Learning Loss – Part II – Why No Child Left Behind Was Enacted

Education is a continuously evolving field with new studies taking place, research-based curriculums being tested, and legislation being enacted on a regular basis.

For administrators and teachers it can certainly feel like your role as an educator is constantly changing. One moment you’re implementing new district policies or teaching a new curriculum, and the next you’re rolling out another new plan and upending your routine.

All these changes are made very consciously at the federal, state, and local levels in an effort to provide the very best education for all students.

For 36 years, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was a pivotal law that addressed equal opportunities for all students.  But it wasn’t until the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001, that schools were actually held accountable for providing an equitable education to every student. In the 20 years since its passing, No Child Left Behind has made a major, yet controversial, mark on the field of education.

NCLB was enacted because it was obvious that certain groups of students were being disadvantaged, and many schools weren’t doing anything about it.  While ESEA attempted to address this issue back in 1965, schools weren’t held accountable if they didn’t provide an equitable education to all students.  Many districts basically did nothing to ensure all students had an equal educational opportunity.

That changed with the enactment of NCLB, because it implemented testing and reporting requirements for all school districts and gave them improvement targets and penalties if they failed to meet national education standards.

There were many positive and negative consequences as a result of the NCLB law which is why it remains controversial to this day and was even replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015.

Some of the positives that came out of NCLB include:

  • It called for greater educational opportunities for students of color, students living in poverty, students with disabilities, and English language learners
  • It required schools to use research-based instruction
  • It allowed students with IEPs to use accommodations on standardized tests
  • It made reporting every school’s results mandatory

Some of the negatives of NCLB include:

  • The highly qualified requirements left many experienced teachers unable to teach without obtaining new certifications
  • Teachers were often forced to teach to the test by their school districts
  • Penalties for school districts were often too harsh
  • Standards-based accountability did not line up with special education requirements

What can be said about NCLB is that it was sweeping educational reform that highlighted the disparities taking place for certain groups of students.   It also set forth new requirements for school districts to address learning loss, close the achievement gap, and prove they were taking the necessary steps to achieve an equitable educational opportunity or face stringent penalties.

No law is without its flaws which is why ESSA replaced many of NCLB’s controversial provisions in 2015.