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Is 'No Child Left Behind' System Working?

Education and community leaders advise replacing the one-size-fits-all NCLB program with a more flexible means to measure students progress.


Reforming schools and preparing the next generation of students for success in college and career is urgent. Education and community leaders report that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation conflicts with achieving education reform. 

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is proposing to replace the NCLB system with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility approach in the following areas:

  • 2014 Timeline. Provide States with flexibility around how they set their annual targets for schools and student subgroups.
  • Federal Labels and Federally-Mandated Interventions. Waive requirements that schools will be labeled as failing for not making all of their Adequate Years Progress (AYP) targets. 
  • Provide Flexibility. In place of federally-mandated “one size fits all” interventions, give states and districts more flexibility to improve their schools.
  • Limitations on Use of Funds: Allow more flexibility to use funds in ways that make sense by transferring funds between funding streams, while still protecting funds for the neediest students.

Linked to academic programs that prepare students for success in college and careers, the waivers would provide flexibility for States to introduce local innovation aimed at increasing the quality of instruction and improving student achievement. 

According to information from the U.S. Department of Education, flexibility would mean a change in assessment measures for students. By measuring student growth and critical thinking, new assessments would link teaching and student engagement across a well-rounded curriculum. 

Also, flexibility would mean setting academic standards based on college and career readiness. States would challenge students to make progress toward a goal that would prepare them for the 21st Century knowledge economy. 

Accountability would be required for all students, but no longer would a single test given on a single day be used as the yearly measure for students’ achievement and school evaluation. To ensure accountability, States would be required to improve their lowest performing schools and close achievement gaps.

For teachers, flexibility would mean an end to reliance on a single standardized test given on a single day as a measure of teacher performance and pay. Instead, accountability decisions would be made based on student growth and progress, as well as other measures of student learning and school performance. They would consider more than a single test score measured against an arbitrary proficiency level. 

States would begin to use multiple measures to evaluate teachers, including peer reviews, principal observation, portfolios, and student work. These evaluations would consider student growth to help focus on annual gains of students—and to recognize, reward, and learn from the schools and teachers that are accomplishing students gains in academic performance.

Parents and community members would benefit from the ESEA Flexibility system by no longer having local schools labeled as failing or needing improvement.  Under NCLB, such labels were applied to total schools when only a limited number of students fell short on the once-a-year standardized test. When schools fall short under ESEA, school leaders would adopt targeted and focused strategies for the students most at risk.

In Georgia, State Supt. John Barge and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson hand-delivered the State of Georgia’s request for a waiver from NCLB on the first day Secretary Duncan received such applications. The Georgia Department of Education prepared a plan for providing accountability for student performance and achievement through the ESEA Flexibility system. 

A key part of the Georgia plan is to keep a high bar to maintain rigorous accountability for all students, including subgroups of students. The Georgia plan is linked to the state’s College and Career Readiness focus that provides multiple measure of student growth and links teacher performance to student achievement.

David Leader February 01, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Watch Waiting for Superman, 2010's highest rated documentary. Key answer: no. 15% (!) of children in southern states are passing that test, a far cry from the 100% we were promised by 2014. We're being destroyed by teacher's unions and standing up for the wrong groups. We need reform, but right now there's so much red tape and strong lobbying going on the other side to allow it to happen. We've doubled our adjusted spending per child on school over the last two decades and seen absolutely no results (percentages are the same). We need change, but until we get politicians strong enough to fight the lobbyists it won't happen.
Laura Sullivan February 01, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Agreed, David. Waiting for Superman is an excellent and much-needed wake up call.
Courtney February 02, 2012 at 09:42 AM
What teacher unions? They do not exist in this state.
ML February 02, 2012 at 01:11 PM
David, this is the second time I've seen you post on this site about teacher unions. There are none in GA. Unless you have a child in public school and see that child take test after test, month after month, both state and national tests, until you know how the teachers are told to teach for the big test in April called the CRCT--your comments on school matters posts read as fluff. It is the parents that need to say stop all the tests (it was parents years ago who wanted to see test scores and that is what politicians gave the public--kids who are taught to take tests. Do the test scores reflect life-long learners? Better citizens? Students that are prepared to solve problems? Prepared for jobs? No, no, no and no. Do you have any idea what a 10 year old's curriculum looks like? Social studies begins with the year 1800 and ends at about 1960. It is all about books and paper and pencil these days to teach for the test--which was driven by the public to the politicians to laws.....not teachers. By the way, the producers of Waiting for Superman are not qualified in my opinion to speak about local public schools (ditto for many politicians and those seeking positions). They live in Venice, CA and drive by several public schools on the way to dropping off their kids at $30,000 per year private schools.

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