No Child Left Behind Act

The No Child Left Behind Act authorizes several federal education programs that are administered by the states. The law is a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Under the 2002 law, states are required to test students in reading and math in grades 3–8 and once in high school. All students are expected to meet or exceed state standards in reading and math by 2014.

The major focus of No Child Left Behind is to close student achievement gaps by providing all children with a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education. The U.S. Department of Education emphasizes four pillars within the bill:

  • Accountability: to ensure those students who are disadvantaged, achieve academic proficiency.
  • Flexibility: Allows school districts flexibility in how they use federal education funds to improve student achievement.
  • Research-based education: Emphasizes educational programs and practices that have been proven effective through scientific research.
  • Parent options: Increases the choices available to the parents of students attending Title I schools.


NCLB requires each state to establish state academic standards and a state testing system that meet federal requirements. This accountability requirement is called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Washington received final approval of its state accountability plan from the U.S. Department of Education on August 6, 2008.

In its current iteration, NCLB formally expired on Sept. 30, 2007. The next reauthorization is expected in 2011.

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Georgia to receive waiver from No
Child Left Behind
Georgia is expected today to be released from requirements of a landmark federal education law that some say put too much pressure on students and teachers and contributed to test cheating in Atlanta and other places.

The White House is set to announce today that Georgia and nine other states -- Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee -- will be granted waivers from the Bush era No Child Left Behind Act.

The only state that applied for the flexibility and did not get it, New Mexico, is said to working with the administration to get approval.

A total of 28 other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have signaled that they, too, may seek waivers — a sign of just how vast the law's burdens have become as a big deadline nears.

No Child Left Behind requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, a goal that most states are far from reaching. But states that receive waivers are exempt from that fundamental requirement, as well as others.

In exchange for flexibility, states had to agree to raise standards, improve accountability, and undertake essential reforms to improve teacher submit plans aimed at boosting student achievement, helping students prepare better for college and careers and rewarding top-performing schools. They also had to commit to teacher evaluation systems that are tied heavily to student achievement.

Georgia already has such an evaluation system in the works, but currently only in 26 local districts that are participating in the Race to the Top education reform program created by the Obama administration.

President Barack Obama announced in September that states could apply for waivers from NCLB. Georgia was among the first to submit an application.

State School Superintendent John Barge initially said he expected to hear late last year whether Georgia would be granted a waiver. But most states -- including Georgia -- had to revise their original waiver application.

Under it's plan, Georgia would stop rating schools as simply passing or failing. Instead a five-star system and colored flags would indicate whether schools are making gains. A whole host of factors would play into a school's evaluation, including how many students are taking advanced placement classes.

The president is set to hold an afternoon press conference with state education officials, teachers, civil rights, and business leaders

In September, Obama called President George W. Bush's most hyped domestic accomplishment an admirable but flawed effort that hurt students instead of helping them. He said action was necessary because Congress failed to update the law despite widespread bipartisan agreement that it needs fixing. Republicans have charged that by granting waivers, Obama was overreaching his authority.

The executive action by Obama is one of his most prominent in an ongoing campaign to act on his own where Congress is rebuffing him. No Child Left Behind was primarily designed to help the nation's poor and minority children and was passed a decade ago with widespread bipartisan support. It has been up for renewal since 2007. But lawmakers have been stymied for years by competing priorities, disagreements over how much of a federal role there should be in schools and, in the recent Congress, partisan gridlock.

For all the cheers that states may have about the changes, the move also reflects the sobering reality that the United States is not close to the law's original goal: getting children to grade level in reading and math.

Critics today say the 2014 deadline was unrealistic, the law is too rigid and led to teaching to the test, and too many schools feel they are labeled as "failures." Under No Child Left Behind, schools that don't meet requirements for two years or longer face increasingly tough consequences, including busing children to higher-performing schools, offering tutoring and replacing staff.

As the deadline approaches, more schools are failing to meet requirements under the law, with nearly half not doing so last year, according to the Center on Education Policy. Center officials said that's because some states today have harder tests or have high numbers of immigrant and low-income children, but it's also because the law requires states to raise the bar each year for how many children must pass the test.

In states granted a waiver, students will still be tested annually. But starting this fall, schools in those states will no longer face the same prescriptive actions spelled out under No Child Left Behind. A school's performance will also probably be labeled differently.

The pressure will probably still be on the lowest-performing schools in states granted a waiver, but mediocre schools that aren't failing will probably see the most changes because they will feel less pressure and have more flexibility in how they spend federal dollars, said Michael Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank.

While the president's action marks a change in education policy in America, the reach is limited. The populous states of Pennsylvania, Texas and California are among those that have not said they will seek a waiver, although they could still do so later.

On Tuesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said states without a waiver will be held to the standards of No Child Left Behind because "it's the law of the land."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.