From the Capital to the Classroom: Year Four of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act

In its fourth annual review of NCLB, the Center for Educational Policy (CEP) confirms that the impact of the law is even more complex than the political debate surrounding it. In this comprehensive and controversial study, CEP finds that one thing is certain: NCLB has dramatically altered the way school districts do business. Aligning curriculum to state standards, using data to drive instruction, and promoting academic growth for all student subgroups are three of the positive impacts of NCLB. One administrator notes, “Building by building, I see teachers sitting down and discussing low performing students.” However, from the start, states and school districts have complained of inadequate funding, a narrowing curriculum, and unreasonable requirements for special education students and English language learners.

What about achievement, accountability, and teacher quality? Here, the results are murkier. While states and districts point to increased numbers of schools meeting Adequate Yearly Progress goals as well as a narrowing achievement gap, data from the National Assessment of Education Progress and the Northwest Evaluation Association dispute these assessments. Correlate this discrepancy with a dizzying array of state tests and variety of methods used to interpret results, and it becomes clear that not everyone is playing by the same rules. As for teacher quality, districts are swelling the ranks of “high qualified” educators as defined under the law, yet administrators are skeptical that the effort will improve classroom instruction.

The Cleveland Municipal School District, like many urban districts, is on the front line of NCLB. Reform has meant reconstituting schools, standardizing curriculum, and testing throughout the year. Is it working? Gains have been made in reading but math scores continue to lag.

Recommendations from CEP for improving NCLB include calls for increased federal funding, greater clarity in state accountability measures, and more attention to other subject areas.

From the Capital to the Classroom: Year Four of the No Child Left Behind Act,” Center for Education Policy, March 2006.

 

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