Making Sense of No Child Left Behind

Written By: Rachel Strong
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The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has met with mixed results and mixed feelings. Some think it is just a waste of money. Some love it because our children will be able to compete in a changing world-a world that is, educationally-speaking, leaving us in the dust. But like it or lump it, not many people know what it means to our students. So we at LocalSchoolDirectory.com want to give parents, grandparents, and others a crash course on the No Child Left Behind Act, and what it is doing to and for our schools.

To ask those in power, No Child Left Behind (or NCLB) is about choice and freedom. You can choose to send your child to a better school if you would like, and at the school district's expense. If your student is lagging behind, he can chose to take advantage of after-school tutoring programs. If you qualify, your student may be eligible for free or reduced-cost school lunches to ensure good nutrition for learning. NCLB is also about accountability, and making sure that the teachers at the head of the class are qualified.

The basic idea behind NCLB is that by 2014 each student in the U.S. will be able to read and do math at or above grade level. To accomplish this, extra federal funding will be going to each state's educational system. A small portion will be spent on making sure every child in the school system can read by third grade (which is usually when the standardized testing begins). The government has also set up a series of steps-minimum requirements a school, district, and state has to meet each year or be threatened with punishment-called the Adequate Yearly Progress (or AYP). Punishments for schools not meeting AYP are sanctions, from providing students with a higher-performing school alternative, to providing after-school tutoring programs, to a major reconstruction of the school and its administrators.

Each spring, students in certain grades (the grades required to take standardized tests are determined by the state) are required to take standardized tests quizzing them in Math, Reading, and sometimes Science. All tests are to be at grade level-not above, not below. States are also measured on attendance rates, on-time graduation rates, participation in the testing, and other factors.

In 2001, when the law was passed, each state chose where to set its own initial academic achievement bar based on certain parameters given by the government. Once the initial bar was established, the state was required to "raise the bar" gradually to reach the goal of 100 percent students achieving proficiency at the end of 12 years (or 2014). NCLB required that the initial bar be raised at the very least at the end of two years (the 2004-05 school year), and must be raised at least every three years after that.

At the beginning of NCLB, each school was given a Title. Each title determined what the school's main focus would be, and if the school would receive additional federal funding.

TITLE I schools focus on "improving the academic performance of disadvantaged students." These schools receive federal funding to assist in raising test scores. Depending on the number of "poverty students", a school can use its funding to improve its school-wide program or funnel money to the neediest students.

TITLE II schools focus on "Boosting teacher quality." Many states have goals in place that require by the end of the 2006-07 school year all teachers teaching core subjects such as English, Math, Social Studies, Science, etc.

TITLE III schools focus on "Moving Limited English Proficient (LEP) students to English fluency." This also includes funding for English as a Second Language classes for immigrant students.

TITLE IV schools are also called "21st Century Schools" and promote safety. Funds earmarked for these schools are used to reduce violence, promote a drug free school, and involve the parents and the community.

TITLE V schools "Promote informed parental choice and innovative programs." This designation is, among other things, "To develop and implement education programs to improve school, student, and teacher performance, including professional development activities and class size reduction programs."

After the other requirements are met, the schools go into more of a maintenance mode.

TITLE VI schools have flexibility to spend the federal money as they see fit to promote everything that they have promoted before-from parental involvement to helping at-risk kids make right, healthy decisions.

TITLE VII schools focus on the Native American, Hawaiian and Alaskan students. As these groups tend to have the highest drop-out rate, the government thought it best to earmark moneys specifically to Indian schools, "to meet the unique educational and culturally related academic needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives so that these students can achieve to the same challenging state standards as all students."

TITLE VIII schools are located in areas that have a significant amount of federal land nearby, and therefore have less income from the state. Federal funding is given to these schools and districts to help the day-to-day funding of the school

Each year, the schools, districts, and states are required by NCLB to report on how they are doing. This Adequate Yearly Progress (or AYP) report is required by law to be accessible to the general public, and is usually posted on the states' Department of Education websites. The AYP comes in many forms, but is required to list the number of schools needing some form of improvement, and to also list what the state, district, or school has achieved. The AYP for the previous school year usually published between August and October. Sometimes called the state, district, or school "report card", AYP measures not only the performance on the tests, but also participation in the tests, participation and performance in all major student racial demographics, attendance rate throughout the year, and the on-time graduation rate for high school seniors.

If the state as a whole misses any of these requirements the state has officially not met AYP for the year. However, a particular school or district can miss one or more requirements and the state can still pass as a whole.

In the four years of No Child Left Behind, state spending per child does not seem to indicate how a state will fare in regards to AYP. In the latest round of testing, Utah, which spends the least on each student-less than $6000 per student-had one of the best percentage of schools making AYP, class sizes are near the national average, and the state has the lowest percentage of students attending Title I schools.

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