due to the lack of clarity of some if its components and given the different ways in which various states and other jurisdictions are responding to the law. This article is written with the knowledge that few general statements will apply to all states and with the understanding that changes in regulations and implementation, if not the wording of the law, are inevitable, but still with the belief that it is advantageous to consider the situation to date.
One general statement that does apply both to NCLB and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the fact that both are underfunded mandates. For 30 years, Congress has been authorized to support 40% of the excess cost of educating disabled children in each state, but has never appropriated even 20% of the those costs. States must meet the mandates, but without the full amount of federal supports that the law specifies. The short history of NCLB has demonstrated similar underfunding, although it should be acknowledged that federal support for education in recent years has been far greater than in years prior to NCLB.
Congressional appropriations to the states do not cover the additional legislation that, at least on the surface, represented very different educational philosophies about American education. NCLB advocated sweeping educational standards of achievement and accountability to be measured by standardized rigorous statewide tests that would be administered to all, or 99%, of children at different grade levels, with the ambitious, if not unattainable, goal that all children would achieve proficiency in various content areas by 2014. The IDEA of 1997, which was first enacted as the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, emphasizes such concepts as a free appropriate public education for all disabled children in the least-restrictive environment, with individual and family plans and flexibility in assessment.
The apparent conflict between the two laws generated uncertainty among special education professionals to an even greater extent than in general education itself. It was clear that NCLB would have precedence over IDEA, but implementation was not clearly delineated. The confusion was confounded by the fact that IDEA was scheduled for reauthorization in 2002, but Congress did not act on it until 2004, thus increasing uncertainty, uncertainty that was exacerbated by the lack of attention to special education in NCLB, which contains the following tides:
1. Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged
2. Preparing, Training, and Recruiting High Quality Teachers and Principals
3. Language Instruction for Limited English Proficient and Immigrant Students