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No Child Left Behind: A Desktop Reference
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The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is a landmark in education reform designed to improve student achievement and change the culture of America's schools. This new law, which President George W. Bush described as "the cornerstone of my administration," represents a sweeping overhaul of federal efforts to support elementary and secondary education in the United States.

"These reforms express my deep belief in our public schools and their mission to build the mind and character of every child, from every background, in every part of America," President Bush said during his first week in office in January 2001.

The act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, embodies four key principles--stronger accountability for results; greater flexibility for states, school districts and schools in the use of federal funds; more choices for parents of children from disadvantaged backgrounds; and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been demonstrated to work. The act also places an increased emphasis on reading, especially for young children, enhancing the quality of our nation's teachers, and ensuring that all children in America's schools learn English. In keeping with these principles, and as this guide describes, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act affects virtually every program authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)--ranging from Title I and efforts to improve teacher quality to initiatives for limited English proficient (LEP) students and safe and drug-free schools.

Federal policy has had a significant impact on America's schools and children ever since ESEA was enacted in 1965. Yet, despite hundreds of programs and hundreds of billions of dollars invested during the last generation, American students still lag behind many of their fellow foreign students and the academic achievement gap in this country between rich and poor, white and minority students, remains wide. Indeed, President Bush expressed concern that "too many of our neediest children are being left behind."

Since the Nation at Risk report was issued nearly 20 years ago, there has been a vigorous national debate over how to improve our nation's schools and our children's achievement. Out of these years of debate, a general consensus has emerged that schools and districts work best when they have greater control and flexibility, when scientifically proven teaching methods are employed, and when schools are held accountable for results. These are the guiding ideas behind the NCLB Act.

"For too long, many of our schools did a good job educating some of our children," U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said when President Bush signed the act into law on January 8, 2002. "With this new law, we'll make sure we're providing all of our children with access to a high-quality education."


The NCLB Act is designed to help all students meet high academic standards by requiring that states create annual assessments that measure what children know and can do in reading and math in grades 3 through 8. These tests, based on challenging state standards, will allow parents, educators, administrators, policymakers, and the general public to track the performance of every school in the nation. Data will be disaggregated for students by poverty levels, race, ethnicities, disabilities, and limited English proficiencies to ensure that no child--regardless of his or her background--is left behind. The federal government will provide assistance to help states design and administer these tests. States also must report on school safety on a school-by-school basis.

Annual school "report cards" will provide comparative information on the quality of schools. By doing so, they will empower parents to make more informed choices about their children's educations. These report cards will show not only how well students are doing on meeting standards but also the progress that disaggregated groups are making in closing achievement gaps.

Districts and schools that do not make sufficient yearly progress toward state proficiency goals for their students first will be targeted for assistance and then be subject to corrective action and ultimately restructuring. Schools that meet or exceed objectives will be eligible for "academic achievement awards."

A small sample of students in each state also will participate in the fourth- and eighth-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading and math every other year to help the U.S. Department of Education track the results of statewide assessments required under Title I.

All states must submit plans to the secretary of education that include evidence that they have content and achievement standards and aligned assessments, school report card procedures, and statewide systems for holding schools and districts accountable for the achievement of their students.

Flexibility and Local Control

Another hallmark of the new law is that, in exchange for greater accountability for results, states and school districts will have unprecedented flexibility in how they can use federal education funds. The intent is to put greater decision-making powers at the local and state levels where educators are most in touch with students' needs.

The NLCB Act makes it possible for most districts to transfer up to 50 percent of the federal formula grant funds they receive under the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, Educational Technology, Innovative Programs, and Safe and Drug-Free Schools programs to any one of these programs or to their Title I program without separate approval. One consequence will be to allow districts to use funds to address their particular needs, such as hiring new teachers, increasing teacher pay, and improving teacher training and professional development. Similarly, a result of the law's consolidation of bilingual education programs is to give states and districts greater control in planning programs to benefit all limited English proficient students.

The act also creates state and local flexibility demonstration programs that allow selected states and school districts to consolidate funds received under a variety of federal education programs so that they can be used for any educational purpose authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by the NCLB Act in order to assist them in making adequate yearly progress and narrowing achievement gaps. In addition, the new Improving Teacher Quality State Grants program gives states and districts greater flexibility to choose the teacher professional development strategies that best meet their needs to help raise student achievement.

Enhanced Parental Choice

Parents of children who are in low-performing schools are given a new range of options under the NCLB Act. For one, parents with children in schools that fail to meet state standards for at least two consecutive years may transfer their children to a better-performing public school, including a public charter school,within their district. If they do so, the district must provide transportation, using Title I funds if necessary. Students from low-income families in schools that fail to meet state standards for at least three years are eligible to receive supplemental educational services-including tutoring, after-school services, and summer school. In addition, the NCLB Act provides increased support to parents, educators, and communities to create new charter schools. The act also provides students the choice to attend a safe school within their district if they attend persistently dangerous schools or are the victim of a violent crime while in their school.

These options are closely linked to the accountability provisions that give parents information on which schools in their communities are succeeding and which are not. In turn, the choice and supplemental educational services requirements of the law not only help to enhance student achievement but also provide an incentive for low-performing schools to improve. Schools that want to avoid losing students, not to mention restructuring, will have to do a better job.

Focuses on What Works

The NCLB Act puts a special emphasis on determining what educational programs and practices have been clearly demonstrated to be effective through rigorous scientific research. Federal funding will be targeted to support these programs and teaching methods that improve student learning and achievement.

Reading programs are a prime example. The NCLB Act will support scientifically based reading instruction programs in the early grades under the new Reading First program and in preschool under the new Early Reading First program. Funds will be available to help teachers strengthen old skills and gain new ones in effective reading instructional techniques. Funds will be directed to after-school and other programs that have been scientifically demonstrated to prevent drug use and violence among youths.

This reference guide outlines what is new under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 for each of the educational programs supported under the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 and other statutes. It also describes how the NLCB Act's four guiding principles are brought to bear on many of these programs. The intent is to provide a relatively substantive overview of policy changes and emphases for state and district officials. It is not intended to provide either budgetary guidance or practical assistance for teachers or parents. Programs for which no funding was requested in fiscal years 2002 and 2003 are not included.

Throughout this document "school district" or "district" is used interchangeably with "local educational agency." For a complete definition of "local educational agency" as used in the law, please see Section 9101(26) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by the NCLB Act.

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Last Modified: 09/14/2007