No Child Left Behind – Connecticut
One of the legislative centerpieces of Federal Education Law is “The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001” (“NCLB”). The Act is 670 pages in length and almost as controversial as it is long. Therefore, parents should be familiar with at least its stated purpose and general provisions. NCLB does not, however, give parents the right to sue on behalf of their children.
NCLB funds Federal programs established by the U.S. Department of Education aimed at improving the performance of schools throughout the 50 states by imposing greater accountability on public schools, expanding parental choice in the school attended by their child, and placing increased emphasis on reading and math skills. NCLB has as one of its focal points improvement of schools and school districts serving students from low-income families.
The theory underlying enactment of NCLB was that improved educational programs would enable students to meet challenging state academic achievement standards and thereby achieve their full potential. Among other areas, the Act funds programs and resources for disadvantaged students, delinquent and neglected youth in institutions, improving teacher and principal quality, use of technology in schools, and fostering a safe and drug-free learning environment. One source of controversy is the fact that NCLB allows military recruiters access to the names, addresses, and telephone listings of 11th and 12th grade students if the school provides that information to colleges or employers.
More specifically, NCLB requires states to strengthen test standards, to test annually all students in grades 3-8, and to establish annual statewide progress objectives to ensure that all students achieve proficiency within 12 years. There are no Federal standards of achievement; each state is required to set its own standards. Test results and state progress objectives must be stratified based upon poverty, race, ethnicity, disability, and English proficiency to ensure that “no child is left behind.” Schools and school districts that fail to make “adequate yearly progress” are subject to corrective action and restructuring. Adequate yearly progress means, for example, that each year a school’s fourth graders score higher on standardized tests than the previous year’s fourth graders.
Once a school has been identified under NCLB as requiring improvement, corrective action, or restructuring, local school officials must afford its students the opportunity (and transportation, if needed) to attend a better public school within the same school district. Low-income students attending a “persistently failing school” (i.e., one failing to meet state standards for 3 out of the 4 preceding years) are eligible for funding to obtain supplemental educational services from either public or private schools selected by the student and his parents. Under-performing schools are highly incentivized to improve if they wish to avoid further loss of students (and an accompanying loss of funding). A school that fails to make adequate yearly progress for five consecutive years is subject to reconstitution under a restructuring plan.
Simply stated, NCLB provides states and school districts unprecedented flexibility in their use of federal funds in return for more stringent accountability for increased teacher quality and improved student results.
One of the stated goals of NCLB is that every child be able to read by the end of third grade. To this end, the Federal government invested in scientifically based reading instruction programs to be implemented in the early grades. An expected collateral benefit of this initiative is reduced identification of children requiring special education services resulting from a lack of appropriate reading instruction. NCLB funds screening and diagnostic assessments to identify K-3 students who are at risk of reading failure, and to better equip K-3 teachers in the essential components of reading instruction. Funds are also available to support early language, literacy, and pre-reading development of pre-school age children.
In keeping with its major themes of accountability, choice, and flexibility, NCLB also emphasizes the use of practices grounded in scientifically based research to prepare, train, and recruit high-quality teachers. Once again, local school administrators are afforded significant flexibility in teacher staffing, provided they can demonstrate annual progress in maintaining and enhancing the high-quality of their teachers.
Finally, in an effort to ensure safe and drug-free schools, NCLB, as proposed, requires states to allow students who attend a persistently dangerous school, or who have been victims of violent crime at school, to transfer to a safe school. To facilitate characterizing schools as “safe” or “not safe,” NCLB requires public disclosure of school safety statistics on a school-by-school basis. In addition, school administrators must use federal funding to implement demonstrably effective drug and violence prevention programs.
It is within this overarching educational framework of NCLB that the State of Connecticut oversees and administers its constitutional and statutory obligations to educate your children.