NCLB Reports Cite Fundamental Flaws

K-12 Testing

Recent reports from diverse sources reach similar conclusions about shortcomings of the "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) law and the need for dramatic and fundamental change. These reports could influence the reauthorization of NCLB, scheduled for 2007 but increasingly seen in political circles as not likely until 2009.


A report from the Harvard Civil Rights Project, by Gail L. Sunderman, examines a series of "politically motivated" changes that failed to address the law's "underlying flaws." The changes affected NCLB's highly qualified teacher requirements and the calculation of adequate yearly progress (AYP). For example, the U.S. Department of Education permitted states to use different kinds of statistical techniques to calculate AYP and allowed states to set different targets for different subgroups. These changes, negotiated between states and the federal government, were designed to quell opposition from across the political spectrum. Sunderman concludes the changes mean "accountability no longer has a common meaning across states or even within states."


The changes have made it harder for some districts serving minorities to make adequate yearly progress as compared with other districts in other states serving similar populations, creating winners and losers. Adjustments such as allowing the use of certain statistical techniques, for example, mean fewer schools and districts will be identified as needing improvement, regardless of whether students make any educational progress. The report shows that the law's underlying flaws remain unaddressed, including "unrealistic achievement goals that have no connection to what can actually be achieved" and "a reliance on testing and sanctions without corresponding attention to the resources or expertise schools need."


"The Unraveling of No Child Left Behind: How Negotiated Changes Transform the Law," is available at


The United Church of Christ's (UCC) Public Education Task Force spent four years examining schools in Cleveland, Phoenix, Hartford and Wartburg, Tennessee, to produce "Whose Child Left Behind? Why?" Looking at NCLB from an explicitly "faith-based" perspective, the report echoes the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB [link] and elements of the Civil Right's Project's critique. UCC criticizes the law for relying on testing and punishment without acknowledging that many schools still lack the resources they need to succeed. Observations about Hartford schools reflect the report's general conclusions about the law's shortcomings: "In Connecticut, where there is so much disparity in resources and so much competition for scarce funding…the No Child Left Behind Act only reinforces and exacerbates all the other problems."


The report concludes that NCLB is failing because it ignores systematic barriers to education for the children who have long been left behind. It emphasizes that NCLB ignores many realities that affect schools and students: segregation; race; poverty; school finance; civil rights; rural isolation; a child's language, culture and identity; good teaching; and respect for educators.


The report is available at


A special issue of the journal Equity and Excellence in Education on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) raises useful new insights into the flaws of this federal law. One article argues the goal of requiring all children to score proficient is subject to legal scrutiny as an irrational imposition that could be deemed unconstitutional. Another article uses microeconomic policy to conclude that the expense of enabling all students to reach one hundred percent proficiency will approach infinity, while the consequences of the effort will ultimately damage the quality of education as schools over-emphasize raising test scores. A third piece describes how the law uses a "colorblind" and individualistic approach to solving racial inequality that fails to confront continuing racism and social structural inequities of race and class.


These and other fine pieces make this "special issue" worth the purchase. $25, order from


The Center on Education Policy (CEP) has released its fourth annual report on NCLB, "From the Capital to the Classroom: Year 4 of the No Child Left Behind Act." CEP surveyed school officials in 50 states and 299 districts to produce one its typically balanced portraits of the law's impact. The most powerful finding is that 71 percent of districts surveyed said they have reduced instructional time in subjects not tested for NCLB to make time for instruction in reading and math. Other findings include:
· State school officials reported that the biggest challenge continues to be a lack of capacity to assist all schools identified for improvement.
· Urban districts are being disproportionately identified as needing improvement because of their larger size and larger number of subgroups.
· A number of district officials said NCLB is increasing stress to levels that have negatively affected staff morale.
· The transfer and tutoring provisions of NCLB remain underutilized.


Among CEP's recommendations are increased federal funding, more public information on the process for considering state changes to accountability plans, and more authority and resources for state officials to monitor tutoring providers.


The report is available at


The Vermont Society for the Study of Education (VSSE) studied attitudes of the state's teachers toward NCLB. The survey, conducted by VSSE Senior Fellow Dana Rapp, reveals teachers overwhelmingly believe NCLB is having a negative impact, harming students and schools. Among the findings: 80 percent of teachers don't believe NCLB reflects students' needs; 88 percent believe there is less local control of curriculum; 93 percent report students' love learning less; 96 percent believe enriching activities are less possible; and 89 percent report Vermont classrooms are worse places because of numerical accountability and testing.


This report was not based on a random sampling of teachers. However, the overwhelmingly negative response to NCLB and high-stakes testing clearly indicates teacher anger toward the law.


For more information, see