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NCLB Outrages

No Child Left Behind

A special NCLB issue explores the implications and effects of the act on urgan education from various angles.

No Child Left Behind
Volume 3, Issue 2

Accountability for student performance - coupled with standards and assessment for students, teachers, and schools - is a growing part of school reform in the United States. The year 2002 marked President George W. Bush's signing of The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act into law. This initiative, the most sweeping reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act since it was enacted in 1965, redefines the federal government's role in K-12 education in an attempt to close the achievement gap between students of different racial/ethnic groups and socio-economic backgrounds. This federally-mandated legislation marks an important shift in the direction of public education in our country; public participation in school governance is shrinking while "the very definition of what constitutes an educated person is now dictated by federal legislation" (Meier, 2004, p. 67).

Educators, parents, researchers, and administrators alike are troubled by the decline in local communities' ability to control the education of their own children. However, equally, if not more, disturbing is the fact that the NCLB Act attempts to bridge the achievement gap through a system of punitive measures for students and schools that do not perform well on standardized exams while ignoring the many well-documented factors that contribute to lower academic performance in the first place. Schools that are resource-poor, overcrowded, and have fewer certified and experienced teachers are often located in urban communities. These schools - serving primarily low-income students, students of color, English language learners, and students with special needs - have fewer resources with which to educate their students, but yet are held to the same standards as schools with more resources and fewer special-needs students.

Recent research suggests that any attempts to bridge the academic achievement gap must include more complete educational policies (such as equitable school funding, smaller class sizes, teacher education programs, subsidized preschool and after-school programs) as well as social policies (such as low-income housing programs, nutrition initiatives, job creation and training projects, and subsidized daycare programs) so students' academic performance is not viewed as separate from the social and economic contexts which contribute to it. Until education is viewed more holistically, urban students and schools will continue to struggle under oppressive NCLB policies and sanctions. And as more and more urban students and schools are labeled as "failing" according to NCLB standards, many people fear an upcoming campaign to privatize the nation's entire public education system.

The authors included in this issue of the journal explore the implications and effects of the No Child Left Behind Act on urban education from a variety of different angles. In our Featured articles section, Sukey Blanc and Jolley Christman's article, "Schools Examine Test Data to Guide Plans for What to Teach," examines the Philadelphia School District's move towards data-driven decision-making and the strategies being implemented at the district level to train teachers and administrators to effectively analyze standardized test data. Paul Socolar's article, "Education Law is Tougher on Diverse Schools," explores how NCLB requires schools with more diverse student populations to meet more requirements than schools with less diverse populations. As a result, schools with diverse student populations are far less likely to meet all their targets and make Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) and, therefore, are more likely to be branded as "in need of improvement." Benjamin Herold and Bryan Lathrop's graphic file, "Making AYP: The Game," further documents the complexity of the path leading to AYP that schools must follow in order to avoid federally-imposed sanctions. Finally, Virginia Rhodes, in her article "Kids on the Move: The Effects of Student Mobility on NCLB School Accountability Ratings," presents a quantitative study which establishes the relationship between urban school mobility and school ratings, one of the performance indicators mandated for schools under NCLB. According to Rhodes, student mobility - something schools have very little control over - is a significant factor in predicting school success under the NCLB accountability system.

In our Commentary section, Alexandra Miletta and Katherine Morris offer a refreshingly unique critique of current trends in education with their NCLB-inspired poem, "No Cow Left Behind." Similarly, Alice Ginsberg's commentary, "NCLB in Education: Solving a Crisis or Creating One?," offers a critical analysis of the content of standardized test questions and the kind of knowledge being tested in these exams. Ginsberg also cites inequities in school funding and low government spending on public education, as compared to other government-financed projects, as evidence of our nation's disinterest in providing quality education to all its citizens and its low regard for public education in general.

In our Notes from the Field section, Terrance Furin's article, "Some Strategies in Dealing with High-Stakes Testing and the Death of Social Studies Education," explains how the current obsession with high-stakes testing in reading and math has driven social studies from the elementary school curriculum. Furin outlines specific strategies developed by St. Joseph's University teacher education students to infuse social studies education into schools where it has been eliminated. Yvette Lapayese offers another solution to harmful policies which NCLB imposes on English language learners in her article, "Latina/o Teacher Insurgency and NCLB: The Politics of Resistance to English-Only Policies in Urban School Classrooms." This article exposes the work of five bilingual teachers who are actively engaged in counteracts in urban schools to oppose the primacy of monolingual education as articulated in the No Child Left Behind Act.

Each of these authors raises important questions and concerns that contribute to a larger and more complex understanding of the No Child Left Behind Act. We invite readers to use these articles and documents to continue the conversation about this significant set of educational policies that is impacting not only the structure of public education, but is changing the very understanding of what it means to be educated in our society today.


Meier, D. (2004). NCLB and Democracy. In D. Meier and G. Wood (Eds.), Many children left behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act is damaging our children and our schools (pp. 66-78). Boston: Beacon Press.

The Editors
Amy Bach
Kira Baker-Doyle
Kimberly Daniel-White
Vinay Harpalani
Cheryl Jones-Walker
Katherine Schultz
Anne Burns Thomas

Table of Contents

Feature Articles

Schools Examine Test Data to Guide Plans for What to Teach
Sukey Blanc and Jolley Christman

Education Law is Tougher on Diverse Schools
Paul Socolar

Making AYP: The Game
Benjamin Herold and Bryan Lathrop

Kids on the Move: The Effects of Student Mobility on NCLB School Accountability Ratings
Virginia Rhodes

Notes from the Fields
Some Strategies in Dealing with High-Stakes Testing and the Death of Social Studies Education
Terrance Furin

Latina/o Teacher Insurgency and NCLB: The Politics of Resistance to English-Only Policies in Urban School Classrooms
Yvette Lapayese

Meier, D., & Wood, G. (Eds.). (2004). Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act is Damaging our Children and our Schools. Boston: Beacon Press.
Jason Fritz

Fine, M. (Producer), Roberts, R. (Artistic Director), Torre, M.E., & Bloom, J. (2004). Echoes of Brown: Youth Documenting and Performing the Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education [DVD and Accompanying Book]. New York: Teachers College Press.
Lalitha Vasudevan

Meier, D., & Wood, G. (Eds.). (2004). Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act is Damaging our Children and our Schools. Boston: Beacon Press.
Kate O'Donnell

No Cow Left Behind
Alexandra Miletta and Katherine Morris

NCLB in Education: Solving a Crisis or Creating One?
Alice Ginsberg

— multiple authors
Penn GSE: Perspectives on Urban Education


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