The Death Knell for ‘No Child Left Behind’

February 13, 2012

For release Feb. 15 and thereafter (656 words)

According to U.S News & World Report, it is one of the nation’s best large high schools.

During the 2010-11 school year, 66 percent of its students passed both math and English assessments. In 2009-10, 30 percent of its graduates passed an Advanced Placement exam, double the state average and surpassing state Department of Education targets. Its SAT and ACT scores consistently outpace the state average. Its graduation rate tops 80 percent.

When compared with Indiana schools of similar demographic makeup, its scores rank at the top. Forty-one percent of its students are on free or reduced price lunch and 58 percent are minority. Twelve percent have special needs.

And yet North Central High School in Indianapolis has failed to reach the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In 2011, it met Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) goals in only 16 out of 30 categories set by the federal government.

Which is why we don’t want the federal government setting education goals.

Ten years have passed since President George W. Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy led a bipartisan effort to force states to force schools to improve. In many ways, No Child Left Behind has worked.

Much like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 forced states to do what they should have been doing anyway  — guarantee black citizens their unfettered right to vote — the NCLB has pushed states to act. Test scores now mean something. No longer can teachers promote children from one grade to the next regardless of whether they have shown proficiency in academic skills.

Now, however, NCLB is doing more harm than good. Its complex rubric for grading schools is triggering costly one-size-fits-all interventions. Regardless of socioeconomics, English-speaking skills or other factors, all students are expected to meet certain benchmarks. If one group of students doesn’t score high enough, an entire school is “In Need of Improvement.”

As evident from school systems like Washington Township in Indianapolis, NCLB’s goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading by 2014 is not realistic. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has warned that four out of five schools face being labeled “failing” this year unless changes are made.

Frustrated with Congress’s inability to remedy flaws in the law, Barack Obama invited states to apply for waivers as long as they promised to implement their own accountability systems that maintained emphasis on test scores, college readiness, and graduation. Indiana jumped, and was one of 10 states that received waivers last week.

Indiana will replace the AYP formula with its progress-measurement system called Annual Measurable Objectives. Under this system, every Indiana school must earn a state letter grade of an A — or improve two letter grades to earn no lower than a C — by 2020. In addition, the state has pledged to intervene more quickly in failing schools.

So what will happen to NCLB? Reauthorization of the law is more than four years overdue, but Congress isn’t close to resolving its issues. Mr. Obama has encouraged all interested states to apply for waivers, and it appears close to 40 will.

Somewhat ironically, Republicans on Capitol Hill are criticizing Mr. Obama for his waiver policies, which they say force states to jump through hoops set by the executive branch rather than the legislative branch, which is responsible for policymaking.

That didn’t stop Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie from seeking waivers; both are Republicans who have staked a name on education reform. Both wanted flexibility.

A federal law can’t possibly anticipate differences between, for example, North Central High School with all its socioeconomic diversity and Carmel High School six miles north with less than 1 percent of its enrollment on free or reduced price lunch.

Congress should revoke NCLB, and then waivers won’t be needed. Let’s get back to the idea that education is the responsibility of states because states are in the best position to know what will work inside their borders.

Andrea Neal is adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at


Leave a Reply