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What Does No Child Left Behind (Morphed Into Race to the Top) Mean Exactly?

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Part Two

By Linda Dobson

Many parents are beginning to see that in a classroom filled with 20 to 30 children, their child receives an equivalent fraction of attention. (A recent University of California Los Angeles project reveals the average schooled student receives seven minutes of personal attention for each day spent in the classroom.) When a classroom contains children with special needs or behavior problems, the percentage of attention for the majority of children dwindles further. How could it be any other way?

Teaching Class

In exchange for the funds, NCLB expanded testing programs and set forth the penalties if and when enough students fail to meet math and reading standards.

Now for good measure throw in President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, known as NCLB for short. (At the federal government’s Web site,, you can find an overview of the Act but, interestingly, not the text of the Act in its entirety.) While proponents and opponents debate whether or not the Act helps the theoretical intention of boosting public school quality, it’s hard to deny NCLB’s accountability measures via school ratings add yet another layer to an already bloated bureaucracy. It’s also creating a lot of confusion among parents.

What Does “No Child Left Behind” Mean Exactly?

President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in January 2002, making it the law of the land. In the proposed 2005 budget, a share of a whopping $38.7 billion, or 8.2% of total public K-12 education funding (the highest percentage of federal funding in history), is at stake. Any school wanting its share of the money must dance to the tune of the piper, and the vast majority does.

In exchange for the funds, NCLB expanded testing programs and set forth the penalties if and when enough students fail to meet math and reading standards. Not only could a school lose cold, hard cash it has counted on, it can suffer the humiliation of appearing on a “failing schools” list. A school that appears on such a list for two years in a row must give parents the option of transferring their children to another school.

Part of the parental confusion develops because each state has also created its own rating system and, inevitably, there are discrepancies between its evaluation and that of the federal government’s. In North Carolina, for example, more than 32 schools considered excellent by the state failed the federal test for progress. The feds considered 317 California schools low performing even as they exhibited exemplary academic growth on the state’s performance index. The feds called seventy-five percent of Florida’s “high-performing” schools “low-performing.” More schools in some states, like Georgia, Delaware, and Kentucky, met the federal goals. More schools in other states, such as Iowa, Oregon, and Minnesota, were placed on academic probation.

Conflicting report cards aside, parents are misinterpreting the very essence of No Child Left Behind. During the back-to-school season in 2004, the Hartford (Connecticut ) Courant came right out and asked parents of school-aged children what NCLB was all about.

One thought it meant children shouldn’t be left alone after school. Another believed NCLB prohibited leaving children alone on the street. Still other parents guessed it meant that a school couldn’t hold a child back in a grade, even if that child failed. Indeed, a 2004 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll revealed 62% of parents of public school children said they knew “very little or nothing at all” about the law that is increasingly driving both educators’ actions and events in the classroom.

If you have children in school, start researching NCLB and its impact on your child’s school and your child right now. It will help you understand how unseen forces affect daily classroom activity.


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