At the time of its enactment in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) had elicited mixed responses from different quarters of American polity. Some were hopeful that it would prove to be a reformist move whose effects would be benign to all children, while others were skeptical of its merits and suspicious of the real intentions behind it. Following up on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the NCLB is an effort on part of the federal government to improve opportunities for poor and backward children. (Murnane, 2007) The Bush Administration that pushed for its enactment during the very first year of its term, touted it as an “attempt to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education” (Sanders, 2008). But nearly 9 years since its implementation, educationists and journalists are unsure if the stated objective have been met. Reviewing the scholarly literature pertaining to the subject, it seems that an opposite effect had been achieved, whereby
“the consequences of the statute may instead deny access to adequate education for a large portion of the population. Its implementation, primarily through its system of rewards and punishments, may actually inhibit educational opportunities for the very population it was designed to serve – low-income students. If its provisions are enforced, the statute could practically force low-income students to remain in poor-performing public schools while failing to address their real educational needs, thus decreasing the chances of them ever attaining academic proficiency”. (Sanders, 2008)
One criticism of the NCLB Act is that it focuses too much on the outputs of schools rather than the inputs. Under the NCLB, ‘adequacy’ has become the buzzword as against the goal of ‘equality’ of education to all ethnic groups. Especially disadvantaged are students from minority communities such as black Americans, who tend to come from low socio-economic background. By not giving special attention to low-income students, the Act has undermined their opportunities. For example, in urban school districts, “the structure of the statute now provides block grants to Title I schools rather than direct aid to low-income students. The funds are dispersed to assist all the students at the school; therefore, the low-income students get a smaller percentage of the grant to themselves. In fact, some programs may not be directed to low-income students at all”. (Sanders, 2008) Added to this is the problem of finding the right teaching staff in urban school districts:
“Teachers play a critical role in schooling, particularly in inner-city school districts where children often have less support at home. But central-city districts often have difficulty finding qualified teachers. According to federal statistics in the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), 34.7 percent of central city schools had difficulty hiring a math teacher, compared with only 25.1 percent of suburban schools.” (Jacob, 2007)
In addition to this, students in 4th and 8th grades are expected to pass the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. The aggregate performance of all its students are held as a measure of a school’s success. A failure to improve its scores as per the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards for two years in a row, then the administrators must inform parents that they are allowed to transfer their children to a better performing school in the urban district. Further, “if a school fails to make AYP for a third year, the school must institute supplemental educational activities for its students. After the fourth and fifth year of failing to make AYP, a school is subject to a restructuring that could include replacing staff, instituting new curriculum, regulating the facility directly through the state, and even closing the school and reopening it as a charter school.” (Sanders, 2008) While these provisions under the NCLB were intended to provide incentives for efficient and effective school administrations, their negative consequence is that they “disproportionately and adversely affect low-income students and low-income schools”, including African American students (Sanders, 2008). Commentators also point out that the government funding under Title I is not adequate to cover the expenses of all of the statute’s requirements. Even the funding allocated for poverty-based programs in urban public schools gets diverted to cover administration of standardized tests which form the crux of the NCLB.
Even prior to the implementation of NCLB, staffing urban schools with qualified teachers has been an issue. But since 2001, the mismatch between supply and demand is exacerbated, as most qualified and experienced teachers want to work for schools with a good performance record. It is invariably the case that high-performance schools have disproportionately low number of students from racial/ethnic minorities and low socio-economic backgrounds. In the 9 years of NCLB’s implementation, the standard of urban school teachers have decreased when compared to their suburban counterparts. Urban public schools are disadvantaged by other factors: “Demand also has a role in urban teacher shortages. Administrators in urban schools may not recognize or value high-quality teachers. Human resource departments restrict district officials from making job offers until late in the hiring season, after many candidates have accepted positions elsewhere”. (Jacob, 2007) In this context, it becomes important to redesign standards for granting teacher tenure and improve overall hiring practices.