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Chief Criticisms Against the No Child Left Behind Law

The No Child Left Behind law was enacted six years ago with overwhelming bipartisan support, but it has since come under intense criticism from educators and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. Now, as the law comes up for renewal, some are calling for an overhaul of the legislation, while others want to scrap it altogether. Here, a look at some of the chief criticisms against the law:

"No Child has 'narrowed' the curriculum": Because the law requires testing only in math and reading, many parents and teachers complain that other subjects—from recess to government—have been thrown out the window. This is hard to measure, but it is clear that schools do put a tremendous focus on reading and math ... and on test preparations.

That is particularly true for schools in need of improvement. The law's supporters say many schools have managed to improve their reading and math scores without dropping other subjects, by embedding reading and math into other classes. They also say that students can't learn other subjects until they are reading and doing math at grade level, so it's appropriate to place a priority on mastery of those subjects.

"No Child is too punitive": Many teachers take it very personally when their school is labeled "in need of improvement." They feel they are being blamed for many issues outside their control: high levels of poverty in some schools, growing numbers of English-language learners and special education students who can't perform at grade level.

Teachers' unions in particular feel that their members have been turned into scapegoats for larger problems, and they have fought hard to have the law repealed or amended. Supporters of the law say that for too long, low-income students suffered because of inadequate schools and that adults are finally being forced to take responsibility for students' success.

"The standard for adequate yearly progress is unfair": Under the No Child law, schools that fail to meet standards for "adequate yearly progress" — or AYP — for two years in a row face a variety of sanctions. Educators in low-income schools say their students start at a very low achievement level, so they should get credit for bringing these students closer to grade level. Instead, they say, their schools are punished if their students miss the bar by a few points.

Educators also complain about a requirement that every "sub-group" meet AYP standards. For example, if the school makes AYP on average, but low-income students fail, the school is judged as failing. The same goes for special education students, ethnic minorities and English-language learners. Schools complain that this requirement often punishes them for small failings, while masking larger successes.

"No Child is underfunded": Many educators say the law is yet another unfunded mandate. While the legislation did provide additional funds to help underperforming schools, states and districts say the testing mandate itself has cost them lots of time and money.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Larry Abramson
Larry Abramson is NPR's National Security Correspondent. He covers the Pentagon, as well as issues relating to the thousands of vets returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.