Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Accountability/NCLB Enemy

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What makes NCLB an enemy of quality education?
It may be time to reflect on the possibility that a nation of good test-takers is not necessarily a well-educated nation.

—Diane Ravitch, Huffington Post, 9/4/07

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB as it is also known), was proposed by President Bush in 2001 and signed into law on January 8, 2002. NCLB reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the main federal law affecting education from kindergarten through high school ( NCLB was intended to revamp the education system, and has been built on several principles such as providing academic standards, increased accountability and more school choices for parents. Each state is required to set academic standards in reading and math. The school districts and schools are held accountable for their students in meeting those standards. If students are attending schools that are failing to meet the academic standards, the parents are to be given choices to obtain free supplemental tutoring or to send their children to other schools. On paper NCLB may seem like a great idea, but in reality it is destroying our education system. The principles for which NCLB claims to stand will be challenged in this article so that one can see that the NCLB Act truly is the enemy of quality education.

Teaching to the Test[edit]

NCLB is the main reason that I left the classroom (I taught science and math) because I was unable to be the kind of teacher that I wanted to be. Instead of teaching my students to think, I was required to drill them endlessly, filling their heads with information that has little meaning in order to perform well on tests that they did not respect.

—Elisheva H. Levin, New Mexico

Under NCLB, all public schools are to annually test students in grades 3-8 in reading and math, and once again during high school. The tests are intended to help the parents, students and teachers to know just what the students are learning throughout the year and whether or not the students may need help in certain areas. This one-size-fits-all theory limits our teachers and eliminates other content areas and activities. Teachers are required to teach the material that is covered on the standardized tests, thereby depressing the efforts of providing high quality education to the students. Many teachers find that a steady stream of standardized tests is taking too much time away from classroom instruction, undermining their efforts to provide a developmentally appropriate program that meets the needs of all students and truly helps them to learn (Odland). Content areas such as the arts, enrichment, gifted programs, and special education have been affected by either being changed or eliminated in order to ensure proficient academic performance. Students have different learning styles and levels at which they learn. They come from different backgrounds, with different experiences and skills. We cannot expect them to be same. We can give them the same education, but what they do with it, how they learn and grow from it will be different with each student, standardized tests will not change that. With so much time being spent on “teaching to the test”, there is less time for individual instruction to reach those with different learning styles and levels. To expect each student to be the same defies the ability to cultivate individual students and to help them to reach their fullest potential.


I became a teacher because I want to serve struggling students who need a little extra motivation and exposure to rich learning experiences. But my options are being narrowed down by a restrictive curriculum and a scripted phonics-limited reading program. I feel as though I am becoming a learning technician instead of a teacher.

—Joe Navarro, first grade teacher

According to the US Department of Education, the NCLB Act will give accountability for results (, but to whom are the schools being held accountable? The US Department of Education would have one believe that the schools are accountable to the parents, educators and local communities. Rep. Scott Garrett (R) from New Jersey disagrees stating, “NCLB entirely missed the mark. It centralized accountability in Washington with the bureaucrats and appointees at the U.S. Department of Education, completely bypassing the legislators in 50 state capitals, countless township school boards and local elected officials, and -- most importantly -- administrators, educators, and parents all across the nation” (Garrett). Under NCLB, each state is required to define the adequate yearly progress (AYP) for school districts and schools, within the parameters set by Title I. The schools not meeting the AYP for two consecutive years are identified as needing improvement. After four years of failing to meet adequate progress, the district must implement corrective actions to improve the school, such as replacing staff members or fully implementing a new curriculum ( Although it may seem this system would hold inadequate schools accountable, it is still misleading. Rep. Garrett gives an example about a school in his district in the State of New Jersey, “every year, nearly 100% of the students graduate and go on to attend college and the school’s average combined SAT score hovers at 1100. This is a school bursting at the seams with motivated teachers, students, and parents. But, it was put on the warning list because one student did not meet NCLB’s requirement for what they deemed was “adequate performance” (Garrett). Another example is Amelia Earhart Elementary School in Provo, Utah which failed to meet the No Child benchmarks because of low scores by just three students with disabilities (Ripley). This shows how the federal government is using NCLB to hold back schools and their students. The teachers are required to teach on a lower level or slow down for a few students so that they may do well on the standardized tests, therefore increasing the AYP levels for the schools. This causes the remaining students to receive a watered down curriculum, increasing the odds of the losing interest or not working to the best of their ability. If the only school requirement is to pass the standardized tests, then why should they put more effort into their education? Quality schools are more than just test scores. A quality school provides an atmosphere where students and teachers are excited about education and learning new material, challenging each person to go that extra mile, where the adults care about the individual students and their gains in education, and where students have an “I can” attitude and not one of dread.


Along with the federal requirements that states implement the AYP guides in all schools and districts, they are also required to give the parents choices. In his speech at the University of New Hampshire in January 2002, President Bush stated, “If a school can't change, if a school can't show the parents and community leaders that they can teach the basics, something else has to take place. In order for there to be accountability, there has [sic] to be consequences. And the consequence in this bill is that after a period of time, if a parent is tired of their child being trapped into [sic] a failed school, that parent will have different options, public school choice, charter, and private tutoring." (Snell). The problem with this is that many parents of students in failing schools are not aware of the right to transfer their children. School districts have not made the effort to inform their communities of their public school choice. When a parent does request a transfer, the “choice” of schools they are offered are usually to other Title 1 schools that may be just as low-performing as the school in which they are transferring from. Another detail not known to most parents is that school districts decide which schools the parents will be allowed to “choose” from. Causing further confusion, under NCLB the Title 1 federal funding, money used to provide extra educational services to disadvantaged students in high poverty schools, does not follow the student to the better performing, non-Title 1 schools. Therefore, those schools that are performing better, that a parent may want to transfer their child into, have no financial incentive to admit low-performing students. In Richmond, Virginia during the 2002-03 school year, there were 120 requests for transfer out of 8,000 eligible children. Only 30 of those were honored by the district (Snell). If the NCLB is supposed to give parents choices, they should not be denied their choice because the federal government will not allow the proper financing. The parents and students are in a sense trapped. Once again, this shows that many of the ideas that look good to those in Washington do not work in the thousands of school districts across the United States.


Get rid of NCLB. Perhaps we should have a No Person of Federal Government Left Behind act and test our legislators according to standards. If they don't pass, they should be replaced immediately.

—Mary L, former teacher, Pennington, IL

The No Child Left Behind Act is not the way to make sure that our children are educated properly. It is the responsibility of the parents, schools, local communities and each of the 50 states to ensure that children are receiving the quality education they are entitled to. It is not the responsibility of the federal government. Those who work at the federal level in Washington, D.C., cannot know how to educate children in a particular school or classroom better than those working with the children on a daily basis. Schools should not be penalized because a few students were not able to pass a standardized test, especially when those students may have disabilities that those in Washington do not understand or did not take into account when this law was passed. There is much more to education than what is covered in the standardized testing material. As Paul Houston has stated, “If we put too much emphasis on a lower, common denominator, we will be sacrificing higher possibilities for our children.” The concern of NCLB is comparative group scores. Shouldn’t the concern for our children be for their individual growth? We need to know where each and every student started in their educational learning and how far we as parents and educators can take them.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

What are three principles of the NCLB Act?
A. Micromanaging, choices, AYP
B. Accountability, choices, safety
C. Academic standards, accountability, choices
D. AYP, standards, micromanaging

C. Academic standards, accountability, choices

What grade levels are annually tested?
A. Grades 3-8 and 10
B. Grades K-3 and 7
C. Grades 6-8 and 9-12
D. Grades K-12

A. Grades 3-8 and 10

What are two content areas that have been affected by NCLB?
A. English and math
B. Math and science
C. Special education and physical education
D. Art and special education

D. Art and special education

With so much time spent “teaching to the test” there is...
A. More time for individual instruction.
B. Less time for individual instruction.
C. Students do not need individual instruction.
D. There is not more time spent on teaching to the test.

B. Less time for individual instruction.

To whom should schools be held accountable?
A. To those in Washington.
B. To the President.
C. To parents, students, local communities.
D. Why should they be held accountable?

C. To parents, students, local communities.

What does AYP stand for?
A. Another Young Person
B. Academic Young People
C. Adequate Yearly Progress
D. Annual Youth Program

C. Adequate Yearly Progress

Do most parents know of their school choices?
A. Yes.
B. No.
C. Maybe.
D. Who needs choices?

B. No.

How many students in Richmond, VA were honored their request for transfer?
A. 8,000
B. 120
C. 30
D. None

C. 30

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal a sample response.

After reading this article, do you believe that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is the enemy of quality of education? Why or why not?

No Child Left Behind is the enemy of quality education. This education act is actually hurting the efforts to improve the quality of education by assuming that all of our schools and teachers are in need of the federal government’s help in teaching our children. Nothing can be further from the truth.

The federal government is dictating not only what our teachers can teach, but also how they should teach. The teachers are essentially being treated as though they are unskilled workers, who need to be told exactly what to do and when to do it and for how long. To make matters worse, there are penalties for the teachers and schools that buck the system. The federal government will no longer give funding to those schools that do not play by their rules. What those at the federal level seem to misunderstand is they cannot know how to educate our children better than the teachers who are with them on a daily basis, working at the children’s level.

The NCLB focuses on reading and math proficiency so as to narrow the gap in those areas, however content areas such as history, science, art, music and physical education are being narrowed or even left out of some curricula. This is telling our children that the only important part of school is what is going to be tested on, and they do not need to worry about the other aspects of education. This is the wrong message, in order for our children to become productive members in our society; we need them to be well educated in ALL content areas, not just reading and math. Learning activities in these content areas help to develop citizenship, social responsibility, cooperative behavior, critical thinking and problem solving skills.

If teachers are given the opportunity to do their jobs, without the interference of the federal government, our children would be better educated individuals with the skills necessary to function in our society. Teachers will become excited about their jobs once again and will pass that excitement along to their students. They can challenge the students to go further and do their best in all areas, not just in the areas that the government says they have to pass a on a test. The truth of the matter is, education is more than just scores on a test. The No Child Left Behind Act is teaching the wrong lesson.