The Mess of No Child Left Behind

Ten years after its inception, it appears increasingly clear that NCLB will not meet its ambitious 2014 goals

Matthew Benoit/Shutterstock

No Child Left Behind is in shambles.

In a report released Thursday, the Center on Education Policy found that 48 percent of the nation's public schools failed to meet NCLB goals in 2011. This is up from 39 percent in 2010 and 29 percent in 2006. Furthermore, there is a great disparity in the performance among states. For instance, 11 percent of Wisconsin schools fell short of advancement goals; in Florida, that number was 89 percent.

In addition to a divergent, confusing map of educational progress across the country, the report makes it clear that NCLB will not make succeed in reaching its main goal of all states being proficient by 2014 -- especially with statistics showing that the number of schools missing the mark is increasing each year.
cep chart copy.jpg

The Center's report also points out a glaring flaw in way states measure Adequate Yearly Progress, NCLB's  means of judging schools' performance. The problem: there's simply no consistency. Each state sets its own standards, creating its own proficiency goals, testing with its own exams, and reporting its progress with its own metrics. But still, according to the report, "if a school fails to make AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress] for two consecutive years or more, it is considered 'in need of improvement' and must submit to certain interventions mandated by NCLB that are intended to improve achievement."

This would seem a crude, unscientific way to judge progress and punish failure on a nationwide scale. Are the schools in Florida actually that much worse than the schools in Wisconsin? Under the current model, it is impossible to tell.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has all but given up on the program, telling the Associated Press, "Whether it's 50 percent, 80 percent or 100 percent of schools being incorrectly labeled as failing, one thing is clear: No Child Left Behind is broken." Accordingly, the education department increasingly grants NCLB waivers, allowing certain schools to bypass the law's provisions and avoid sanctions. Schools that have been granted waivers are able to submit metrics that place them in a brighter light, the AP reports, hand-picking favorable data such as its college entrance exam scores or the number of its students enrolled in Advanced Placement programs.

Whatever an individual school may be reporting, the picture looks bleak across the country. In September, the College Board reported that SAT reading scores had fallen to their lowest levels in 40 years. Furthermore, this data pointed toward a widening achievement gap between the highest-achieving students and minorities. In November, scores on the wider-reaching National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that national achievement in reading has generally stagnated, and that the achievement gap between black and white students has remained constant over the last two years.

Ten years after its inception, the current state of No Child Left Behind is this: An increasing number of schools are not achieving adequate yearly progress, but there are no consistent measures to assess said progress. Schools that do not meet their goals can avoid sanctions entirely. The Secretary of Education has all but withdrawn his support from the program. Performance gaps remain wide open. And the program's main goal, to get all schools to proficiency by 2014 seems to be a pipe dream. It's a mess.