NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 16, 2008

Critics of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, including Democratic presidential candidates vowing to overhaul or end it, have often accused it of being too harsh.  It punishes weak schools instead of supporting them, as Sen. Barack Obama puts it.

But when it comes to the worst-performing schools, the 2001 law hasn't shown much bite, says the Wall Street Journal.  The more-radical restructuring remedies put forth by the law have rarely been adopted by these schools, many of which aren't doing much to address their problems, according to a federal study last year.

For example:

  • About 1,300 schools out of 99,000 public schools were in restructuring during the 2006-2007 school year.
  • About 40 percent of them haven't taken any of the corrective actions required by NCLB, according to a 2007 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
  • Slack in their interpretation of NCLB led some principals to tell the GAO they didn't believe restructuring was necessary; others said they thought their school district had decided against such action.

Another 40 percent of schools in restructuring have chosen the "other" change option.  Many schools use that option as a loophole to do very little, says Michael Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

NCLB doesn't require states to report in detail what individual schools are doing after they fall into the restructuring category, says the Journal:

  • Many have a hard time getting out by achieving progress two years in a row.
  • Only about 5 percent of the California schools in restructuring during the 2006-2007 school year scored high enough on state tests to emerge from restructuring, according to the Center on Education Policy.

Source: Robert Tomsho, "No Child Left Behind Lacks Bite," Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2008.

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