Opinion
Federal Opinion

NCLB: A Landmark Law for Children

By George Miller — January 05, 2012 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
George Miller

The No Child Left Behind Act was a landmark law for children, reaffirming their right to an equal opportunity at a quality education. And despite some of the controversy and shortcomings associated with the law, it constituted a critical step forward in education reform. NCLB turned the lights on in our schools.

Before NCLB’s passage, only a handful of states had access to data that showed student achievement broken down by gender, ethnicity, income, or English proficiency. The rest of the country was largely in the dark on how children were faring. Even worse, without knowing how much students were struggling in the classroom, no one felt the urgency to fix the problem. No Child Left Behind changed that.

Because of this law, the evidence is irrefutable that all kids can learn and succeed whatever their ZIP code or family income. We also learned that transparency can empower parents and communities when combined with action. Prior to NCLB, it wasn’t that parents in low-income and low-performing schools didn’t know that their children were being underserved, but there wasn’t much evidence, and no one was required to do anything about it. NCLB didn’t just provide the information on student achievement; it also told parents that schools had to improve.

This law is not perfect. It needs updating. A fundamental rewrite of NCLB, the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, should reflect current best practices and protect kids in the process. With reauthorization, Congress has a tremendous opportunity to take our education system into the 21st century.

Policymakers of both parties agree that this reauthorization should allow states and districts to manage their schools in a way that current law doesn’t. While the federal government will never improve an individual school, nor should it try, we should require action where the will to act doesn’t otherwise exist. This means supporting the simple idea that low-performing schools should be identified and required to improve.

Before NCLB’s passage, only a handful of states had access to data that showed student achievement broken down by gender, ethnicity, income, or English proficiency."

There is a growing consensus on the direction education policy should head in rewriting NCLB:

• States must set high standards and goals that ensure students are college- and career-ready.
• States should have more flexibility to craft their own accountability systems while ensuring schools are accountable for all students.
• States and districts should be empowered with the flexibility to improve schools based on their student, school, and community needs.
• We must ensure school performance is transparent so that parents and communities can help drive success.
• We must consolidate programs so that districts can more easily access funds, and we should provide more flexibility in what can be funded at the local level.
• States and districts must support a professional environment for teachers and school leaders, let them get back to doing their jobs, and provide them with the information and resources to succeed.

See Also

NCLB Turns 10
See more content related to the anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act, including Commentaries, links to Education Week’s coverage over the decade, readers’ comments about the law, and a glossary of selected NCLB terms. View the complete collection.

Nearly 40 states recently demonstrated support for these policies by signing up to create their own accountability systems in exchange for meeting a high bar for students through flexibility offered by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Rather than racing to the bottom to avoid accountability, states are running toward a modern education system that strikes the no-longer-elusive balance between strong accountability, high standards for students, and flexibility for states and districts.

This is the most dynamic education environment I have seen in my 37 years in public office. Now is not the time to return to the days when the system could linger at the status quo and hide the performance of some students. The days of having to choose between flexibility and strong accountability are now arguments of the past. Congress should support the states pursuing accountability and the rest of the country with a comprehensive rewrite of NCLB.

A version of this article appeared in the January 11, 2012 edition of Education Week as Equal Opportunity: A Landmark Law for Children and Education

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Top Federal Adviser on Puerto Rico's Schools Declares: 'We Have to Build Trust'
Chris Soto heads an Education Department team providing technical assistance and support for the U.S. territory's public schools.
4 min read
Martin G. Brumbaugh School kindergarten teacher Nydsy Santiago teaches her students under a gazebo at a municipal athletic park in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, on Feb. 4, 2021.
Martin G. Brumbaugh School kindergarten teacher Nydsy Santiago teaches her students under a gazebo at a municipal athletic park in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, on Feb. 4, 2021.
Carlos Giusti/AP
Federal Schools Could Count Nonbinary Students Under Biden Proposal
The Civil Rights Data Collection for this school year could also revive questions about inexperienced teachers and preschool discipline.
6 min read
Image of a form with male and female checkboxes.
iStock/Getty
Federal 'Parents' Bill of Rights' Underscores Furor Over Curriculum and Transparency in Schools
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley's bill highlights how education issues like critical race theory will likely stay in the national political spotlight.
7 min read
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., says "it's time to give control back to parents, not woke bureaucrats."
Patrick Semansky/AP
Federal Opinion It’s Not Just the NSBA That’s Out of Touch. There’s a Bigger Problem
Those who influence educational policy or practice would do well to care about what parents and the public actually want.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty