African American Studies No Child Left Behind
by
Stuart Greene, Kevin Burke
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190280024-0039

Introduction

Fulfilling the promise of Brown v. Board of Education has remained central to the struggle for civil rights in education. This prompted Secretary of Education Rod Paige to assert this about the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2004: “No Child Left Behind” is a powerful, sweeping law. It is the logical step after Brown v. Board of Education, which was designed to end segregation, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which promised an equitable society. The ancient Greeks used to say, “‘Education is freedom.’ Yes, it is. And No Child Left Behind is about freedom and equality and justice” (Goldstein and Beutel 2008, cited under History of Standards-Based Reform, p. 7). The act’s statement of purpose affirms that its goal involves “closing the achievement gap between high and low-performing children, especially the achievement gaps between minority and non-minority students, and between disadvantaged and more advantaged peers.” This article includes an analysis of five areas that may be seen as hallmarks of NCLB, particularly its efforts to disaggregate student achievement by examining the achievement of students of color, students placed in special education, and students with limited English proficiency (LEP). One could argue that centering race on discussions of educational outcomes was very much a part of NCLB’s efforts to fulfill the promise of Brown. The focus is also on NCLB’s effects on the ways the field of education has dealt with teacher quality. Attempts have been made to create a balance both in the analysis as well as in the references provided. A complete list of citations is not provided; rather, a set of references is included that have served as intellectual touchstones in the debates surrounding the effects of NCLB since its initial passage almost fifteen years ago at this writing. In discussing NCLB, some context is provided by tracing its enactment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965—part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and an act that constituted a sea change in what, by many accounts, was the federal government’s role in education. Title I of the ESEA provided funding for schools in poor, mostly black neighborhoods, at the height of the Civil Rights movement and at the same time as passage of both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Thus, NCLB was nearly forty years in the making, finding its roots in the 1983 report, “A Nation at Risk,” in which the authors declared war on what the writers saw as a lack of rigor and standards in education. In turn, Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton formulated a vision of education that focused on standards, accountability, and increased testing, a vision that helped shape NCLB. Some would even argue that President Clinton’s “Goals 2000” served as the blueprint for NCLB. The assumption driving such a vision was that the underachievement of students, particularly historically underserved students, could be attributed to a lack of accountability.

General Overviews

Gaps in achievement persist even fifteen years after the implementation of NCLB. Schools are resegregating and funding for public schools in poor neighborhoods limits educational opportunities, ranging from extracurricular activities, special services, up-to-date textbooks and science labs to access to technology, including the Internet, and a rich curriculum that promotes critical thinking, civic engagement, and citizenship in smaller class sizes. Disparities between black, Latina/o, and white students are especially clear in the black-white achievement gap, graduation and drop-out rates, and admission to college. Many would argue that these disparities have fueled the school-to-prison pipeline. NCLB opened up spaces for school choice and the privatization of education (Hursh 2007, Lipman 2011), measurement of effective teaching, and measures of student learning, all in an effort to address the lack of equity in public education. It seemed clear that if the federal government continued to spend more money on public education, then it was necessary to develop objective, scientific measures of achievement that teachers and school administrators themselves could not provide. This was an especially important tenet within an unregulated market economy in which the United States struggled to compete—both economically and educationally. The strength of an economy rests on education and competition can ensure the quality of schools. In turn, if schools fail to meet their goals embedded in NCLB’s standards of annual yearly progress (AYP), then it followed for the architects of NCLB that the state and/or federal government could intervene by restructuring, if not closing, underperforming schools. The assumptions underlying NCLB remain open for much debate and discussion, as does the question of whether equal educational opportunity remains an issue of civil rights in our time. Alternatively, works such as Berliner 2013, Hursh 2007, and Lipman 2011 question whether the commitment to equity with the passage of the ESEA has waned given the increased focus on standards and accountability in the reauthorization of NCLB in 2015. That is, can the principle of sameness (i.e., the same standards and the same tests) embedded in the reauthorization of NCLB provide equity in poor communities where multiple social and economic factors impact student life and performance? Is it possible to reform education and increase achievement without also recognizing the ecology of schooling that includes neighborhoods, families, city and state governments, and federal policies that all affect education? Others, such as Goldstein and Beutel 2008 (cited under History of Standards-Based Reform), examine the economic assumptions underlying NCLB and challenge educators to think more broadly about the purpose of education as more than ensuring the well-being of the nation. At the same time, Hess and Petrilli 2007 urge readers in their No Child Left Behind Primer to consider the wisdom of standards-based reform set out in NCLB.

  • Berliner, David. “Effects of Inequality and Poverty vs. Teachers and Schooling on America’s Youth.” Teachers College Record 115.12 (2013): 1–25.

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    Presents data to show that socioeconomic circumstances in the lives of children account for at least 60 percent of the factors that affect student learning. Makes the argument that efforts to reform education must go hand-in-hand with initiatives to reduce poverty and ensure that children have access to quality health care and living conditions.

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  • Bloomfield, David, and Bruce Cooper. “NCLB: A New Role for the Federal Government; An Overview of the Most Sweeping Federal Education Law since 1965.” THE Journal (2003).

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    Provides a historical overview of education reform that is in keeping with others who connect No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Both NCLB and ESEA mark turning points in the federal government’s role in education through funding and curriculum, respectively.

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  • Hess, Frederick M., and Michael J. Petrilli. No Child Left Behind Primer. New York: Peter Lang, 2007.

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    Provides a comprehensive introduction to NCLB—its purpose, bipartisan support, and the various components, including increased testing, standards, and accountability. Discussion also focuses on other important issues related to disaggregating data for historically underserved students, LEP students, and students with special needs. Finally, emphasis is given to the annual yearly progress (AYP) requirement, school choice, and measurement of teacher quality and student learning.

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  • Hursh, David. “Exacerbating Inequality: The Failed Promise of the No Child Left Behind Act.” Race, Ethnicity and Education 10.3 (2007): 295–308.

    DOI: 10.1080/13613320701503264Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that by focusing on education as the solution to social and economic inequality, NCLB diverts the public’s attention away from issues such as poverty, lack of decent paying jobs, and health care. These are issues that the federal government needs to address if federal legislation can fulfill the promise of NCLB and its goal of closing the black-white achievement gap.

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  • Lipman, Pauline. The New Political Economy of Urban Education: Neoliberalism, Race, and the Right to the City. New York: Routledge, 2011.

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    Connects standards-based reform in Chicago to NCLB to argue that such an approach exacerbates inequality. Students in insufficiently resourced schools are learning low-level skills that prepare them for a service economy and not the high-level skills needed for an information-based economy. Also traces standards-based reform and school choice to neoliberal economic policies rooted in a free-market economy that promotes privatization of goods and services.

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  • Losen, Daniel. “Challenging Racial Disparities: The Promise and Pitfalls of the No Child Left Behind Act’s Race-Conscious Accountability.” Howard Law Journal 47.2 (2004): 243–298.

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    Draws some important parallels between Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Title I of NCLB and what it means to think about education as a civil right. Argues that NCLB alone cannot lead to equity unless government oversight enforces civil rights law. As it stands a disproportionate number of African American and Latina/o students often attend poorly resourced schools with less rigorous curricula; they are overrepresented in special education classes; and they do not have access to qualified teachers.

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History of Standards-Based Reform

Any discussion of NCLB must include the history of federal involvement in education. As Kaestle 1983 observes, the federal government’s role in education dates back to the development of Common Schools in the mid-19th century that were prompted by Thomas Jefferson’s vision of democracy and Horace Mann’s tenacity. For years, Congress resisted the idea of publicly funded schools, but this changed when it became clear that the government was also playing an increased role in a developing economy. Education could provide workers with the tools they needed to be productive, industrious workers in a democracy, lift up people out of poverty at a time of increased industrialization, and strengthen the moral fabric of a nation facing the challenge of newly arrived immigrants. Nativists sought to create a national identity through education that would reaffirm Protestant ideology, hard work, individual freedom, manifest destiny, and American Exceptionalism—all tenets reinforced in what Tyack 2001 describes as a tradition of patriotic textbooks. The point in providing this quick sweep of history is to suggest that the federal government has for many years played a key role in education and that accountability has been a cornerstone of educational policy since the turn of the 20th century. Callahan 1964 documents the extent to which corporate leaders in the burgeoning industrial revolution influenced education, particularly in areas of “scientific management,” a term that Frederick Winslow Taylor coined to describe the planning and production of material goods. Also well documented are Edward Thorndike’s efforts in the early 20th century to measure intelligence and learning through IQ tests. These metrics provide a sense of objectivity and transparency and do not rely on teachers’ seemingly subjective explanations of student learning. However, it is important to ask what metrics are most appropriate for assessing learning and teacher effectiveness and how these metrics should be used. What sets apart the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (Title I), passed in 1965, is its infusion of federal money directed specifically to “disadvantaged” black students living in poor neighborhoods (Losen 2004, cited under General Overviews). However, left out of this story is the extent to which Congress resisted the very idea of redistributing financial resources to aid the poor. This resistance ensured that funds nearing $10 billion were distributed “equitably” to nearly every school in the United States, not just those with the greatest need. In fact, Kantor 1991 observes that party politics in Congress limited “the federal government’s capacity to make the education of disadvantaged students a top priority of local school districts, even though it successfully institutionalized the federal commitment to improving education for economically disadvantaged children” (p. 47). Still, with increased funding came the admonition to increase monitoring of programs such as Head Start to ensure that programs and schools were fulfilling their goals. The period between the mid-1960s to the early 1980s was one of enormous change in the demographics of students attending urban schools, particularly with the increase in immigration and students requiring second-language instruction and special educational services. This increasing diversity included immigrants displaced by a changing global market that was clearly reorganizing economic structures in the United States and that challenged Americans’ conceptions of identity. Thus, the authors of A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education 1983) affirm the importance of education’s role in imparting a common culture. For the authors of A Nation at Risk, the linchpin of a functioning democracy requires a shared knowledge, culture, language, and moral grounding, all of which can ensure that the United States will retain its identity and competitive edge in a global market. But when the authors refer to “our society, to our people, to our families,” one cannot help but ask who is included in the authors’ conception of American identity and citizenship and who, perhaps, is left out? This is an important question that lifts the veil on an issue that may be as urgent as economic competitiveness: that “we” are “losing a shared vision for America” in light of increased diversity. The authors of A Nation at Risk argued that education is critical because our schools can teach a common culture, a common language, and moral principles undergirded by democratic ideals of patriotism, individuality, hard work, and personal responsibility. However, it is noteworthy that President Reagan cut Title I funding at the time that A Nation at Risk appeared and declared war on public education for its failures to prepare youth for the emerging, new economy. Darling-Hammond 2010 points out “the federal share fell from 12% to 6% during the Reagan years” (p. 20), which was in keeping with President Reagan’s belief that the federal government should not have a role in public education, as Goldstein and Beutel 2008 explain. This was also a time when the nation witnessed the loss of manufacturing jobs and a shifting economy that hollowed out the core of cities. These shifts increased the economic burden of an already shrinking middle class and placed low-income minority families even further on the margins of society. NCLB marked a new period of federal involvement in education, not just through funding, but also through its role as a shaping force in the standardization of curriculum, assessment, and accountability (Hess and Petrilli 2007, cited under General Overviews). Hursh 2007 (cited under General Overviews) argues that the federal government has been able to take on this new role because “NCLB promises to increase educational and economic productivity in an increasingly globalized economy” (p. 297). Visiting a charter school in 2006, President George W. Bush explained that “NCLB is an important way to make sure America remains competitive in the 21st century . . . now is the time for the United States of America to give our children the skills so that the jobs will stay here” (Hursh 2007, p. 297). In essence, Bloomfield and Cooper 2003 point out that the federal government had begun to systematically co-opt the authority of local and state policies in education in a formidable attempt to “boost student achievement, especially among the poor and minority students” (p. 6). Early critics contended that increased standardization, testing, and accountability would lead to a more regimented curriculum, but then Secretary of Education Paige, a former superintendent of Houston’s public schools, countered critics’ pessimism with these words: “The good news is that we know what works; scientifically proven methods, aligned standards, assessments and instruction, school and district leadership focused on student learning, accountability for results, and highly qualified teachers will improve achievement and bring success” (Bloomfield and Cooper 2003, p. 8).

  • Bloomfield, David, and Bruce Cooper. “NCLB: A New Role for the Federal Government; An Overview of the Most Sweeping Federal Education Law since 1965.” THE Journal (2003).

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    Provides a historical overview of education reform that is in keeping with others who connect No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Both NCLB and ESEA mark turning points in the federal government’s role in education through funding and curriculum, respectively.

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  • Callahan, Raymond. Education and the Cult of Efficiency: A Study of the Social Forces That Have Shaped the Administration of the Public Schools. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964.

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    Offers a historical perspective on the ways industrial capitalists at the turn of the 20th century influenced education, particularly through applying principles of efficiency and productivity.

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  • Darling-Hammond, Linda. The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future. New York: Teachers College, 2010.

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    The primary emphasis is on describing and measuring effective teaching, while also pointing out the extent to which quality teaching needs to be more equitably distributed in schools with the greatest needs. The focus is also on educational reform from the 1960s to the present and the erosion of Title I funding that was the initial cornerstone of the ESEA during the Reagan years.

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  • Goldstein, Rebecca, and Andrew Beutel. “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: NCLB in Bush’s Neo-liberal Marketplace (a.k.a., Revisioning History: The Discourses of Equality, Justice and Democracy Surrounding NCLB).” Journal of Educational Controversy 3.1 (2008).

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    The study presents a rhetorical analysis of speeches that President Bush and former Secretaries of Education Paige and Spellings have given to discuss the advantages of NCLB. The focus on US economic well-being goes hand-in-hand with the nation’s ability to compete economically.

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  • Kaestle, C. Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1780–1860. New York: Hill & Wang, 1983.

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    Documents the development of public education and the ideology of schools that served the economic well-being of the United States. Like David Tyack, the author describes the shift from local control to consolidated school districts that influenced what was taught and what became a more standardized curriculum with the rise of textbooks in the mid-19th century. Also provides evidence of how schools stratified education by race, class, and gender and their efforts to assimilate newly arrived immigrants, Catholics, and Native Americans,

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  • Kantor, Harvey. “Education, Social Reform, and the State: ESEA and Federal Education Policy in the 1960s.” American Journal of Education 100.1 (1991): 47–83.

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    Analyzes the decisions and political factors that influenced passage of the Civil Rights Act and ESEA, both of which represented President Johnson’s vision of equity, the “War on Poverty,” and the “Great Society.” Especially relevant is the extent to which the author explains the political in-fighting in Congress and the resistance to what many saw as a redistribution of resources that Johnson sought so as to rectify past injustices done to African American families.

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  • National Commission on Excellence in Education. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. Washington, DC: National Commission for Excellence in Education, 1983.

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    Called attention to the weaknesses of public education, particularly with respect to teacher quality and curriculum in the fields of science and mathematics. This was not a policy statement as much as it was an assessment of public schools at a time when the United States felt threatened by increased competition in a global economy and when students did not seem to be adequately prepared to compete for jobs in an information economy.

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  • Paige, Rod. “No Child Left Behind: The Ongoing Movement for Public Education Reform.” Harvard Educational Review 76.4 (2006): 461–473.

    DOI: 10.17763/haer.76.4.00l6r66937737852Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Depicts the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) as the culmination of reform efforts since ESEA. Explains the rationale for the design of NCLB and responds to several criticisms of the legislation, including the argument that a standardized curriculum or goals for proficiency are inadequate. Further argues that the nation’s public schools, to remain viable, must become more responsive to the needs of students and their families.

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  • Tyack, David. The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

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    Originally published in 1974. Like Kaestle 1983, describes the development of public schools in the 19th century and the influence of manufacturing on education, particularly with respect to efficiency and productivity.

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  • US Department of Education. “Elementary and Secondary Education Act, 1965.” Washington, DC: US Department of Education.

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    The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson, who believed that “full educational opportunity” should be “our first national goal.” ESEA offered new grants to districts serving low-income students and federal grants for textbooks and library books, among other initiatives, to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education.

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Debate and Discussion of NCLB: The Costs and Benefits of Standards-Based Reform

Leading up to the reauthorization of NCLB in 2015, researchers prompted educators and policymakers to “take stock” of where we have been and where we are going. A key question that Desimone 2013 asks is whether standards-based reform has improved teaching and learning for all children. Greene 2008 reviews studies that indicate the extent to which increased testing and accountability have actually harmed the very students that NCLB sought to help. But Desimone 2013 observes that other studies have documented gains in achievement and, equally important, teachers’ approaches to helping learners who struggle in school. At the heart of the debate are a number of key concerns that are important to consider, even if the answers to some fundamental questions remain undetermined: (a) the extent to which the curriculum in schools has narrowed to ensure that teachers can focus on mathematics and reading, the two primary subjects that NCLB has targeted for improvement; (b) the effect of increased test preparation on both students, who experience the stress of taking tests, and teachers, whose primary task is to prepare students for tests through rote instruction instead of developing curriculum that engages students in culturally relevant, authentic tasks of literacy, social studies, art, music, science, and mathematics; (c) the effects of punitive measures designed to improve achievement but which may diminish the resources that schools need to ensure that students can flourish; (d) the extent to which tests adequately measure student learning and whether assessments of teacher quality are sensitive enough to capture the complexity of teaching a wide range of students with different socioeconomic backgrounds; and (e) whether educators can fulfill the requirements of NCLB without increased funding from the federal government. It is not clear from research that districts across the country have fulfilled the requirement of improving teacher quality or met the needs of underserved students, including LEP students and students with disabilities. Still, researchers have remained optimistic in the face of challenges because educators are paying more attention to curriculum (i.e., what is taught and how). Moreover, it is not insignificant that assessments may be inappropriate for LEP students or students with special needs. And, as Darling-Hammond 2007 points out, “the law fails to address the pressing problems of unequal educational resources across schools serving wealthy and poor children and the shortage of well-prepared teachers in high need schools” (p. 245). However, others (e.g., Raymond and Hanushek 2003) argue that state and federal accountability have brought about positive effects.

  • Darling-Hammond, Linda. “Race, Inequality and Educational Accountability: The Irony of ‘No Child Left Behind.’” Race, Ethnicity and Education 10.3 (2007): 245–260.

    DOI: 10.1080/13613320701503207Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests that NCLB’s requirements have failed to achieve its goals of closing the black-white achievement gap and have produced a number of unintended consequences that have limited opportunities for students NCLB was supposed to help. Among these consequences are a narrowed curriculum, inappropriate assessment of English language learners and students with special needs, and strong incentives to exclude low-scoring students from school.

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  • Desimone, Laura. “Reform before NCLB.” Kappan 94.8 (2013): 59–61.

    DOI: 10.1177/003172171309400814Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Addresses this primary question: Does it improve teaching and learning and does it do so for all children? Studies of standards-based reform in the era of No Child Left Behind suggest the answer is complicated, but a review of past reform efforts suggests the importance of placing reform in the hands of state and local administrators. Especially important in any reform movement is teacher buy-in.

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  • Greene, Stuart. Literacy as a Civil Right: Reclaiming Social Justice in Literacy Teaching and Learning. New York: Peter Lang, 2008.

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    Critiques NCLB’s formulation of equity as sameness to argue that education policy should be as concerned with outcomes as it is with opportunity. Analysis of data indicates that increased testing and standards have limited opportunities for historically underserved students living in poverty by narrowing the curriculum and taking a punitive approach to addressing the annual yearly progress requirement.

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  • Raymond, Margaret, and Eric Hanushek. “Shopping for Evidence against School Accountability.” Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, 2003.

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    Challenges those who take issue with standards-based reform and accountability. Although some evidence seems to suggest that NCLB has had a limited or even harmful influence on student achievement, the analyses by the authors rely on statistical analyses of differences in NAEP growth across states to infer a more positive impact of introducing state accountability.

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NCLB, Race, and Equity

Losen 2004 contends that “Title I’s new accountability system is among the most race-conscious legislative remedies to racial inequity in K-12 education since Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964” (p. 245), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. However, even in its efforts to create equity, NCLB never really raised the issue of unlawful discrimination evident in the unequal distribution of funding and other material resources. Still, the race-conscious principle of accountability in NCLB and its possible reauthorization provides an opportunity for educators and policymakers interested in social justice to pursue equity in access and outcomes for all students. Such an approach, according to Losen 2004, “will help generate public awareness of the unleveled playing field confronting so many children in our nation” (p. 248). The possible reauthorization of NCLB also provides an opportunity to examine race and the ways in which social, economic, and political forces determine race relations, identity, and educational opportunity, a point that authors Freeman 2005, Greene 2008 (cited under Debate and Discussion of NCLB: The Costs and Benefits of Standards-Based Reform), and Leonardo 2007 all make in their analyses. The structural sources of inequality in schools that these authors discuss call attention to the historical circumstances that left many young people without the resources they needed to flourish as educated citizens in an era of Jim Crow and that still have a considerable impact on underserved students in segregated, underfunded schools (Kozol 2005). Unfortunately, segregation is increasing to levels of the 1960s, a point that Orfield 2014 has long maintained and researchers, in works such as Darling-Hammond 2007, have found that students in racially isolated school districts are more likely than others to be educated by uncertified and unqualified teachers. Research also suggests that the practice of tracking exacerbates inequality and Oakes 2005, a seminal study, finds that black and Latina/o students are disproportionately placed in low-track classes that affect their life chances in an information-based economy. That is, low-track classes have the tendency to foster in students identities closely aligned with a highly stratified workforce. It is equally significant that reports show the extent to which black and Latina/o students—male and female—are disproportionately suspended from school and that zero tolerance policies are fueling a school-to-prison pipeline. Not surprisingly, the gaps in the drop-out rate for underserved and white students continues to increase. As Thompson and Allen 2012 indicate, these trends are at odds with the accountability principle in NCLB based on the concept of ensuring the adequacy, progress, and educational outcomes for all students. Unfortunately, researchers have found that there has been little oversight to ensure that all racial and ethnic groups have reached the benchmarks set out by NCLB (i.e., annual yearly progress [AYP]). Moreover, Losen 2004 argues, it is the “hard bigotry of inadequate funding that contributes in critical ways to racial disparities in achievement” (author’s italics, p. 285). Although Packer 2007 acknowledges this as a problem, the author balances criticisms of NCLB to argue that NCLB represents positive steps for reform as do the contributors to Reardon, et al. 2013.

  • Darling-Hammond, Linda. “Race, Inequality and Educational Accountability: The Irony of ‘No Child Left Behind.’” Race Ethnicity and Education 10.3 (2007): 245–260.

    DOI: 10.1080/13613320701503207Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests that NCLB’s requirements have failed to achieve its goals of closing the black-white achievement gap and have produced a number of unintended consequences that have limited opportunities for students for whom NCLB was supposed to help. Among these consequences are a narrowed curriculum, inappropriate assessment of English-language learners and students with special needs, and strong incentives to exclude low-scoring students from school.

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  • Freeman, Eric. “No Child Left Behind and the Denigration of Race.” Equity and Excellence in Education 38 (2005): 190–199.

    DOI: 10.1080/10665680591002560Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Critiques the emergence of colorblind discourse in educational policy. By advancing the principle of sameness in standardizing curriculum as a way to achieve equity, NCLB shifts attention away from structures in society that have disadvantaged historically underserved students. These structures are embedded in a political economy that influences the ways school funding is distributed and who has access to other material resources.

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  • Kozol, Jonathan. The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. New York: Crown, 2005.

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    Reviews research conducted by the Civil Rights Project of Harvard University to explain the resegregation of schools throughout the United States and its detrimental effects on underserved students living in poverty. Provides empirical evidence to show that standards-based reform has led to implementing scripted curricula in schools with insufficient resources that limit what students are learning and take decision making out of the hands of teachers.

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  • Leonardo, Zeus. “NCLB, Nation Creation, and the Educational Construction of Whiteness.” Race, Ethnicity and Education 10.3 (2007): 261–278.

    DOI: 10.1080/13613320701503249Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Addresses how the concept of whiteness as property brings into focus the ways structural racism perpetuates inequality and maintains privilege. Critiques a race-neutral discourse of colorblindness in NCLB that places responsibility for achievement on individual students and their families and protects the interests of those in positions of power.

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  • Losen, Daniel. “Challenging Racial Disparities: The Promise and Pitfalls of the No Child Left Behind Act’s Race-Conscious Accountability.” Howard Law Journal 47.2 (2004): 243–298.

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    Draws some important parallels between Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Title I of NCLB and what it means to think about education as a civil right. Argues that NCLB alone cannot lead to equity unless government oversight enforces civil rights law. As it stands, a disproportionate number of African American and Latina/o students often attend poorly resourced schools with less rigorous curricula; they are overrepresented in special education classes; and they do not have access to qualified teachers.

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  • Oakes, Jeannie. Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality. 2d ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005.

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    Provides a historical overview of tracking, ability grouping, and the development of metrics for assessing learning, including IQ testing. Analyses then focus on classroom teaching to understand the types of knowledge that students are learning and the effectiveness of teaching in low-track and high-track classrooms. Concludes that students in low-track classes do not have access to high-status knowledge that would enable them to flourish in a changing economic climate.

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  • Orfield, Gary. “A New Civil Rights Agenda for American Education: Creating Opportunity in a Stratified Multiracial Nation.” Educational Researcher 43.6 (2014): 273–292.

    DOI: 10.3102/0013189X14547874Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides evidence that public schools are as segregated as they were just after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and explores the changing demographics of schools since Brown v. Board of Education. The challenges are different sixty years after Brown, given an increasing Latina/o population, and the author wonders how relevant the Brown decision is today.

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  • Packer, Joel. “The NEA Supports Substantial Overhaul, Not Repeal, of NCLB.” Phi Delta Kappan 89.4 (2007): 265–269.

    DOI: 10.1177/003172170708900405Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Acknowledges the flaws in NCLB and the inability of this legislation to achieve one of its central aims—to address the needs of black and Hispanic students and close the achievement gap. One positive strategy would be to increase Title I funding and provide more help for schools labeled as failing. This may entail providing more professional development, including parents as partners in efforts to improve achievement, and form professional learning communities for teachers and administrators.

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  • Reardon, Sean, Erica Greenberg, Demetra Kalogrides, Kenneth Shores, and Rachel Valentino. Left Behind? The Effect of No Child Left Behind on Academic Achievement Gaps. Center for Education Policy Analysis, 2013.

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    Takes issue with analyses that point to the failures of one of NCLB’s primary goals—to close the black-white achievement gap. Their findings suggest that the policy’s impact varies systematically across states in ways that are consistent with NCLB’s subgroup-specific accountability features. But overall no evidence suggests that NCLB-style accountability has led to any substantial narrowing of achievement gaps.

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  • Thompson, Gail, and Tawannah Allen. “Four Effects of the High-Stakes Testing Movement on African American K-12 Students.” Journal of Negro Education 81.3 (2012): 218–227.

    DOI: 10.7709/jnegroeducation.81.3.0218Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explains standards-based reform has had detrimental effects on African American students in four areas: (1) developing instructional practices that have not resulted in widespread higher test scores; (2) fostering a climate of student apathy by creating a disconnect between instruction and the lived experiences of students; (3) pushing more youth into the school-to-prison pipeline with ineffective punitive discipline policies; and (4) encouraging schools to increase achievement at the expense of ensuring that students are learning information that will help them improve the quality of their lives.

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NCLB and Disability

Students with disabilities continue to factor prominently in critiques of NCLB and its unintended consequences. Hess and Petrilli 2007 point out that the feature of disaggregating the data to identify underperforming students was a central part of the law’s “rhetoric because ‘no child’ would be hidden by a school’s average test scores. [T]he law would ensure that ‘no child’ would be left behind” (p. 29). Currently, if certain conditions are met, schools can meet the requirements of AYP, even if particular subgroups, such as students with disabilities, have not met a given state’s proficiency target. These conditions are known as the “safe harbor” provisions. However, Eckes and Swando 2009 critique the inability of the accountability system to respond to students who present unique challenges to traditional norm-referenced testing. In some cases, researchers have found that state officials created incentives to mis-classify students—particularly students of color—as having special needs. This practice has enabled schools to pursue waivers from testing restrictions and punitive measures, as Figlio and Getzler 2006 suggest, to ensure that they could meet the requirements of AYP. NCLB sought to address such practices by defining the category of students with disabilities within settled law provided in the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) in 1990. Still, Wei 2012 indicates that the delineation of such a category did nothing to raise test scores in schools. Ramanathan 2008 explains the federal government’s reliance on the Department of Education for ways to measure learning, but approaches to measuring student learning have tended to be oversimplified in order to produce data on a scale that is both manageable and efficient. Ramanathan 2008 concludes that the guidelines embedded in IDEA and NCLB have been scattershot and inadequate. More seriously, it is not clear how the law will deal with the problem of gaming the system that emerges in the separate studies of Bejoian and Reid 2005 and Cumming 2012. One of the main concerns in assessing NCLB is that the framers of the law take a deficit perspective on student learning––assuming that differences in learning represent impediments to achievement in school. And testing ignores the capacities, if not the assets, of different students. Thus, because students with disabilities are held to the same standard as their peers, accountability regimes often produce barriers to success for students with disabilities. Cumming 2012 offers three primary reasons to explain these barriers to success: (a) testing procedures are not sensitive enough to gauge learning; (b) funding measures are inadequate; and (c) the approaches to the challenges that schools, teachers, and students face are punitive. It is important to note that the profession of teaching broadly, but particularly teaching as a special educator, has been profoundly affected by legislation.

  • Bejoian, Lynne, and Kim D. Reid. “A Disability Studies Perspective on the Bush Education Agenda: The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.” Equity & Excellence in Education 38.3 (2005): 220–231.

    DOI: 10.1080/10665680591002597Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Cites specific concerns that emerge around the ability of schools to include students with disabilities, among other “disadvantaged groups,” in strategies for academic success during early implementation of the NCLB reforms. Uses a disability studies lens to critique NCLB, noting along the way the dangerous aspects of a deficit-centered policy approach to serving students with special needs, which, at the time of the article, appeared to be reinforced and even encouraged by NCLB.

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  • Cumming, Joy. Educational Provision, Equity and Educational Accountability for Students with Disability: Intentions and Practice. New York: Springer, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-007-2935-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the manner of inclusion of students with disabilities in educational accountability (in Australia, England, and the United States), particularly as it pertains to standardized testing in the United States. Concludes that outcomes for these students are disheartening, despite the rhetoric of inclusion of students with disabilities in educational accountability. Reform appears to create barriers for students with disabilities that prevent them from demonstrating their educational achievements.

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  • Eckes, Suzanne, and Julie Swando. “Special Education Subgroups under NCLB: Issues to Consider.” Teachers College Record 111.11 (2009): 2479–2504.

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    Questions the logic of requiring that students with disabilities maintain the same proficiency levels of their general education peers. The work further questions the push to close the achievement gap between special education and general education students at the same pace as the legislation seeks to close the gap based on race and class.

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  • Figlio, David, and Lawrence Getzler. “Accountability, Ability and Disability: Gaming the System?” In Improving School Accountability: Check-Ups or Choice. Edited by Timothy J. Gronberg and Dennis W. Jansen, 35–49. Advances in Applied Micro-economics 14. Oxford: Elsevier, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0278-0984(06)14002-XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the implementation of high-stakes testing in Florida and finds that the introduction of this particular high-stakes testing regime can be correlated to a “significant increase in the rate of disability classification.” Important to note that these data predate NCLB but might point to similar increases in designations of special education after testing spread through the federal mandate, particularly as it relates to the over-diagnosis of African American boys.

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  • Hess, Frederick, and Michael Petrilli. No Child Left Behind Primer. New York: Peter Lang, 2007.

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    Provides a comprehensive introduction to NCLB—its purpose, bipartisan support, and the various components, including increased testing, standards, and accountability. Discussion also focuses on other important issues related to disaggregating data for historically underserved students, LEP students, and students with special needs. Finally, emphasis is given to annual yearly progress (AYP), school choice, and measurement of teacher quality and student learning.

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  • Ramanathan, Arun. “Paved with Good Intentions: The Federal Role in the Oversight and Enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).” Teachers College Record 110.2 (2008): 278–321.

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    Compares the responses to implementations at the local level of both IDEA and NCLB. Explores parallels in the acts and, in particular, the ways in which the outcomes-based approach, enforced through the Department of Education, has led to gaming of the system, particularly through incorrect categorization of students with disabilities in order to influence test scores.

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  • Wei, Xin. “Does NCLB Improve the Achievement of Students with Disabilities? A Regression Discontinuity Design.” Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness 5.1 (2012): 18–42.

    DOI: 10.1080/19345747.2011.604900Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Beginning in 2004, California added students with disabilities to the NCLB subgroup categories measured by its high-stakes assessment. Demonstrates that there was no effect after controlling for student performance and characteristics on the relative test scores of this accountability measure. In other words, holding teachers accountable for the test scores of special education students did nothing to push test scores in one direction or another at a level of statistical significance.

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NCLB, Language Education, and Immigration

Demographic shifts in the United States since the 1990s have resulted in a radically different student body in American public schools—so different that Orfield 2014 (cited under NCLB, Race, and Equity) wonders about the continued relevance of Brown v. Board of Education. Even as schools have resegregated, they have become less white and increasingly serve large populations of English Language Learners, particularly of Latina/o descent. Given NCLB’s emphasis on students with Limited English Proficiency (LEP, or English learners [EL’s]), it is important to examine the effects of the legislation on this growing population, and also, more interestingly, the effect of this population on the schools themselves (Capps, et al. 2005). Even fifteen years on, research suggests that supports for ELs is uneven and depends on state-level funding and the political climate, as Gandera and Rumberger 2009 point out. That is, though the impetus under NCLB was to bring every student to a given level of proficiency, in the American system of education actual implementation of reform strategies and responses to policies has been mixed. Menken 2008 and Menken 2010 call attention to the ways in which schools with larger numbers of English Language Learners (ELL) are more likely to be penalized under the legislation for the failure of their students to meet performance standards on what the author argues are biased and developmentally inappropriate measures of proficiency. Wiley and Wright 2004 observe that language policy in schools has most often been motivated in an effort to assimilate students into a given American, perhaps, but also nativist ideal. Less explicit, it seems, is an effort to limit different access by immigrant groups to resources and power. Rong 2006 argues that further research should focus more closely on the overlapping realities of poverty and race/ethnicity for the sake of making pedagogical and policy recommendations. Of concern is that language policy has long been tied to protectionist sentiments in a political climate that debates the very humanity of men, women, and children residing in the United States in various states of visibility and legality. Hornberger 2005 points to a shift away from recognizing the assets that English Language Learners possess and the tendency in recent policy to ignore the value of speaking more than one language. Attempts to assimilate ELL students is more ideological than pedagogical and dates back to the Americanizing impulses in the mid-19th century debates surrounding Common Schools. The overall thrust of the research into immigration, language policy, and NCLB is that high-stakes assessment has not succeeded in adjusting schools to the varied and often intricately local needs of the changing face of American schooling.

  • Capps, Randy, Michael Fix, Julie Murray, Jason Ost, Jeffrey Passel, and Shinta Herwantoro. “The New Demography of America’s Schools: Immigration and the No Child Left Behind Act.” Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 2005.

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    Examines massive shifts in demography in American schools amidst and after the implementation of NCLB. Explores the changing profile of students in elementary and secondary education as immigration and different levels of English proficiency alter the face of schooling in America. The work is a compendium of research into the ways in which NCLB categorizes students to aid in disaggregating school-level results on standardized tests.

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  • Gandera, Patricia, and Russell Rumberger. “Immigration, Language, and Education: How Does Language Policy Structure Opportunity?” Teachers College Record 111.3 (2009): 750–782.

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    Finds inconsistencies in state-level funding and policy direction in the service of English Language Learners. Recommends that the federal government fund research into best practices for serving immigrant students amidst a patchwork of state policies and practices. The work suggests that after a number of years in high-stakes environments, services provided to and for English Language Learners still vary widely across states to the detriment of some students.

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  • Hornberger, Nancy. “Nichols to NCLB: Local and Global Perspectives on U.S. Language Education Policy.” Working Papers in Educational Linguistics 20.2 (2005): 1–17.

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    Written after the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and the thirtieth anniversary of Lau v. Nichols, this piece takes a historical view of language education policy at the federal level in the United States. The author laments the elimination of bilingualism and bilingual education with the shift in ideology and terminology at the outset of NCLB as a particular failure to recognize the importance of multilingual schooled environments.

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  • Menken, Kate. English Learners Left Behind: Standardized Testing as Language Policy. Cleveland: Multilingual Matters, 2008.

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    Menken’s work points to the troubling connection between an increase in English Language Learners in schools and an increase in standardized testing, tied to punitive policy measures, that rely on language proficiency for their validity. The larger point is that the measures used in accountability regimes like NCLB were targeted for native English speakers, failing wholly to take the various complexities of second-language acquisition and application into account.

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  • Menken, Kate. “NCLB and English Language Learners: Challenges and Consequences.” Theory into Practice 49.2 (2010): 121–128.

    DOI: 10.1080/00405841003626619Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Continuing her work on American schools and high-stakes testing implementation through NCLB, Menken makes an argument using word frequency analysis from state exams to point out that “academic content tests are linguistically complex, using words likely unknown by . . . ELLs” (p. 121). The implication is that schools serving large numbers of English Language Learners will be increasingly penalized based on the construction of accountability measures in NCLB.

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  • Rong, Xue Lan. “Immigration, Urban Schools, and Accountability.” In No Child Left Behind and Other Federal Programs for Urban School Districts. Edited by Frank Brown and Richard C. Hunter, 321–339. Oxford: Elsevier JAI, 2006.

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    Examines the effects of immigration on urban residency and poverty through the lens of race/ethnicity in K-12 schooling. Recommends multiple and localized metrics for accountability. The goal would be to take account of the diversity (increasing as it is) of the system and respond with more adequate measures of success and failure.

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  • Rumberger, Russell. “The Intersection of Language, Race/Ethnicity, Immigration Status, and Poverty.” Berkeley: University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute, 2005.

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    Illustrates the fundamental problems with categorization inherent in the metrics linked to subgroups (by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, immigration status) in the NCLB mandate. The research points to the importance of an intersectional lens when considering supporting students with Limited English Proficiency or precarious legal status, while implicitly critiquing the hubris of limiting students to a single demographic marker.

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  • Wiley, Terrence, and Wayne Wright. “Against the Undertow: Language-Minority Education Policy and Politics in the ‘Age of Accountability.’” Educational Policy 18.1 (2004): 142–168.

    DOI: 10.1177/0895904803260030Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the implementation of high-stakes accountability, noting that language and literacy policies are most often used at least in some regard to limit and control access to power through schooling. Results from tests at the early stages of NCLB suggested that the quality of teaching, particularly for language minority students, was not improved through the various reforms put into practice through the federal mandate.

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NCLB and Teacher Quality

Although educators might agree that quality teaching enhances learning, there is little agreement about the actual qualities that describe an effective teacher. What seems clear is that little equity exists in the distribution of quality teachers in high-need schools. For Darling-Hammond 2006, this lack of equity is a pressing civil rights issue. But much of the vigor surrounding debates on teacher quality centers on the notion of “value-added” research. This approach to measuring the quality of teaching stems from the result of a desire to use the high-stakes assessments of student learning to provide an answer to the elusive question of just what effect a teacher can have on a given student. Advocates of the practice of linking teacher evaluations to student test scores suggest the following: (a) it is possible to use test scores to differentiate highly effective teachers from their peers who are relatively less effective both within and across schools, and (b) these data can be used to make wise staffing decisions in support of student learning. Advocates, in works such as Chetty, et al. 2014, maintain the viability of value-added measures and claim that it is possible and even desirable to link student test gains (or a lack thereof) to individual teachers. Berliner 2014 challenges these conclusions when the author suggests that value-added measures fail to take into account the complex variables in students’ lived experiences over which teachers have little control. Amrein-Beardsley 2008 echoes this critique and notes that methodologically a teacher’s relative effectiveness can change both significantly from year to year, depending both on the characteristics of the students in front of him or her and on the various value-added measures chosen for any given research. Birman, et al. 2007 note that, whether in response to NCLB’s mandate that all teachers be highly qualified or not, generally speaking teachers by six years into the mandate were mostly highly qualified, though they tended to be less qualified in so-called traditionally disadvantaged schools. This trend toward, rather than away, from inequality is consistent with the work of Fuller and Ladd 2013, which demonstrates that principals in schools, at least in North Carolina, were making decisions to push less qualified teachers into the early grades presumably because high-stakes tests appeared later in students’ careers. Debates on teacher quality have also coalesced on the issue of teacher preparation, pitting reformers, who tend to prefer alternative certification, to traditional teacher training programs located in colleges of education. This looks to be the next major phase of the teacher quality “effects” of NCLB on the American educational landscape as the Department of Education seeks to enact value-added measures to link student performance not only to teachers, but also to the teacher preparation programs from which a given teacher has graduated.

  • Amrein-Beardsley, Audrey. “Methodological Concerns about the Education Value-Added Assessment System.” Educational Researcher 37.2 (2008): 65–75.

    DOI: 10.3102/0013189X08316420Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Much of the controversy related to measurement of teacher quality after NCLB has centered on so-called value-added assessments. In this piece the author raises significant concerns regarding the validity and reliability of such assessments to measure teacher quality in any productive way.

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  • Berliner, David. “Exogenous Variables and Value-Added Assessments: A Fatal Flaw.” Teachers College Record 116.1 (2014).

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    Makes the point that value-added assessments fail to take into account the many external variables beyond teachers’ control in linking student test scores to teacher evaluations.

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  • Birman, Beatrice, Kerstin Carlson Le Floch, Amy Klekotka, et al. “Evaluating Teacher Quality Under No Child Left Behind.” Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2007.

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    Evaluations of the mandate that teachers attain “highly qualified” status demonstrate that “most teachers are highly qualified under the requirements of NCLB” but that less qualified teachers are concentrated in traditionally disadvantaged schools.

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  • Chetty, Raj, John Friedman, and Jonah Rockoff. “Measuring the Impacts of Teachers I: Evaluating Bias in Teacher Value-Added Estimates.” American Economic Review 104.9 (2014): 2593–2632.

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    In answer to critiques such as those in Berliner 2014 and Amrein-Beardsley 2008 as to the relative ability of value-added assessments to measure teacher quality, the authors reassert the likelihood that such tests can connect student learning to individual teachers across and within years.

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  • Darling-Hammond, Linda. “Securing the Right to Learn: Policy and Practice for Powerful Teaching and Learning.” Educational Researcher 35.7 (2006): 13–24.

    DOI: 10.3102/0013189X035007013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the United States needs to provide more well-trained teachers to fulfill the needs of all communities and to ensure that all children can flourish in a democracy. Suggests the kinds of incentives needed to motivate students in communities with the highest needs to pursue their credential in teaching and return to these communities as teachers.

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  • Fuller, Sarah, and Helen Ladd. “School-Based Accountability and the Distribution of Teacher Quality across Grades in Elementary School.” Education Finance and Policy 8.4 (2013): 528–559.

    DOI: 10.1162/EDFP_a_00112Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Using data from North Carolina, the authors demonstrate that one effect of NCLB accountability measures was a tendency, within schools, to move weaker teachers to earlier grades.

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  • Hanushek, Eric. “The Economic Value of High Teacher Quality.” Economics of Education Review 30.3 (2011): 466–479.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2010.12.006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author asserts a positive economic value of more than $400,000 in future earnings for a class of students taught by a more effective teacher rather than a less effective one. Critiques of this methodology are best exemplified by Berliner’s work.

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  • Kaplan, Leslie, and William Owings. “The Politics of Teacher Quality.” Phi Delta Kappan 84.9 (2003): 687–692.

    DOI: 10.1177/003172170308400909Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Seeks to provide both sides of the political arguments regarding the measurement of teacher quality as mandated by NCLB. The flashpoint in the article, which became predictive of many later reform efforts, centers on disagreements about the efficacy of “traditional” teacher preparation at the university level.

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  • Smith, Thomas, Laura Desimone, and Koji Uleno. “‘Highly Qualified to Do What?’ The Relationship between NCLB Teacher Quality Mandates and the Use of Reform-Oriented Instruction in Middle School Mathematics.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 27.1 (2005): 75–109.

    DOI: 10.3102/01623737027001075Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Using results from the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the authors find that at the middle school level, preparation to teach mathematics content and “participation in content-related professional development activities” lead to teaching germane to reform goals, such as greater emphasis on conceptual understanding. The work also sees an increase in reform-oriented teaching strategies as a result of content preparation and professional development oriented in the direction of reform.

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Revisiting Equity and Opportunity in Reauthorizing NCLB

Reauthorization of NCLB in 2015 as the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) has brought to light continued debates surrounding the federal government’s role in education policy and the need to provide greater flexibility by placing more decision making about testing, standards, and accountability in the hands of states, local school boards, and teachers. Much debate in the US Senate has also called attention to the movement across the United States to opt out of increased testing, concerns about the high costs of meeting the requirements of standards-based reform, and the need to fulfill the vision of equity embedded in both ESEA and NCLB. Ravitch 2015 points out in a recent blog post that the new bill seems to strengthen states’ resolve to prohibit the US Secretary of Education from dictating specific curriculum and tests to states or “tying test scores to teacher evaluations.” However, as Layton 2015 recently notes, it is unclear how the government will distribute Title I funds to schools or the extent to which the formula will meet the needs of schools, which have lacked resources for generations. Of concern is whether or not the formula for Title I funding will account for the varying costs of living in different regions of the country. Missing from current debates is any sustained focus on equity and NCLB’s promise to address the needs of historically underserved students, students with special needs, and LEP students. Equality remains elusive, despite decades of educational reform designed to level the playing field, the struggle for civil rights, and much legislation. The reality is that many students are left behind and do not have access to the kinds of opportunities to flourish or participate in a democracy as citizens who are skilled enough to navigate policies and laws that have historically marginalized them. As educators, it is important to ask the following questions that open up opportunities to develop a robust vision of how to fulfill the promise of NCLB: What does it mean to say that education is a civil right? What does it mean to teach for social justice? What frameworks can help educators and policymakers understand successful and unsuccessful teaching of poor and privileged white children, children of color, and children with special needs? What are the implications of linguistic and cultural diversity for school reform and equity in education? In addressing these questions, educators must be mindful that they cannot lose sight of their students’ own needs in advancing their pedagogical goals.

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