Tough Call: Is No Child Left Behind Constitutional?

By McColl, Ann | Phi Delta Kappan, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Tough Call: Is No Child Left Behind Constitutional?


McColl, Ann, Phi Delta Kappan


Control over education is a power that the Constitution reserves for the states, not the federal government. But, for the reasons Ms. McColl explains in this article, answering the question she raises in the title is not such an easy matter.

THE No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, has become a symbol of all things good and bad in education. While the basic concepts of the legislation -- accountability for results, research-based education programs, increased parental options, and expanded local control and flexibility -- have wide support, some critics have argued that NCLB has failed to deliver.1 Others have focused on how best to implement its provisions.2 Although this scrutiny of the requirements and outcomes of NCLB is crucial to the policy debate, the law has largely escaped a more fundamental review, and answers to the following questions are needed: Has Congress overstepped its legal authority with No Child Left Behind? Is NCLB a constitutional exercise of congressional power, or does it infringe on states' rights? What is the role of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in addressing ambiguities in the law? Answering these questions requires a close examination of federalism as it is expressed in the U.S. Constitution and interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The call to examine the law in this light comes with a warning: reaching conclusions about whether Congress acted within the limits of its constitutional authority may cause some discomfort. "Liberals" may find their customary inclination to favor a more expanded role for the federal government to be in conflict with their concern about the substance of NCLB. "Conservatives" may similarly find their general bias in favor of states' rights to be in conflict with their support for the accountability and school-choice elements of NCLB. And if the courts ignore, as they should, both the politics surrounding NCLB and its education reform goals, the results of a legal challenge could be interesting, indeed. A conservative Supreme Court may ultimately conclude that President George W. Bush's education agenda exceeds constitutional bounds.

Is There Constitutional Authority for NCLB?

There is little dispute over whether NCLB represents an unprecedented level of federal involvement in the affairs of our public schools. However, there is disagreement between the law's supporters, who hail this federal intrusion into state and local education as effective national reform, and its detractors, who argue that the intrusion consists of a set of politically motivated mandates that are detrimental to our schools. The language of NCLB speaks to the sweeping authority intended by its passage: "The purpose of the title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards and state academic assessments." To accomplish this, NCLB sets extensive requirements for states, including establishing an accountability system and staffing schools with high-quality professionals.

This level of federal intrusion into a domain typically under state control raises legal questions because Congress must act within the limits of federal authority established by the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution reflects a careful balance between the powers of the federal government and those of the states. James Madison argued, "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite."3 The Constitution defines this balance in the 10th Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Past court decisions, most notably San Antonio v. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Tough Call: Is No Child Left Behind Constitutional?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.