Congress passed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001 with bipartisan support. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on January 8, 2002. The law was an update to the Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965. The new law grew out of concern that the U.S. education system was no longer competitive internationally.

The purpose of the NCLB was to boost the academic performance of particular groups of students who trailed the grades of other students. The focus groups included English language learners, students from low-income families, minorities, and special education students. The law wasn’t mandatory for states to comply; however, failure to do so would affect federal funding in their public schools.

A component of the NCLB was that states should have all students attain a “proficiency level” on state tests. The feds gave the states until the 2013-14 school year to reach this level. Unfortunately, the government did not stipulate what the proficiency level should be. Instead, the states decided what level this should be and what test students would take. Consequently, by early 2015, no states had 100% of their students reach their respective bar for academic achievement.

Therefore, each state ran its own program. Schools gave statewide tests every year in grades 3-8 and once for grades 10 to 12. Students in special education were also tested in reading and math. Schools submitted the test results to the state, which they also shared with the schools’ parents. Additionally, schools established targets for improvement or adequate yearly progress (AYP).

Schools designated as Title 1 could suffer if they failed to meet the AYP standard. Under the NCLB, the state could change a school district’s leadership or close the school. It typically took as long as six years of non-compliance before the school closed or turned into a charter school. The severe sanctions did not apply to non-Title 1 schools.

Title 1 schools contain students from predominately low-income families. If 40% of the students are in the free and reduced lunch program, the school qualifies as a Title 1.

The U.S. Department of Education spends over $14 billion on Title 1 schools whose students’ families are at or below the poverty level. These students have a higher risk of failure and dropping out of school.

Educational programs have their pros and cons. It was no different with the NCLB. Here are some of the good and bad points of the law.


  1. Added state-wide standardized testing
  2. Teachers and administrators held accountable for student performance
  3. Encouraged teachers to obtain higher credentials
  4. Recognized which students needed additional tutoring
  5. Parents received a grade on the school’s academic performance
  6. Test scores improved for minority students


  1. Teachers received poor reviews and lower salary for under-performing students
  2. Teachers focused on students who would pass the standardized tests
  3. Created teacher shortage in select communities
  4. Some children did not respond well to the testing procedures
  5. Curriculum concentrated on material for the tests
  6. School districts could lose federal funding

As with many laws, they have a limited shelf life. New ones replace the old. The NCLB became increasingly untenable. It was set for revision in 2007 but was left alone until the Obama administration recognized the need to draft a new law in 2010. The wheels of change moved slowly until Congress responded to the insistence of educators and families to revise the NCLB. Finally, in December 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The ESSA afforded transparency for the students’ parents to see how their son or daughter’s grades compare to statewide tests in reading, language, math, and science. The ESSA requires that states’ report card also provide the district’s test results compare with the state and each school within the region. The results of the accountability system reveal how the school is performing. It is also an indicator where schools need to improve.

The state and district report cards include in-school suspensions, expulsions, law enforcement involvement, incidents of violence, and extended absenteeism. Parents receive information on the school district’s teacher credentials, inexperienced teachers and principals, and those teaching subjects for which they are unlicensed.


The NCLB and the ESSA have had positive results. The U.S. Department of Education reported the high school graduation rate at 75% for the school year 2007-08. It increased to 84.6% for 2016-17, according to a US News and World Report article of May 2019. Arizona and New Mexico have the lowest at 72%. Iowa, Nebraska, and Kentucky have the best graduation rate of 94%. Texas boasted the highest number of schools with 100% graduation rates, with 269 schools in 2017. The second-place trophy goes to North Carolina with 67 schools.

Graduation Rates:
grad rate

Although the federal government pours billions into education, it does not seem to benefit the occupation. One glaring statistic is the percentage of teachers who leave. In a 2018 report by Insider, 40% of teachers leave within five years. High turnover is the norm. The rates are highest in schools with large concentrations of students of color. The long hours, stress, lack of advancement, working conditions, and the low pay contribute to teacher dropout.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for a teacher of kindergarten and elementary school is $57,980 with a Bachelor’s degree. The median pay in Oklahoma is $40,450. Compare the national average salary to an accountant with a Bachelor’s degree at $70,500. In Oklahoma, the median is $73,040 for accountants and auditors (May 2018).

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