The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is a controversial piece of legislation passed in the United States in 2001 to fulfill President George W. Bush's promises of sweeping educational reform. Many Americans agree that the public education system is in need of drastic changes so that American children can be better served. However, some Americans feel that the legislation was not a productive response to the problem. Many classroom teachers, educational activists, and advocates for alternative education have spoken out against NCLB.
One of the most serious criticisms of No Child Left Behind is an issue of funding and unfunded mandates. Critics say that education funding is not a high priority in the United States, with many schools finding their budgets cut repeatedly year after year. This makes it difficult to purchase textbooks, let alone implement policies required. Many teachers or potential teachers who can offer excellent instruction are often reluctant to enter the public school system, which is notorious - especially in urban areas - for having decaying facilities and low compensation for teachers. In especially poor districts, teachers are sometimes forced to purchase classroom supplies out of pocket if they want their students to have access to art supplies, paper, and other educational tools. The strict requirements of NCLB can be a financial drain on schools and districts already strapped for cash.
Many critics of No Child Left Behind also argue strongly against the use of standardized testing to evaluate school progress. Studies have shown that some students simply perform better on standardized tests than others, and that good performance on testing does not necessarily reflect a higher quality education, especially when many classroom teachers feel pressured to “teach to the test” in order to ensure good scores for their school district. Furthermore, some school districts may feel tempted to stack the deck in their favor by excluding students whom they know will perform badly, such as the developmentally disabled and English as a Second Language students. Also, because the tests are set on a state by state basis, individual states have the ability to manipulate the material on them to make test taking easier for their students, making them an invalid measure of progress and abilities. Opponents of NCLB also point out that the standardized tests are thought to have cultural and linguistic biases; including testing recently immigrated non-English speaking students in English.
If a school is determined to be "failing" under the NCLB standards, sanctions are imposed on the school. Many organizations including the American Federation of Teachers believe that these sanctions are not a helpful way to address failing schools, because they are viewed as penalizing, rather than supportive. Some of the sanctions are sensible; for example, when a school is identified as in need of improvement, a school improvement plan is developed as a cooperative effort between parents, teachers, administrators, and the department of education. This improvement plan must clearly address the ways in which the school intends to rectify the situation.
However, many of these sanctions are perceived as punitive, and potentially harmful to the troubled school district. Parents with children in schools undergoing sanctions are allowed to transfer them to another district, and the failing district is required to pay for transportation costs to the new school. Furthermore, while the sanctions include measures like providing extra assistance to students in need of it, this assistance must fall within guidelines which some teachers feel are very narrow, because No Child Left Behind places a heavy emphasis on specific scientific research. While some students may be well-served by the services that schools can offer them under this legislation, many teachers wish to be able to offer a wider range of assistance, even if this help includes non-conventional educational approaches.
Some critics also believe that the requirements for corrective action are too restrictive. These requirements include firing “school staff relevant to the failure,” according to the Department of Education, along with restructuring school management, bringing in educational professionals from outside the school district, and creating a new curriculum. If a school continues to struggle, it may be closed, or reopened under new management, often under an umbrella corporation that offers educational services to various states which need to close and reopen schools under No Child Left Behind sanctions. Some teachers feel that these sanctions ultimately harm the school district and children that they are supposed to be helping. Critics of NCLB point out that this "restructuring," or "reconstitution," is likely to dismantle school community, disrupting the working environment, learning environment, and community connections to the schools.