Providing Our Schools Relief from No Child Left Behind

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

When I was superintendent in Chicago, I never looked forward to a call from Washington telling me what I have to do. Now that I’m in Washington, I try not to make those calls.

Our job is to support reform that is good for students at the state and local level.  We need to get out of the way wherever we can.  We need to be tight on the goals but loose on the means of achieving them — providing as much flexibility as possible, while maintaining meaningful accountability for improving student outcomes and closing achievement gaps.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) got it backwards — it was loose on the goals but tight on the means — and today it’s forcing states into one-size-fits-all solutions that just don’t work.

The President understands this and he has directed the Department of Education to move ahead in providing relief in return for reform.

With the new school year fast approaching and still no bill to reform NCLB, it’s time to create a process for states to gain flexibility from key provisions of the law, provided that they are willing to embrace education reform.

We will not be giving states a pass on accountability. There will be a high bar for states seeking flexibility within the law, working off a framework that the states themselves have put together with the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Over the past few days, I have talked with more than half of the nation’s governors, and they are pushing us to provide the relief they desperately need and want.

There is no magic bullet for fixing education, and the best ideas will always come from the local level, where hardworking men and women in our schools are doing the hard work every day to educate our children.

We’re still hopeful that Congress can continue its work this fall because a strong bipartisan reauthorization continues to be essential.  In the meantime, states and districts have an opportunity to move forward and receive relief from NCLB’s mandates.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.


  1. Duncan was the main reason hundreds of teachers got fired in Chicago. After the election when President Obama wins, he’ll be the main reason hundreds more get fired. Watch and see.

  2. As an state-certified educator who has worked in the school system as a Title 1 instructor and substitute teacher, I have seen many teachers and administrators who are passionate about their craft and want to see their students succeed at their academic and personal levels.
    As a college professor, who teaches future Early Care and Education professionals, I have been fortunate to study the latest research on brain development as well as the established theories of how children learn.
    For years I have seen discrepancies in the Elementary Education field and the Early Childhood Education Field. The ECE domain includes children birth through age 8. This includes some Elementary Education grades (K-3). Yet, the elementary classrooms I have viewed are not conducive to how these age groups learn.
    It is my hope that with reform measures in place, teachers who know Best Practices and Developmentally Appropriate Practices can teach children using techniques and curriculum suitable to these youngest citizens.

  3. Uwe, German engineer with GC, being not able to get a job as math teacher in the USA

    You all lie in your own pockets. NCLB is a lie. How come children in school tell me: ‘We don’t need to learn, we pass anyway, cause the principal and teacher needs to keep his job and funding.

    Come on, you know all those things, stop lying around here.
    When I was teaching math in High School as a substitute… How come the children tell me that I know more than the teacher and why can I not be their teacher? Very easy answer. Schools don’t hire mostly teacher, they hire NCLB babysitters to control the kids with punishments. I never got hired as a teacher cause I go beyond NCLB and therefore I am a problem for lazy principals. Another thought that spark me was that I saw only a few Caucasian teachers, most of the teachers are Hispanic or American African. I really don’t know why. A German engineer teaching math looks like to be a problem in this country. So get completely rid of the NCLB and let the children repeat classes, the NCLB problem need to be moved towards the parents a little bit so they also know their responsibility. I also would recommend on testing the teachers ability from time to time.

    uschoen at

  4. I feel teachers in the United States are teaching to the test instead of teaching to help students learn. The bad thing about this children are not learning. Teachers need to teach to enhance learning and provide children skills that will teach them how to learn.

    • Hi Edwina
      I agree with you,The focus has been taken off of learning.They are not learning they are focused on passing state test so that schools can get the funding. This is destroying our education system. We have students who have been in school since age three and and when senior year comes around they are not able to graduate. Why? Because they are not able to pass state test. If the high demand is for state testing then why are the held responsible for accredited hours? This is an issue that really needs to be addressed. NCLB has really left our kids out in the cold.

      • It is so sad that something meant to help children has done just the opposite. I know an excellent elementary school teacher who has been told what to teach on each day of the year up to the state test. After the test date, she can teach whatever she wants. Before the test, at the end of each week the students in her class are tested, and if they don’t all pass the test with high scores, she has to re-teach that week’s lesson. During her first year, her students became very interested in one particular lesson and they wanted to learn more on that particular subject. It was an exciting “teachable moment.” She spent two additional days with the students doing research and working together on projects. The class was alive with interested, actively participating students, but because they didn’t cover the specified lessons for the week, she was written up for not following the curriculum, and the students spent the next week “catching up” on what they missed. She was told that she could never get off the track again. She was so frustrated she quit the profession the following summer. Now teachers who have worked their hearts out teaching the state standards that are tested, are told that they have to go back to school and learn the “New common core standards”, and that there will be new tests and new labels. More teachers are dropping out of the profession out of total frustration and exhaustion. And Hey! How come only schools with high poverty rates get any funds? Why are the other schools excluded and why are “Those children being left behind?” The entire system needs to be revised, and all schools should have the tools of education, and all kids should receive a quality education, not “quality (and quantity) tests”? tests.

  5. As a teacher in an urban school district, I see struggling students being tested and re-tested so much that they miss out on the necessary thing they need the most: time-on-learning. They are imprisoned in the testing rooms, repeatedly failing standardized tests versus being in the classroom as active participants in learning. Sadly, the students that have succeeded are also trapped in this time warp of testing mania and their learning is further impacted because the teachers are proctoring tests and re-tests. Thus, the high achieving students are given less during testing time. The time and expense spent on testing entire districts could be better spent on providing the necessary services and resources so that ALL children can access more over less. Test after school and on weekends and use monies to hire aids to support challenging learning activities for all students.

    • When NCLB came into existence, I thought that all children’s academic needs would be attended to, and that no child would be left behind.. I thought that those who had academic challenges would be responded to and helped. Boy, I was really naive. As a result of NCLB I have seen more failure in school, and more children falling in the cracks, and more bewilderment in our youth, and the list goes on from what I have observed as a result. SAD… Over-standardization has created a snowball affect of competition between school districts about scores, and a cookie cutter affect within this one size fits all education system. We hardly attend to the real importance of why we educate, but instead focus on how we’re going to meet the standards. Our creative energy in education is dissipating, and manufactured education is replacing it. Our education system has become linear/logical, symmetrical, black/white; but an abundance of our youth are not able to fit in this mold, and so they slip into that nauseous feeling of unable. Reform is not what we need in education; we need to transform education, and make it work for our children’s sakes and as well for our future.

  6. NCLB is a joke. I have a 14 y/o daughter who is non verbal and developmentally delayed. She began receiving speech therapy in the 2010-2011 school year. I have been fighting for a communication device, but to no avail. Simply because she is special needs, does this mean she does not deserve an education? As if this isn’t enough, in New Orleans schools systems have decided to have the special education model as all inclusive. I understand them not wanting the the children with special needs separated, but all inclusion is not fit for all situations. Do I subject my child to all inclusive classes and disregard her safety. NCLB something needs to change and quickly or maybe we need to change our motto to something else. I’m a concerned parent of a child who was left behind.

    • Did your child have an Assistive Technology Evaluation? If she did not write a letter to the CSE and ask for one!

    • I’m a speech language pathologist that works in an elementary school. Tell the SLP your daughter sees that you want a referral for assistive technology. If she doesn’t help, talk to the guidance counselor. A low tech device such as PECS may be used as a trial period to see if she can learn to communicate by using pictures since she is non verbal. You also may be able to obtain one through health insurance. If that doesn’t work than request an IEP meeting to include assisstive technology needs.

  7. When a child has a disability the only way for parents to get their child an FAPE is to learn the laws and build a paper trail. NCLB is a good law the way the state and school district use the law is where the problem lies. School Districts try to manipulate the law so that they can create a one fit all education. School districts are Refusing to identify the needs of a child and refusing to write goals that are customized to the child’s needs. If the Federal government would just audit IEP’s that were written when an outside evaluation was used against the IEP’s that were written from the school districts tests, the answer would be found.

    NCLB requires the schools to teach our children to read by third grade. If a child is not taught to read by third grade NCLB should give power to the parents and allow the parents to find a program that works and have the parent’s deduct their tax money from school districts to pay for a reading program that works.

    Giving School districts and states more flexibility is not the answer. Accountability can be achieved by auditing IEP’s and giving more power to the parents.

      • If it was not for NCLB i would have had to trust that the school was doing the right thing and educating my son. The School told me that my son has a relative weakness in writing the standardized assessments that they administered put him in the average to superior range. He was in honors and received a “B+” in ELA It was not until I parental placed him into a private school that I found out the truth. He received a “F” in ELA in the the private school. I decided to challenge the assessment and ask for a neuropsychological Assessment. Now my child has proper services and can go on to college and be who he was meant to be all because the law allowed him to have a neuropsychological Assessment by an independent Dr. paid by the school district that was not educating him. Now please explain your point of view so I can understand why the Education system is broken and i had to pay for my son’s high school education and pay taxes to a district who failed my child

  8. My concern is that the children aren’t recieveing the tools needed to meet the demands placed on them. These young people see very few examples of collaborative efforts from home school and community. What they see plenty of is pointing the finger. Who’s really taking responsibility? We all have to be accountable in actions not in words. When we cross paths with young people we have an opportyunity to either add to their character or take away from them. I am a young mom of five beautiful people. In order to help guide them into their future i need to relate to them learn them, and listen to them. Relating is the beginning of relationship. When we develop relationship with these young people we can begin to better serve them!

    • It is far easier to learn people when you have 5-6 to learn. How do we do that with 35 students changing to 35 more each hour. I see 130 students every day. I do my best, but unfortunately I do not work in a perfect world. I feel I am making a difference if I connect with 10-15 in each class. Schools are not an assembly line or a business, and until we stop treating them as such, we will get the same results for using the same processes.

  9. The worst thing we can do to kids is teach them that for every question, there is one perfect answer. At best, it’s a Goldilocks issue (look for one that is just right). We can help them come up with the optimal answer for a given situation and its variables. As a nation, we worry that our children are not creative, but we test them with little circles on a page. We worry that they are not STEM grounded, but our classrooms are encouraged to do anything BUT inquiry-based learning.

    Yes, there are ways to use multiple choice exams as a test of student learning and teacher competence, but the process is arduous. Take a class. Look at the scores each of the students within the class, and create a trend line of their last few testing years. Compare the trend of the class overall to the current year’s average scores. If the teacher has brought the majority of students up, then you’ve probably found a solid educator. If the trend of the whole class has decreased, you may have a problem. Of course, that one year might have been the year Katrina dropped 12 demoralized students into her lap just in time for national testing. Or, the school was testing on a 90 degree day in a system without air conditioning, and kids were so hot they couldn’t function. So, to be safe, you should look at the teacher’s own trends for several years before passing judgement. Still want to use testing as a way to look at teacher and student competency?

    What does multiple choice testing show? Testing companies and their lobbyists have a lot of influence in Washington AND most decision-makers have no idea how to analyze data.

  10. I’m an Honors student from Kentucky, and I may not know every piece of information on the NCLB act, but I’ve experienced exactly what many other students have experienced. NCLB makes it too easy to pass a class. At my school, and many others, all that is required to pass a class is a 65% or more, so almost half of the content a student should have learned in class isn’t learned, which pressures the next years teacher to do copious amounts of review to catch the student up. Honors students are held back from their full potential by this, because what they could learn in a few days, is taught for two or more weeks. If we divided students by their ability to learn, rather than their age, we could improve the education for all students, by teaching them at their own rate, and content will be mastered, instead of passing a student that has learned only half of the material. I spend time in class doing absolutely nothing becaused I already know what is being taught. Review doesn’t help the student. We must make sure they’ve mastered the content before continuing, or it will be lost.

    • I fully agree! Teaching students by ability, not age would change everything and increase student achievement. However, it is called discrimination these days.

  11. My child is not reciving a proper edcation. The school promises to work with me this year. I am not holding my breath; I would like to get some information on the course of action if there is a repeat of poor performance. I known Chicago students have a choice of school or home schooling paid by the district. What happened to the rest of Illinois don’t we get a choice too? Especially when a school got a problem teaching my child. This might not be the best recourse but it is better than no education.

    • A vast majority of a child’s education starts and ends at home. A parent is just as responsible for their child’s education as a teacher is. Without motivation from home, a student will have no desire to learn. Without reinforcements from home, a child will have more difficulty grasping the ideas of the material. Work on the education of your child, and yourself, and instead of lashing out at teachers, embrace their support and offer them yours too.

      • While I agree with your comments obviously Robin is a concerned parent. Our children are out of our reach for at least 6 hours a day and hopefully under the authority and influence of a paid professional. When I told my daughter’s 5th grade teacher that she was not learning to spell she laughed and replied, “Neither can I.” I guess spelling was not a part of her teacher certification exams.
        Her 6th grade teacher did not hold her accountable or impose any consequences for unfinished assignments. He passed all the kids no matter how poorly they did. I would gladly have taught her at home. Would the district have deducted $8,000 from my taxes?
        This was in Santa Clara Co, CA. I moved my children to Oregon where the the teacher held the kids accountable. A few years later we moved to OH where the schools were excellent. It has been my observation over the years that the schools reflect the “progressive” attitudes of the community and the intrest or lack thereof. Sometimes the parents are bucking the attitudes of both.

  12. No Child Left Behind is doing more harm than good in our public schools. Dropout ratings are increasing in secondary and post-secondary schools; teacher lay-offs; more military recruitment; voucher programs; bigger class-sizes; meaningless stardardized testing;massive budget cuts; no gaurentess on useful futures successes,etc..All of this is doing is just destorying education, and benefiting the wealthy; and I highly doubt that Secretary Duncan is going to do anything to fix mess!

    • We can only hope and pray that some how the politicians realize that they are going in the wrong direction with education. I fear for the future, who will be the next generation of teachers to be persecuted?

  13. the stress of standardized testing in some state is absolutely not child focused and is ridiculous- children are learning to test, pure and simple- and that is not critical thinking, and is not intelligent at all. The South in particular is very married to the idea of”test test test” ! We see where that got them, ( georgia and the teachers changing scores) Why is the South always behind the times, socially and in all other regards? Well, I can tell you why in the academic sense — the No Child Left Behind Act, it began here by one of their good ole boys, that is why. The southern states have been trying to push this agenda on our nation, and we are not going to take this!
    I pulled my child from a private school in the deep south due to the unrelenting focus on tests as early as Kindergarten. Boy what a loss for them, to miss out on great kids due to the scoring of test at the lower grades. The schools and their staff are arrogant and believe that tests are the only and best indicator of a child’s intelligence and this is nothing short of a psychosis- well I hope you are reading this now , “resource lady”– my child was smarter than half the kids in the higher grades , and was aware of the full range of current events and historical events/ civil rights, but that material did not matter at all as he was not tested upon that.. since he could not get above 70s on their tests, he was going to be held back as his test scores earned him nothing more- thank you for some sanity in education, finally! Let’s throw these high pressure standardized tests where we threw the Jim Crow laws. They do not allow children dignity, they have no legitimacy, and they should have no place in our schools.

  14. i have been working on saven school of america i dont like how they closed these school done with out on proper paper and the stoled there money and used it in a secert account for them selves under another account that was now found in detroit that was for the schools to begain with that is why all those people went to jail, i feel that they sould give it back to our schools and reopen them with a rebuilt program get community together. that was hog was hwhat the did to our kids and familyies and teacher lay off, just to hide there money an keep it for them, how long did they think that was going to last without any noticing that it is not there , da we found it , now they dont know what to do about , hello wake up put it back where it was in the first place hello hello wake up

    • Please don’t take this personally, but you should be very upset with the English teachers responsible for your terrible grammar. Shame on them for not leaving you behind.

  15. If secretary Duncan is serious about reform, why are High stakes testing still the central feature of his plan? The higher the stakes of any testing, the less reliable the data those tests generate. The total ignorance of NCLB and USED is shown clearly in their willingness to accept this politically motivated disaster. Now we are asked to believe that a renewed effort will have different results, using the most detrimental feature of NCLB (high stakes testing) do they really believe we are that stupid?
    The only change is the name, the rest is the same old garbage. No thank you Mr. President and Mr. Secretary!

    • I agree. It seems that politicians aren’t willing to pay attention to the scores of teachers, students, parents, and educational researchers who argue that high stakes testing is detrimental to our education system. Perhaps if we had the same deep pockets as the for-profits corporations that manufacture and distribute these tests, we might have the same influence.

  16. Its nice to know that even at the bottom, our views and fears of “one-size fits all” education hasn’t gone unnoticed. I only hope this article is not the only thing to come out of this realization, reform is needed for our children, our future!

  17. Really, don’t think we should be striving for 100% literacy by 2014? You know how to do that right? Teachers are overwhelmed with those stupid tests, and that’s okay, test the kids, we should be looking at achievment scores so we can help them, but give the teachers the needed help they deserve. Make it mandatory that the schools employ more Paraprofessionals to focus on reading, writing and math. Don’t tell states like mine (Utah) that it’s okay that you are still not ready to meet these challenges. As parents we don’t let our children make excuses for not cleaning their rooms, don’t let the school districts make excuses. America is better than that, and it’s about time we started to be reminded of it. This land goes no where without educated people, let’s get serious.
    Thank you.

    • I am a para professional who was recently impacted by budget cuts. I am returning to my school this fall as a volunteer to teach reading. I feel that I have a moral obligation to. Sadly, many of us can’t financially afford to do this. Do standardized tests teach children the mechanics of reading????

  18. Hopefully the original intention for NCLB was not a design set for failure, although that has been the outcome for far too many school districts. This welcomed legislation can help restore integrity and respect for our students and their dedicated educators, counselors and staff in the public school system. Stay encouraged and kudos to our President.

  19. As a superintendent of a rural school district in northwestern PA, I welcome any relief that can be provided from the unreasonable testing requirements. We are not afraid of reform. We are not shying away from teacher and principal accountablility. All of our efforts are focused on increasing student achievement, but the inordinate amount of time and money wasted on standardized testing must stop.

  20. I appreciate the fact the Mr. Duncan understands that the “best ideas will always come from the local level”. We work so hard and we know what works best with our kids. It is so frustrating when we get mandates from our state departments that seem as if they are made up by people who have not been in the classroom or have not been there for a while. Another frustration comes when the only schools that anyone listens to is the ones in affluent neighborhoods. Our urban, poverty level schools only seem to get condemnation. I hope something will be done soon.

  21. Learning starts when one is perplexed about something, as Socrates stated. No Child Left Behind seeks to guarantee learning through some standardized form of testing. This is not learning but a false manipulation of what learning is. Learning provides no guarantees. It provides an opportunity to explore, create, question. True education comes when a child becomes perplexed and asks: What is this about? I have to find out. I have been a teacher and a principal for many years and I am a composer who is continually seeking to learn about the world and my own creative muse. There are no guarantees. There are no multiple choice tests that guarantee success in education. Why? Because if it can be put into a multiple choice test it is not learning. Until America stops identifying this perverse learning as learning it will not achieve success as a creative, innovative, imaginative society. To learn is to be perplexed. To stop and think. To have a blank page. To meet an impasse. To find an open space question, imagine and create. To say, what if? To move forward into the unknown with fearlessness…

    • Thanks for your insightful comment… it should be used by the President in his re-election campaign.

    • Excellent! Your post moved me to respond. All I can say is “WOW!” I am going to print this and take it with me to class tonight.

  22. This helps teachers teach pupils who all succeed at their own pace… watch to learn how

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