The No Child Left Behind Act had a tremendous effect on public school education in the United States. The federal law was bipartisan in nature, being led into existence by both Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy. The essence of the law was to tie K through 12 public education to measurable results via standardized tests. 

The law mandated that in order to secure federal funding, public schools had to administer a statewide standardized test to all students. However, each state had the opportunity to create its own exam. Using every secure exam development tool available, schools’ funding would be tied to what the federal government called Adequate Yearly Progress. This meant for example that each year students of every given grade had to do better than the previous students in that grade, i.e. 2005’s seventh graders’ tests would ideally be an improvement on 2004’s seventh grade tests. Various improvement plans would be required for schools that consistently missed their AYP goals, ranging from requiring schools to provide free tutoring to a complete restructuring in severe cases. 

High teacher quality was also demanded, like the development of the tests, each state was free to develop its own standards. High quality generally meant teachers with both strong subject matter expertise, i.e. mathematics teachers had to be skilled in mathematics as well as pedagogical expertise, i.e. knowledge of teaching itself. Nearly two decades later, NCLB is considered to be something of a mixed success. Student test scores have improved overall but many parents and teachers have criticized the law for encouraging “teaching to the test”. Arguing that standardized tests should only be one tool, not the entirety of assessment of student achievement. Because of the tests’ emphasis on reading, writing and mathematics, many other subjects, such as the arts and humanities have been cut by funding strapped schools. 

In 2009, a new federal education initiative known as Race to the Top passed under the then newly elected President Barack Obama. Race to the Top was less an overhaul of No Child Left Behind than a supplement to it. Race to the Top was a 4.35 billion dollar competitive grant from the Department of Education, funded by the American Recovery And Reinvestment Act of 2009 (commonly known as the Obama fiscal stimulus) which would reward school districts that met certain standards of teacher quality, adopted common standards and the act also encouraged the development of charter schools and rewarded districts which either actively developed them or did not prohibit them. 

In 2015, President Obama and the Republican Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which essentially deemphasized the role of the federal government in the previous No Child Left Behind regime and turned more control of the testing standards to the state governments. This was widely seen as a victory for conservatives who generally oppose federal control in favor of states. While President Trump has not passed a major federal educational initiative along these lines, he and his sometimes controversial Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are largely committed to the principles of state control and school choice, i.e. providing funding for students to attend alternatives to neighborhood public schools. These various federal initiatives have shaped American education in the twenty first century.

By Admin

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