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The reauthorization of No Child Left Behind: What do you think?

A generation of students have grown up and been educated in the No Child Left Behind era. Now, it’s time for Congress to reauthorize the law and decide what to keep and what to throw out.

To many, No Child Left Behind means high-stakes standardized testing and therefore has been controversial. Still, most agree that one of the positives that has come out of the law is shining a light on the achievement gap between white students who are not low-income and everyone else.

In 2011-12, the achievement gap between North Carolina’s black and white students was about 30 percentage points, according to the Department of Public Instruction.

While No Child Left Behind — President George W. Bush’s signature education achievement — passed with bipartisan support in 2001, both Republicans and Democrats are ready for a change of some sort. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 29 percent of Americans think the law has made education worse, compared to 16 percent who think it has made education better. (Thirty-eight percent say it hasn’t made much of a difference.) 

[A] recent Center for American Progress report found that students take as many as 20 standardized tests a year.

Currently under the law, one reading and one math test is administered each year in grades 3 through 8, and once in high school. A science test is given once in elementary, middle, and high school. No Child Left Behind requires schools to report the test results, particularly the results for students who are from low-income families, who are racial minorities, who have limited English proficiency, and who have disabilities.

States and districts administer their own tests in addition to the federal tests, and a recent Center for American Progress report found that students take as many as 20 standardized tests a year.

Congress will have to decide if they want to give states more testing flexibility or keep the current testing system, which some argue is critical for making sure disadvantaged students stay on track.

The goal of No Child Left Behind was for all students to be proficient in grade-level math and reading by the end of the 2013-14 school year. Schools were supposed to make adequate yearly progress toward that goal, meeting targets each year.

That didn’t necessarily happen. In 2011, the Department of Education began offering waivers to states, giving them flexibility in meeting those targets. The catch was that states would need to reform their academic standards and pledge to develop teacher evaluation systems that included student test scores.

North Carolina received a waiver, along with 42 other states and Washington, DC. Just recently, North Carolina opted to renew its waiver for another two years with an expedited review process, according to Education Week.

“I fully support the fundamental goal of accountability, but I have never felt comfortable with the one-size-fits-all nature of NCLB.”
– State Superintendent June Atkinson

“I fully support the fundamental goal of accountability, but I have never felt comfortable with the one-size-fits-all nature of NCLB,” State Superintendent June Atkinson said in a statement when North Carolina first received approval for a waiver.

The fact that the majority of states have requested a waiver “sends a pretty strong signal to Congress that the reauthorization has to be more state-driven, state-led, state-assessed,” said Terry Stoops, director of education studies at Raleigh’s John Locke Foundation.

Stoops added that he didn’t think the waivers, which were granted under the Obama administration, will be a prominent part of the reauthorization.

The Senate education committee — which includes North Carolina’s Sen. Richard Burr — has already started holding hearings about what should be in the next version of No Child Left Behind. News outlets like Education Week are reporting that the House could pass its version of the rewrite by the end of March (Rep. Virginia Foxx and Rep. Alma Adams, both of NC, are on the House’s education committee). 

Stoops said Burr’s stance will be a “big question mark,” since he hasn’t spent much time concentrating on federal education policy.

“Foxx will probably trend (close) to the No Child Left Behind model (and) to the Republican establishment on this,” he said, adding that he doubts either of them will advocate any “radical changes” to the law.

Adams, the lone Democrat out of the three, called No Child Left Behind an “archaic law” in a statement.

Readers, what do you think?

Do you think No Child Left Behind has worked? What do you think Congress should change, if anything? Let us know in the comments, and let us know what you want to learn more about. As the Congressional debate continues, we’ll keep you informed.

Madeline Will

Madeline Will graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2014, where she majored in journalism and political science. She spent most of her time in the Daily Tar Heel newsroom, where she served as the State & National Editor in her senior year. She has also written for the Charlotte Observer, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Reuters, Education Week, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. She is based in Washington D.C., and she enjoys reporting, writing, and telling interesting stories.