Duncan: “Fix No Child Left Behind – Now”

Another school year is coming to a close, and schools across the country are still operating under the restrictive rules of No Child Left Behind. Unless the law is changed, an overwhelming number of schools in the country may soon be mislabeled as failing. This will trigger impractical and ineffective sanctions. It’s confusing to students and parents and demoralizing for teachers and principals.

The Obama Administration continues to work closely with Congress to reauthorize NCLB, but with the new school year just months away, ED is beginning to investigate how to address NCLB’s problems through regulatory flexibility, if necessary.

Secretary Duncan said that regulatory flexibility will not replace comprehensive reform, or give states and districts a pass from accountability. Instead, the goal is to “unleash energy at the local level even as Congress works to rewrite the law, giving states, districts and schools the flexibility they need to raise standards, boost quality, and improve our lowest-performing schools.”

In today’s Politico, Secretary Duncan penned an op-ed explaining the importance of reauthorizing NCLB:

Everyone responsible for educating children for the knowledge economy of the 21st century agrees that America’s federal education law is in dire need of reform. Teachers, parents, school leaders, governors, members of Congress and the Education Department have all called for an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act.

I commend Congress for the hard work under way on reauthorizing NCLB, now known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers. Senate and House leaders should continue their work toward a bipartisan reauthorization bill by the start of the school year. While we don’t expect agreement on all of the details, there is real goodwill and support for reauthorizing ESEA and virtually no one — inside or outside government — is defending the status quo.

I remain hopeful and confident that Congress will soon take action to strengthen and upgrade the nation’s education law. But while Congress works, state and local school districts are buckling under the law’s goals and mandates. Despite our shared sentiment for reform and the Obama administration’s long-standing proposal to reshape NCLB, the law remains in place, four years after it was due for reauthorization. Our children get only one shot at an education. They cannot wait any longer for reform.

For this reason, our administration will develop a plan that trades regulatory flexibility for reform. If Congress does not complete work on reauthorization soon, we will be prepared with a process that will enable schools to move ahead with reform in the fall. States, districts and schools need the freedom to implement high standards, strengthen the quality of their teachers and school leaders and embrace a more flexible, fair and focused system of accountability. Many members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have voiced support for these nonpartisan goals.

The stakes are high. As it currently exists, NCLB is creating a slow-motion educational train wreck for children, parents and teachers. Under the law, an overwhelming number of schools in the country may soon be labeled as “failing,” eventually triggering impractical and ineffective sanctions.

To avoid these sanctions, many states have lowered academic standards instead of making them more rigorous. The law also makes no distinction between a high-performing school with one or two subgroups underperforming and a low-performing school where everyone is struggling. As a result, states and districts are spending billions of dollars each year on one-size-fits-all mandates dictated from Washington rather than on locally tailored solutions that effectively reach the students most at risk and close achievement gaps.

Under the umbrella of the Learning First Alliance, 16 national organizations representing tens of thousands of local administrators and school board members as well as millions of teachers are seeking flexibility from NCLB’s deadlines and mandates. Separately, a number of state education chiefs have echoed the call for flexibility tied to education reform.

Louisiana, for example, is seeking flexibility to put in place a comprehensive reform plan, as is Tennessee, a winner of the administration’s key reform program, Race to the Top. Nine other states are seeking flexibility from the law, while others have threatened to simply ignore the NCLB deadlines.

Meanwhile, many states are moving forward with reform, voluntarily adopting higher standards and collaborating on a new generation of assessments. They are developing new systems of evaluating and supporting teachers, building comprehensive data systems to improve teaching and to track student gains and transforming chronically low-performing schools — including the high schools that produce a disproportionate share of America’s dropouts.

The purpose of our administration’s plan is not to give states and districts a reprieve from accountability but, rather, to unleash energy for reform at the local level even as Congress works to rewrite the law. It’s a meaningful step to help educators, parents and community leaders transition from today’s stifling, top-down approach toward a climate of locally designed innovation and excellence.

Fifteen months have passed since the administration unveiled its blueprint to reform NCLB. On two separate occasions, President Barack Obama has convened House and Senate leaders at the White House to help spur action. I’ve held countless bipartisan meetings across Capitol Hill. The president reissued the call for reform in March.

More and more people recognize education is the game-changer in the global economy. A world-class education system is the engine of economic growth, innovation, competitiveness and job creation. Our children, our teachers and our parents deserve a world-class education — not some day, but today.


  1. The number one issue that impacts quality of education is PARENT quality. Those students whose parents support them, read to them, teach them respectful behavior, and send them to school EVERY DAY and ON TIME will see their children learn, unless they indeed DO have a learning problem. Even then, everyone can learn, but not all at the same pace (is everyone a great basketball player??). The unfortunate children of parents who don’t feed, clothe, or otherwise care for them are going to produce children who start school behind and continue to fall behind. The poor performers in our school frequently miss 30+ days of school a year, do no homework, and often have not learned the behaviors that will allow them to benefit from instruction. After 30+ years in early education, I can say with confidence that I can teach anybody, but they have to be present, body and mind, on a regular basis, and it would help if they spoke the language in which instruction is delivered – or at least were given time to learn it before being tested in it!

  2. I appreciate the concern of the people who brought in NCLB. I also apreciate the concern of the present govt. where it wants all its students to excel. I have been working on this same concept for last 7-8 years.
    I came to know about NCLB 2 months back (as I am from India).
    I say there is nothing wrong in NCLB. The present education system (i.e. the curricullum and the way of teaching) is the main culprit. It is not the teachers nor the students nor the govt. I can very well say from my experience that any normal child can become highly proficient(even better than NCLB requirements that is well above the 80%-90% in all the exams in all subjects). Once this is attained by the student the grades improve to the maximum on its own. I have developed an Education System and it will achieve this dream. It can be proved within 3 months practically. I am applying for a Research Grant to IES,USA. But the screening process takes 1 whole year. So to bring this concept out is there anyone whom I can directly talk to so that the cause of suffering of so many, parents,teachers, students can be removed as early as possible.
    As till date I have not found out a single student who doesn’t want to get the highest possible score, have you?

  3. I totally agree with the fact that we need good teachers who care and give their all to the children. I believe that all schools should have to provide not just special needs classes, but resource classes as well. I have a grandchild that I am raising, that is behind on his education because he needs the extra help of qualified teachers to get him on the right track from resource classes. His school dose not have resource class. This is very disappointing. I may now have to put him in another school that has this class. He had been at this school since pre K. This is so unfair for him. He had to be held back in second grade. Now he is going to start 3rd. I am very concerned for him. I am a full time worker, who does not have the time to sit with him so he may get his reading down pat. Nor do I have the qualifications to be a teacher. If I did I would be teaching! Actually, if he had had what he needed to start with he would not be failing. What the heck?

  4. First, I would just like to say how disappointed I am of our government for starting the NCLB Act and then allowing each state to cut education funding due to budget cuts.By doing this, it leaves many children behind. Educational funds should never be touched if we really want the best for our children.

    We also will always have children with learning disabilities, to no fault of their own.These children work as hard as any others (or harder) to learn. Therefor, schools should not be punished for these students not being on level but commended for the wonderful gains they made.

    And YES, lazy and uncaring teachers must go. The unions need to take part in this by not standing behind them just because they pay dues. The union needs to investigate, not just by talking to other teacher friends but also by talking to the parents of previous students about the quality of education their child received.

  5. School districts are ALL driven by the $$ signs. It’s unfortunate but true. Our students, parents, and teachers do not have a say in what happens within the classroom. We are driven to teach to the test so that our students can pass so that we can get the money to continue to operate. Schools have become big business to state and federal governments, text book companies, food suppy companies, oil companies, etc., etc. Our curriculum is driven by a test that has been manufactured by a company making a fortune. I have to wonder who came up with this great testing, testing, and testing some more idea. Any ideas?

  6. Let’s assume for a moment that we have managed to reach the NCLB goals. How should we celebrate this momentous accomplishment? 100% Proficiency! Every child in America has achieved proficiency! Wait a minute…what are we celebrating? Every child has earned a 66% ( or maybe 70%, or 65%, or 68%) in math and in reading at some time between grades 3 and 12. Proficiency is passing, and the bar for passing varies, but it rarely exceeds 72% on any test. So just how should we celebrate on that glorious day when every child in America has attained mediocrity?

    100% Proficiency is in fact unattainable and it should never have been our goal. What we want…what every parent and teacher wants…is for each child to make progress from year to year.

    Please assess individual student progress from year to year. Under the current system, a student may earn a Level 3 in 3rd grade, Level 3 in 4th,5th, 6th and 7th, but then a Level 2 in 8th. Is this because he had a poor teacher in 8th? Or was he in fact losing ground from year to year, but he was nevertheless praised for passing, for being among those who were ‘proficient’. Under NCLB, we have focussed up to 50% of our resources on those students who have not been able to pass, even though they may be fewer than 10% of our student population, and even though our top students desperately need to be challenged.

    Please change to a system that measures student progress. Create a 2000-point scoring system. Assess at the end of 2nd grade to establish a baseline score, say 200. Test again at the end of 3rd grade, student earns a 320, or a +120 over the 2nd grade score. Student then sets out to meet or beat that +120 each year.
    Simplify the test format, and keep it consistenty from year to year so little preppingfor the test is required. Give the test near the end of each year, every year, in all subjects: Reading, Writing, Math, Science, History, Geography. Give 2 tests per day, and have the teachers score them. Not their own, but scan them and have them scored on-line. the best way to help students do ell on the tests is for the teachers to grade them so they become familiar with what is required and with what top papers really look like.
    Give the same assessments in every state and city. They should not be brutally difficult or long or repetitious. One written assignment on the writing test and one on the history test. One “show-your-work” or “explain- the- experiment” question on the math and science tests.
    All Core teachers could be trained on-line in scoring procedures, given practice examples, and then each piece of work could be scored by 3 different people. Then the teachers could be given instructions on-line in how to use the data. This should take 3 days. PE, Art, Music, Theater, Cooking, Sewing, Dance, and the seniors could be enlisted to have some exciting special programs for the kids on those 3 days.
    the teachers could do all the scoring on a computer in their own classrooms or dept. offices.
    Students from foreign countries might find themselves on the most improved side instead of “not proficient”. a newly-arrived 3rd grader with a 250 might shoot up to a 410 the following year, for a +160. a top student might earn a 600, but he might have only a +110. To evaluate a teacher, average out the +’s (and minuses) in the class. Do the same for a school or a district. Simply attaining proficiency would not longer be cause for praise, and a child who “fails” might have made the greatest gains.

    • I am a 25-yr teacher….. everything from students with severe special educational needs to students with the challenges of being highly gifted…. kindergarten through high school. I LOVE this idea! I love it because it is focused on the individual student and their progress/regression at certain points throughout their developmental spectrum. I LOVE it because it doesn’t look to punish students and teachers – but to show how and what is working and when it is and why. If a child experiences a divorce or some other traumatic event – that year’s progress will most likely be a smaller number – but it won’t equate to the “failure” of the whole class or school…. it’ll just show that that child was having a hard time focusing on school due to personal issues…. duh!
      THANK you for apparently putting such great thought into this. Is this something you came up with on your own or is this something you and your colleagues came up with through discussion (and maybe even, practice/application of it)?

  7. I have an 8 year old finishing second grade at what was alleged to be a very good school district in an affluent suburb of New York City. To call this year disappointing would be a tremendous understatement.

    The teacher seems to be totally unmotivated to connect with her students on a personal level, to understand what her class’ special talents and desires are, and to form a syllabus that would best inspire the students. Instead, she hands out homework which are copies of pre-printed forms from some educational content service which I am sure are oriented to make certain that the student body can “pass the test” that is coming in a couple of years, but is challenging to only the lesser students in the class.

    In my case I feel my child is on the far end of the bell curve in his class; he’s quite intelligent, finishing his homework every night in under 5 minutes with minimal corrections. No challenge at all. Some of his classmates are struggling with this same coursework.

    So what I realized was that NCLB really meant hold back everyone so we don’t leave behind the kids who need the help. This is crazy…it has the opposite effect of what the country needs. Instead of encouraging our best and brightest to create and invent and innovate, it holds everyone back to a lowest common denominator.

    There lies the problem I have realized this year wtih NCLB. I feel the problem is that it was based on a pessimistic premise that since we are failing our children, that we need to help the struggling students keep up. In my mind it was conceived by an administration that felt we as a nation were intellecutally deficient, and it reflects that mind set.

    I think the reality is that there is no one solution to any of these problems, and while there is value to the corporate approach of management by measurement, we need to encourage our teachers to connect with their students, learn what motivates them, and create innovative content to educate. We need to encourage the best and brightest, nurture their talents and make them an inspiration for the their peers.

  8. Amen Robert!!!!! Well said. That is the best effort at summing up our educational systems that I have witnessed.
    1. Quality teachers
    2. Ability and desire of parents to support their children in education (socio-economic status)
    *Why does society continue to ignore the effects of socio-economic status on student performance. Schools cannot be counted on solve societies ills.

    • I completley agree with the last coment regarding soci-economic status. I strongly believe that certain schools are “low performing” simply because they lack consistant parental input/participation. Many parents in low income areas are merely too busy trying to feed thier kids. Likewise children need to be constantly encouraged and reminded how important education is – that college is not an option. Similarly if you look at the high performing schools, they are generally located in suburban areas where a single income suffices and parents are available to voluteer in the classrooms, donate much needed funds to supplement the school, and expect their children to excel.

      I believe that if the economic disparity were lessened, all schools would improve.

    • Because public schools repeatedly declined to provide appropriately advanced education for my very academically advanced son, I had to leave my lucrative career to homeschool him for most of his 18 years, even though as a single parent this left us in dire poverty. Now that he is about to leave for Caltech, the top rated engineering school on the planet as one of their top admitted students, I face a ruined career and entirely depleted finances. Ironically, the reason many public school administrators gave me for not flexing to meet his advanced needs was that the No Child Left behind law would not allow it.

  9. There is only one way to improve education. English and math tests for 8th grades,and English,math,chemistry,physics exit tests for 12th grades.All teachers in middle and high schools must have a bachelor degree.

    • Do some teachers not have a bachelor’s degree? In what state is this allowed? I live in Virginia and we are moving towards all teachers having a Master’s Degree.

  10. There is only one way to improve education.English and math test for 8th grade. English,math,chemistry,Physic exit tests for 12th grade.Teachers in middle and high school must have a bachelor degree.

    • Teachers already are required to be certified, with at least a bachelor’s degree, at least in my state.
      Why exit tests? What does this accomplish? The exit tests are not needed, if the students are assessed using real-to-life assessments throughout their school career (and I don’t mean multiple choice standardized tests). If we use tests that are individualized for the student, and track progress over time – to an end goal of college/job readiness, then an exit exam is simply redundant (sp?).
      I don’t know if you are a troll, or simply do not understand education today, but, we don’t need more tests, Kudret. We need better tests, that are designed/implemented at the school/classroom level. We need large corporations to stick their noses in someone else’s business, and leave education alone. We need support for teachers and unions from the leadership at the Ed. department, instead of attacks at every turn.
      We need honesty and integrity at all levels of government, but especially in the presidency (interesting note, I still support Obama, even if the concept of ‘Sheriff Joe’ terrifies me).
      We NEED to ensure that public education REMAINS a public good, and ensure that it will never become a private commodity, at the whim of the highest bidder.

  11. “Teaching to the test” is never the answer to improving the quality of education. In fact, why our public school systems seem to operate under the assumption that generating more standardized tests and reducing the amount of time that children have for such creative activities as music or art, or such necessary recreational outlets as time spent on the playground, is a complete mystery to me. Also, why do we continue to support a uniform approach to educating our children that was instituted by a president whom most of the country does not respect, and who would probably have difficulty responding to such tests, if he were to be actually enrolled in the public school system? Consequently, I definitely think that a total overhaul of such efforts is long overdue; look at what we are producing in our classrooms and then say that such policies should continue into the future.

  12. GREAT comment, Robert. I especially liked this:

    “There are two major things that need to be understood in education. Number 1 – improving quality teachers and teaching is the number one thing schools can do to improve education. Number 2 – the number one thing effecting student performance both negatively and positively is rooted in society changes and the ability and desire of parents to support their children in education. It is not a coincidence that the worst performing schools are in the lowest economic areas. There is no special air in these areas that suck the ability of techers to teach. These kids are starting at a different place than well off kids and thus struggle in comparison to well off schools.”


    • Mandatory parenting education is a necessity, especially in the lowest economic areas!!! This parenting education needs to begin BEFORE children are even conceived, so that potential parents understand exactly what is involved when raising a child…that it is a job, the most important job a parent could have!!!

    • #1 issue to imapact education is Teacher quality.
      It is time to let go of the teachers who are lazy, who are looking for the easy way out, who don’t believe in students, who just show up for the pay check, who no longer enjoy teaching, who through the “union” in your face when you want to address teacher quality, who don’t hold themselves accountable or responsible to motivate students, who are afraid, who don’t get paid enough so why bother, who blame everybody but themselves for student failures.

      I think we all know which teachers these are.

      Teachers, please ask them to get another job.

      You are the voice for teachers, you are the union so speak up (Don’t get me wrong- the unions should be strong and should advocate for Good teachers and protect teachers)
      Poor quality teachers our hurting our children, schools, communities, society, future and our profession – my profession.

      Teaching is difficult. The good ones ar successful inspite of our monetary compensation, parent particpation, social econimic status, NCLB, ESEA, money, time, gangs, drugs, violence, ignorance. The good teachers connect with their students and make a difference.

      It would be wonderful if students came free of problems, with all the pre-requiste skills and knowledge – our jobs would be easier. But that is not our reality and we each agree to teach the students who sit infront of us every day.

      I an hopeful for a new system that encourages 21st centuary education (the 1950’s model doesn’t work anymore) – collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking are the skills that should be assessed.

      P.S. Teacher are the education experts.
      P.S.S. Math Rocks
      P.S.S.S. Don’t even think it – Yes, you can do math too

  13. I can’t believe NCLB has lasted this long. Education gets weaker each year as schools scramble to look good on shallow testing rather than finding ways to measure what students can do with their knowledge.

    There are two major things that need to be understood in education. Number 1 – improving quality teachers and teaching is the number one thing schools can do to improve education. Number 2 – the number one thing effecting student performance both negatively and positively is rooted in society changes and the ability and desire of parents to support their children in education. It is not a coincidence that the worst performing schools are in the lowest economic areas. There is no special air in these areas that suck the ability of techers to teach. These kids are starting at a different place than well off kids and thus struggle in comparison to well off schools. Schools need to focus on better teaching and better teachers because that is the only real thing they can control. However, political stakeholders need to focus on marshaling resources to better hit the underlying problems rather than pointing the fingers at teachers and schools. Find ways to pay the best teachers to be at the hardest schools. Look for resources that will help reach these students earlier and provide real help when trying to catch them up.

    Charter schools are great because they have the potential to be innovative, but quit telling me schools that can tell students to go soemwhere else are comparible to the regular public school that has to provide an education for EVERYONE. Even those students who don’t want ot be there and don’t really care if anyone else learns either.

    Fix NCLB but look beyond the talking points that moving around assessments will fix the fundamental flaw we are working with. We can’t spend all our time weighing pigs in hopes that by weighing them we will get them fattened up for the fair. More and different assessments take time away from kids learning and doing. Lets be smart and targeted so there is real acoounatability without wasting precious instructional time.

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