It's been 12 years since President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind with a beaming Ted Kennedy by his side. According to the terms of the law itself, every public school was now supposed to be adequate.
The mandated NCLB, signed into law of January 2002, was clear: "Each State shall establish a timeline for adequate yearly progress. The timeline shall ensure that not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001-02 school year, all students ... will meet or exceed the State's proficient level of academic achievements on the State assessments ..."
The "all students" requirement was translated into reports on the scores of vulnerable subgroups.
"The law required that states report more than just average test scores," NPR noted this week. "It made them report, separately, the scores of traditionally disadvantaged subgroups: ethnic and racial minorities, disabled students, low-income students and English learners."
In addition to inducing schools to teach to the tests or focusing resources on students on the margins, NCLB led states to redefine success, Joanne Weiss inherited No Child Left Behind as chief of staff to President Barack Obama's Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, told NPR.
"By letting every state set their own benchmark, define their own standard and use their own assessment, combined with the requirement of 100 percent proficiency, they basically incented states to keep dumbing down and lowering their cut score in order to get more kids across the bar," Weiss said. "And that has done a huge disservice to our educational system. Huge."
NCLB expired in 2007, but remains in force, and the vast majority of states get "waivers" from the U.S. Department of Education, needed since very few schools actually achieve the targets.
The power to grant these waivers gives the White House tremendous leverage, Education Dive notes.
"While NCLB expired in 2007, the federal government has made no moves to reauthorize it, forcing states to continuously reapply for waivers. It works to the White House's benefit, as each state really has to obey what the federal government wants if it desires any leniency."
Most of the news reports on NCLB either report the annual renewal of a state's waiver or, more rarely, the failure to get the waiver and its consequences.
Washington state lost its waiver earlier this year when it refused to tie teacher evaluation directly to test scores.
"The waiver loss meant Washington schools now must meet all requirements of the 2001 law, including one that requires schools to notify parents if schools fail to meet certain test score targets. By 2014 those requirements included ensuring that schools had a 100 percent passage rate on state tests in reading in math in grades 3-8 and grade 10. Washington’s school districts also have lost control over how they spend part of their share of about $40 million in federal funding," according to the Seattle Times.
Oklahoma also lost its waiver earlier this year, after it rejected the Common Core standards. The NCLB requires that a state have standards that prepare students for postecondary education or career.
"This matters," Education Week reported, "because in order to get a waiver from the mandates of the NCLB law, states have to embrace standards that will prepare students for postsecondary education or the workplace. Common Core counts, but states can also opt to have their institutions of higher education certify that their own standards are rigorous enough to get students ready for college and careers."
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