No Child Left Behind Act

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The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), introduced in the first session of the 107th Congress (2001-2002), amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The Act authorized a number of federal programs aimed at improving the performance of U.S. primary and secondary schools. It mandated that states give students annual standardized tests and show improvement through 2014, when all students are expected to be "proficient." States that fail to meet benchmarks are penalized through a variety of methods, including a reduction in federal education funding.

Some organizations, including the Heritage Foundation, have criticized the bill. They argue that, "NCLB testing policies have inadvertently weakened state-level testing and academic transparency." Heritage supports returning more control with regards to education policy to the states. The group supports an alternative bill, the A-Plus Act, which was introduced by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) during the 110th Congress with the goal of providing more flexibility to the states.

Current status

No Child Left Behind has been in effect since January 8, 2002, when President George W. Bush signed it into law. It is up for authorization in late 2007, and disapproval from both the political left and right make its future uncertain.

During the 110th Congress, the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A PLUS) Act was introduced in both the House and Senate with the intention of returning more control to the states with regards to education policy. Both versions of the bill (H.R.1539 and S.893) currently remain in committee.

Bill summary

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, all schools are required to participate in Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) reports in addition to the testing requirements of each individual state. Currently, all "50 states have 50 different sets of standards and assesments (Lentini, 1)." Those that fail to demonstrate progress are penalized in various ways, often through reduced funding. All students nationwide are expected to be "performing at or above grade level" by 2014. The tests themselves are created and administered by each state independently.[1] [United States. Department of Education. "Building on Results: A Blueprint for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act." Washington, D.C. 2007. <> [Lentini, Salvatore Patrick. Letter. "New York Teacher." 12 Apr. 2007:11]

The federal government also mandates that a "National Assessment of Educational Progress" (NAEP), a nationally standardized test, be administered to a small group of students in order to compare different state tests across the country. [2]

Criticisms and commendations

Dan Lips, an Education Analyst at the Heritage Foundation, alleged that states manipulated test scores to avoid penalties under NCLB. Because the states create and administer their own tests, some critics, including Dan Lips, believed there was an incentive for states to lower their academic standards on tests in order to demonstrate "adequate yearly progress" even if none had been made, allowing states to avoid federal sanctions, reduced funding, and bad publicity. Lips pointed to large discrepancies in the results of the state tests and the NAEP results as a possible result of states purposefully lowering testing standards. States such as Oklahoma and Tennessee, for example, performed poorly on the NAEP while claiming high proficiency rates in state-administered testing. [3]

Another problem with the implementation of NCLB, according to its Dan Lips, was the administrative costs associated with administering the federal education mandates under the legislation. Even before the act was passed, states faced a significant burden in implementing federal education policies. A 1994 report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) found that states employed 13,400 people, three times the number of employees at the Department of Education at the time, just to implement federal programs. Despite the federal government providing only 7-8 percent of funding for education, federal level programs resulted in 41 percent of state-level expenditures on education. NCLB increased the administrative burden states would face in dealing with federal education policies. It was found that "NCLB increased state and local governments' annual paperwork burden by 6,680,334 hours, at an estimated cost of $141 million." Several states released reports of the estimated additional costs they would face as a result of NCLB. For example, Connecticut found it would be forced to spend $17 million and Virginia found it would have to spend $20 million to comply with the legislation in a given year.[4]

Many education experts and critics, such as Dan Lips, believed that the problems in implementation with NCLB lied with its fundamental, top-down premise of dictating standards and requirements at the national level. Advocates of this approach believe that national standards and centralization are required to ensure that high academic standards are adopted everywhere.[5]

Under NCLB, students in schools found to be repeatedly low-performing are allowed to transfer to another public school or participate in after-school tutoring programs. However, less than one percent of those eligible for school transfers and only 17 percent of those eligible for after-school programs did so in the first few years after NCLB was implemented. This low participation rate may have been in part due to a lack in school districts informing parents of their new options under NCLB. The Department of Education found that half of school districts notified parents of their student's eligibility to transfer schools after the start of the next school year, too late in most cases to switch. One way, some argued, to improve NCLB would be to establish better requirements for schools to inform their students' parents of their options. They cited efforts at the state and local level. Pennsylvania, for example, initiated statewide programs that provided after-school tutoring and tutoring vouchers for students in under-performing school districts. 46,055 students recieved after-school tutoring and 1,336 received the vouchers in a one-year period. Sixty-six percent of those students made progress in reading and 73 percent made progress in math. Unlike participation in NCLB-mandated programs, participation and results were much higher.[6]

Reauthorization of NCLB

NCLB Commission

On February 13, 2007, the bipartisan Commission on No Child Left Behind released its report, analyzing the effectiveness of NLCB and making recommendations to Congress regarding its reauthorization. The Commission was co-chaired by former Wisconsin Governor and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson and former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, and was organized by the Aspen Institute.[7] The Commission found many problems with the legislation, and made many recommendations, but still supported the basic, top-down premise behind NCLB. For example, they found requirements for Highly Qualified Teachers (HQT) troublesome, and recommended that requirements for Highly Qualified Effective Teachers (HQET) would be more appropriate, under the idea that certifications alone do not determine the quality of an educator. They also recommended establishing the same effectiveness standards for principals and school administrators, as well a continuation and strengthening of the national standards and testing behind NCLB.[8]

Reauthorization stalled

The heads of the Senate and House education committees signaled that time had run out for reauthorizing the No Child left Behind Act in 2007. It will remain in effect without Congressional action, but Congressional Democrats and the administration had repeatedly promised to make important changes in 2007, among them changes that would alter judging student performance.[9]

Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) postponed introducing a new version of the law until 2008, a spokeswoman said. Additionally, the House Committee on Education and Labor had worked for months on negotiations to produce legislation, but Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) had been working on a higher-education bill by early November, 2007. There had been repeated suggestions as early as June that work on a House reauthorization was nearing completion. Lobbyists for educational organizations said it appeared that Miller had been unable to find enough votes among the committee’s Democratic majority to pass a reauthorization or to form a bill that could attract enough Republicans to form a winning bipartisan coalition. [10]

Implementation and effects of NCLB

Rebellion against NCLB by state governments

With Utah in the vanguard, about a dozen states rebelled against the No Child Left Behind Act, complaining it imposed costly new obligations without providing the money to carry them out.[11]

The Republican-controlled Utah House voted 64-8 in February 2004 not to comply with any provisions for which the federal government had not supplied enough money. The bill represented the strongest position taken by lawmakers around the country at that time. [12]

Congressional efforts to change NCLB

Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A PLUS) Act

An attempt to implement an "opt out" option with No Child Left Behind, the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A PLUS) Act, was introduced on March 15, 2007 in the Senate (S.893) by Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) and in the House (H.R.1539) by Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.). It was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and the House Committee on Education and Labor, respectively. The bill would enable states to enter a specific, negotiated agreement with the Department of Education regarding federal funding of education, under the requirements that they measure progress toward academic proficiency, make that data public, and do not decrease their own state funding for education.[13]

<USbillinfo congress="110" bill="S.893" /> <USbillinfo congress="110" bill="H.R.1539" />

The Heritage Foundation supports the A-Plus Act. Dan Lips, an education analyst at the foundation, stated "It would give states the opportunity to use federal resources on locally directed programs without the administrative burden of federal program requirements. More resources would be available for classroom expenditures and other education programs that local leaders believe would benefit students."[14]

In the Senate, the A PLUS Act received 6 additional co-sponsors to Sens. DeMint and Cornyn (as of June 20, 2007):[15]

In the House, the A PLUS Act received 60 co-sponsors (as of June 20, 2007):[16]

Original debate and passage of the Act

House version

H.R.1 (the Act) was introduced by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) on March 22, 2001. It was immediately referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor, of which Boehner was the chair. The committee reported the bill on May 14, 2001, and it was put to a vote on May 23, 2001. H.R.1 passed with a vote of 384-45.[17]

House record vote:
No Child Left Behind Act

May 23, 2001
Passed, 384-45, view details
Dem: 197-10 in favor, GOP: 186-34 in favor, Ind: 1-1 split

Senate version

S.1 (the Act) was introduced by Sen. Jim Jeffords (R-Vt.) on March 28, 2001. The bill was not considered until June 14, 2001, when the Senate passed H.R.1 in lieu of S.1 with a vote of 91-8. [18]

Senate record vote:
No Child Left Behind Act

June 14, 2001
Passed, 91-8, view details
Dem: 47-2 in favor, GOP: 43-6 in favor, Ind: 1 in favor

Conference and final passage

On July 10, 2001, the Senate designated Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), John Edwards (D-N.C.), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.), John Warner (R-Va.), Chris Bond (R-Mo.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), and John Ensign (R-Nev.) as conferees. [19]

On July 18, 2001, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) appointed Reps. John Boehner (R-Ohio), Tom Petri (R-Wis.), Marge Roukema (R-N.J.), Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Mike Castle (R-Del.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Van Hilleary (R-Tenn.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Gary Miller (R-Calif.), Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), Major Owens (D-N.Y.), Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii), Rob Andrews (D-N.J.), and Timothy J. Roemer (D-Ind) as conferees. [20]

The Conference Report was filed on December 13, 2001. [21]


On December 13, 2001, the same day as the Conference Report was filed, the House voted 381-41 to pass the report.

December 13, 2001
Passed, 381-41, view details
Dem: 198-6 in favor, GOP: 183-33 in favor, Ind: 2 opposed


The Senate voted on December 18, 2001, with a vote of 87-10, to pass the report.

December 18, 2001
Passed, 87-10, view details
Dem: 43-6 in favor, GOP: 44-3 in favor, Ind: 1 opposed


On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed the law and it became Public Law No: 107-110. [22]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Dan Lips, "Saving 'No Child Left Behind' From Itself," The Heritage Foundation, April 23, 2007.
  2. Dan Lips, "Saving 'No Child Left Behind' From Itself," The Heritage Foundation, April 23, 2007.
  3. Dan Lips, "Saving 'No Child Left Behind' From Itself," The Heritage Foundation, April 23, 2007.
  4. Dan Lips and Evan Feinberg, "The Administrative Burden of No Child Left Behind," The Heritage Foundation, April 7, 2007.
  5. Dan Lips, "Do American Schools Really Need NCLB 2.0?," The Heritage Foundation.
  6. Dan Lips, "The Dismal Record on Parental Choice in NCLB," The Heritage Foundation, October 2, 2006.
  7. Commission on No Child Left Behind
  8. Dan Lips, "Do American Schools Really Need NCLB 2.0?," The Heritage Foundation.
  9. Sam Dillon, "For a Key Education Law, Reauthorization Stalls," The New York Times, November 6, 2007.
  10. Sam Dillon, "For a Key Education Law, Reauthorization Stalls," The New York Times November 6, 2007.
  11. “States Rebelling Against No Child Left Behind,” Fox News, February 17, 2004.
  12. “States Rebelling Against No Child Left Behind,” Fox News, February 17, 2004.
  13. THOMAS: S.893 CRS Summary
  14. Dan Lips and Evan Feinberg, "The Administrative Burden of No Child Left Behind," The Heritage Foundation, April 7, 2007.
  15. OpenCongress: S.893
  16. OpenCongress: H.R.1539
  17. H.R.1: No Child Left Behind Act H.R.1
  18. S.1: No Child Left Behind Act S.1
  19. H.R.1: No Child Left Behind Act H.R.1
  20. H.R.1: No Child Left Behind Act H.R.1
  21. Conference Report on the No Child Left Behind Act December 13, 2001
  22. H.R.1: No Child Left Behind Act H.R.1

External resources


External articles