A new report from the Center of Education Policy (CEP) credits the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) with focusing the attention of the United States’s large, decentralized education system on common goals: raising student achievement; closing achievement gaps; and improving qualifications of teachers in every classroom. However, the report also notes that many school districts experience difficulty with requirements that they perceive as being too stringent or unworkable. These problems are often magnified because of limited funding and staff in some states and school districts. The report stresses that this “capacity gap” will become even more critical as states and districts move closer to the key deadlines of the act and as more schools are identified as “in need of improvement.” Ultimately, it concludes, districts and schools will need “more than federal directives and sanctions. They will also need financial and technical support from the federal government and the states.”
“The law is beginning to have a significant impact not just in state capitals but in district offices and classrooms around the nation,” said Jack Jennings, director of CEP. “While much of the debate and headlines have focused on test scores and lists of ‘failing schools,’ the law’s requirements for additional help for schools that need it-and states’ and school districts’ ability to provide that support-will have a more profound and lasting effect over time.”
The report, From the Capital to the Classroom: Year 2 of the No Child Left Behind Act, describes the main aspects of NCLB implementation during calendar year 2003 at the federal, state, and local levels. Information in the report is based on a survey of 47 states and the District of Columbia, a nationally representative survey of 274 school districts, and in-depth case studies of 33 urban, suburban, and rural school districts.
While school districts worked hard to expand student testing, determine which schools have not made “adequate yearly progress,” and address other urgent deadlines in 2003, the report found that requirements with later deadlines-such as the mandate to upgrade teacher qualifications-have not received the same attention. Therefore, while states and districts report that an overwhelming majority of their teachers are highly qualified, these assertions are, at best, questionable.
In 2003, the second year of NCLB, the report found the effects of the law became “broader and deeper.” More school districts, especially suburban districts, discovered that they had schools in need of improvement. At the same time, urban and other very large districts, which already had a relatively large share, identified even more schools in need of improvement. Urban districts are twice as likely to have a school in need of improvement as their nonurban counterparts.
Although states and school districts are already providing additional help to schools designated “in need of improvement,” the CEP report notes that many school leaders are concerned that federal resources may not be sufficient to address significant staffing and funding challenges associated with the law-especially as districts move closer to the law’s next major deadlines. By the 2005-06 school year, all teachers must be “highly qualified,” and by the spring of 2014, 100 percent of students must meet proficient levels of achievement.
The complete report and case studies are available at http://www.cep-dc.org/pubs/nclby2/.