No Child Left Behind: A Toolkit for Teachers
Archived Information

What is No Child Left Behind?

No Child Left Behind at a Glance: The Law That Ushered in a New Era

Clearly, our children are our future, and, as President Bush has expressed, "Too many of our neediest children are being left behind."

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001(NCLB)1 is a landmark in education reform designed to improve student achievement and close achievement gaps. Passed with overwhelming bipartisan support from Congress, the law was signed by President George W. Bush on Jan. 8, 2002. Clearly, our children are our future, and, as President Bush has expressed, "Too many of our neediest children are being left behind."

With passage of No Child Left Behind, Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA)--the principal federal law affecting education from kindergarten through high school. In amending ESEA, the new law represents a sweeping overhaul of federal efforts to support elementary and secondary education in the United States. It is built on four common-sense pillars: accountability for results, an emphasis on doing what works based on scientific research, expanded parental options, and expanded local control and flexibility.

Accountability for Results

Identifies Where Improvement is Needed

As part of the accountability provisions set forth in the law, No Child Left Behind has set the goal of having every child make the grade on state-defined education standards by the end of the 2013-14 school year. To reach that goal, every state has developed benchmarks to measure progress and make sure every child is learning. States are required to separate (or disaggregate) student achievement data, holding schools accountable for subgroups of students, so that no child falls through the cracks. A school or school district that does not meet the state's definition of "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) for two straight years (schoolwide or in any subgroup) is considered to be "in need of improvement."

No Child Left Behind does not label schools as "failing." Instead, schools are identified as "in need of improvement," and they are given assistance to improve by doing such things as instituting a school improvement plan or increasing professional development for teachers. The regular assessments that NCLB calls for help schools to identify subject areas and teaching methods that need improvement. For example, if student reading scores do not reach the state's benchmark for two consecutive years, the school knows it needs to improve its reading program. In the past, these schools might not have received the attention and help they need to improve. Through No Child Left Behind, every state has made a commitment that it will no longer turn a blind eye when schools are not meeting the needs of every student in their care.

Provides Schools in Need of Improvement With Help to Get Back on Track

When a school is "in need of improvement," school officials are required to work with parents, school staff, district leaders and outside experts to develop a plan to turn around the school. The district must ensure that the school receives needed technical assistance as it develops and implements its improvement plan. Examples of technical assistance include:

  • Identifying problems in instruction or curriculum.
  • Analyzing and revising the school's budget so that resources are more effectively targeted to activities most likely to help students learn.

The school's improvement plan must incorporate strategies, relying on scientifically based research, that will strengthen the learning of core academic subjects, especially the subject areas that resulted in the school being deemed in need of improvement. Schools in need of improvement must spend at least 10 percent of their Title I funds to assist teachers. For example they could provide professional development that will improve subject-matter knowledge in the subjects taught. These schools are also expected to develop strategies to promote effective parental involvement in the school and to incorporate a teacher-mentoring program. No Child Left Behind provides several additional funding sources that schools can use to support teachers and help them improve their skills. See page 13 for more information on funds available.


No Child Left Behind labels schools as "failing," and those schools lose federal money.


NCLB does not label any school as "failing." In fact, states are responsible for identifying schools as "in need of improvement" if they do not reach the state-defined standards for two consecutive years. And far from losing federal funds, schools in need of improvement actually qualify for additional support to help them get back on track. Federal funds have steadily increased to support schools in need of improvement. These schools have increased funds targeted for professional development, and are specifically required to work with parents, school staff, district and outside experts to develop an improvement plan.

Improves Teaching and Learning by Providing Better Information to Teachers and Principals

States have the flexibility to create high-quality assessments, aligned with state standards for schools and focused on higher-level thinking skills. Districts and schools use these assessments to measure progress in student learning. These annual tests provide educators with information about each child's academic strengths and weaknesses. With this knowledge, teachers can craft lessons to make sure each student meets or exceeds the standards. In addition, principals can use the data to assess where the school should invest resources. For example, tests may show that the school's students are doing fine when it comes to multiplication but are struggling with fractions. That might mean that the curriculum for teaching fractions needs to be adjusted or that teachers need additional professional development in teaching fractions.

Ensures That Teacher Quality is a High Priority

No Child Left Behind outlines the minimum qualifications needed by teachers: a bachelor's degree, full state certification and demonstration of subject-matter competency for each subject taught. NCLB requires that states develop plans to achieve the goal that all teachers of core academic subjects are highly qualified by the end of the 2005-06 school year. States must include in their plans annual, measurable objectives that each local school district and school must meet in moving toward the goal. They must also report on their progress in annual report cards.

Gives More Resources to Schools

States and local school districts are now receiving more federal funds than ever before for programs under No Child Left Behind: $24.3 billion, most of which will be used during the 2004-05 school year. This represents an increase of 39.8 percent from 2001 to 2004 for all NCLB-related programs. A large portion of these funds is for grants under Title I of NCLB, called "Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged." Title I grants are awarded to states and districts to help them improve the education of disadvantaged students, turn around low-performing schools, improve teacher quality and increase choices for parents. For fiscal year (FY) 2004, funding for Title I alone is $12.3 billion--an increase of 40.8 percent since the passage of NCLB. President Bush's FY 2005 budget request would increase spending on Title I by 52.3 percent since 2001.


No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is an unfunded mandate.


Taking federal funds under NCLB requires that states actually set standards and enforce them, which is a reasonable expectation for taxpayers, as well as a mechanism to determine schools in need of improvement and to target additional resources to students. The standards are the state's assurance that they will do the job of educating children.

More federal education funding has been provided by this administration than any previous one. Funding is at historic levels. In President Bush's FY 2005 budget, funding for K-12 education would be $38.7 billion, an increase of 39 percent since 2001. This school year alone, the United States invested more than $501 billion in education at the local, state, and federal levels.

The law is fully funded, according to several expert analyses, including a study by Massachusetts State Board Chairman James Peyser and economist Robert Costrell; a study by the General Accounting Office; and an analysis by the nonprofit group "Accountability Works." 2

There is no federal mandate except this: NCLB asks that children read and do math at grade level, and all students have opportunities for success. This is the goal of public education. For more information, visit

Scientifically Based Research

Focuses on What Works

No Child Left Behind puts a special emphasis on implementing education programs and practices that have been clearly demonstrated to be effective through rigorous scientific research. Federal funding is targeted to support such programs. For example, the Reading First program makes federal funds available to states to help reading teachers in the early grades strengthen existing skills and gain new ones in effective, scientifically based instructional techniques. To increase awareness and assess the quality of specific studies of the effectiveness of education interventions, the U.S. Department of Education created the What Works Clearinghouse. For more information, visit

Supports Learning in the Early Years, Thereby Preventing Many Learning Difficulties That May Arise Later

Children who enter school with language skills and pre-reading skills are more likely to learn to read well in the early grades and succeed in later years. In fact, research shows that good instruction in the early childhood years can prevent many types of adolescent and adult reading problems.3 No Child Left Behind targets resources for early childhood education through Early Reading First, so that all youngsters get the right start.

Expanded Parental Options

Provides More Information for Parents About Their Child's Progress

Under No Child Left Behind, by the 2005-06 school year each state must measure every public school student's progress in reading and math in each of grades 3 through 8 and at least once during grades 10 through 12. By school year 2007-08, assessments in science for grade spans 3 - 5, 6 - 8, and 10 - 12 must be under way. These assessments must be aligned with state academic content and achievement standards. They will provide parents with objective data about their child's academic strengths and weaknesses. They will also provide the public with general information about the progress of their area schools.

Alerts Parents to Important Information on the Performance of Their Child's School

No Child Left Behind requires states and school districts to give parents detailed report cards on schools and districts, telling them which ones are succeeding and why. Included in the report cards are student achievement data broken out by race, ethnicity, gender, English language proficiency, migrant status, disability status and low-income status, as well as information about the professional qualifications of teachers. With these provisions, NCLB ensures that parents have important, timely information about the schools their children attend.

Gives New Options to Parents Whose Children Attend Schools in Need of Improvement

In the first year that a school is considered to be in need of improvement, parents receive the option to transfer their child to a higher-performing public school, including a charter school, in the district. Transportation must also be provided to the new school, subject to certain cost limitations. In the second year that a school is considered to be in need of improvement, the school must continue offering public school choice, and the school must also offer supplemental services (e.g., free tutoring) to low-income students. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Education's Web site at:

Expanded Flexibility and Local Control

Allows For More Flexible Spending

In exchange for strong accountability, No Child Left Behind gives states and districts more flexibility in the use of their federal education funding. For instance, NCLB makes it possible for districts to transfer up to 50 percent of federal formula-grant funds they receive under different parts of the law (Title II--Improving Teacher Quality and Educational Technology, Title IV--Safe and Drug-Free School Grants, Title V--Innovative Programs) to any one of these programs or to the Title I program (Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged). This allows districts the opportunity to target resources as they see fit, without any additional approval. As a result, principals and administrators spend less time filling out forms and dealing with federal red tape and devote more time to students' needs. Districts have more freedom to implement innovations and allocate resources, thereby giving local people a greater opportunity to affect decisions regarding school programs. The flexibility and transferability provisions for states and districts are described in greater detail on the U.S. Department of Education's Web site at


No Child Left Behind is a "one size fits all" approach to schools and does not account for the uniqueness of each state, district and school.


NCLB provides an unprecedented amount of flexibility for states to tailor their standards, assessments, and definitions of proficiency, highly qualified teacher, and adequate yearly progress according to their own unique needs and challenges. It also gives states and districts flexibility in how they use their funds, encouraging them to focus on student achievement and what works to improve teaching and learning. If there is anything "one size fits all" about NCLB, it is that the law demands that all children have the opportunity for a high-quality education, with high standards and high-quality teachers. For more information on the flexibility in the law, go to

Encourages Teacher Development

No Child Left Behind gives states and districts the flexibility to find innovative ways to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers, including alternative routes to certification, merit pay plans for master teachers and incentive pay for those who teach in high-need schools and subject areas like math and science.

The Improving Teacher Quality State Grants program (Title II of No Child Left Behind) gives states and districts flexibility to determine, based on a district needs assessment, how to spend professional development dollars. Districts must consult with teachers and school leaders as they determine the appropriate use of funds. These funds should provide teachers with professional development that is relevant, useful and focused on raising student achievement. Since 2001, Title II funds have increased 39 percent, totaling $822 million. Contact your state department of education or district to find out how these funds are used to support teaching and learning.

   4 | 5 | 6
Print this page Printable view Bookmark  and Share
Last Modified: 08/13/2009