It’s Past Time to Move Beyond No Child Left Behind: Addressing America’s Teachers and Principals

For more than a decade, states and schools throughout this country have worked within the narrow confines of the No Child Left Behind law. It’s long past time to move past that law, and replace it with one that expands opportunity, increases flexibility and gives schools and educators more of the resources they need.

Today, seven years after the law was due for renewal, there is real movement on Capitol Hill toward a new law, with many important decisions happening in just the next few weeks. But it is by no means certain what that law will look like — or whether it will, indeed, be a step forward.

No Child Left Behind is the title applied to the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the most important education law in the country, which turned 50 years old in January.

Since its beginnings in 1965, ESEA aimed to give students living in poverty, minority students and others who had historically struggled for a fair chance, in part, by providing billions of dollars in Title I funds to schools with high concentrations of poverty, and by supporting teacher professional development, and other essentials. When he introduced it in January 1965, President Lyndon Johnson said the law would establish “full educational opportunity as our first national goal,” and said, “I believe deeply [that] no law I have signed, or will ever sign, means more to the future of America.”

In hundreds upon hundreds of conversations with educators, I have heard about frustrations with the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, and I am hopeful that lawmakers will find their way to a bipartisan agreement on a law that serves students, teachers and principals better.

The intentions of the No Child Left Behind revision were good, but the implementation, for many, has been frustrating. It aimed to bring transparency and meaningful responsibility for the learning progress of “subgroups” of students who had struggled in the past — students in poverty, minority students, those with disabilities, those learning English and others. That’s a good idea. But in practice, the law created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed.

I believe we need to do precisely the reverse, giving schools more resources, more support and more flexibility. I believe we need to scrap No Child Left Behind and replace it with a far better law — a law that continues key supports for equity in education as a national priority, rather than making equity of opportunity optional.

Recently, I laid out core ideas for a new law that ensures real opportunity. Teachers, principals, students and families have helped to spur enormous progress in education throughout the country — leading to our highest high-school graduation rate in history, dropout rates at historic lows, and a million more black and Hispanic students in college than there were in 2008.

I believe we need to double down on that kind of progress and expand opportunity for America’s children — not turn back the clock. In order to do that, I called for doing several things that have enormous relevance to educators.

First, we must make sure that schools and educators have the resources they need to do their vitally important work. Among significant increases for education in the budget the President recently laid out, he requested $2.7 billion in new funding for ESEA, including a billion-dollar increase for Title I.

A new ESEA should ensure that students are ready for school, by making high-quality preschool available and affordable for every family that wants it.

It should support teachers better throughout their careers, including through improved training.

It should provide support and funding to cut back on the time devoted to standardized testing in places where testing is excessive, without walking away from annual statewide assessments that provide valuable information to drive improvement and are critical to measuring growth instead of just proficiency.

In fact, the law should focus on the learning growth of all students, including subgroups that have struggled in the past, and ensure that where groups of students or schools do not make progress, there will be a plan for action and improvement.

It should help to ensure that students receive a well-rounded education that includes the arts, physical education, financial literacy, the sciences, and much more.

It should ensure that funds intended for high-poverty schools actually get to those schools.

It should ensure that all students have the benefit of high, state-chosen standards aligned with readiness for college and career.

And it should support innovation by educators at the state and local levels that drive improvements in student learning.

All of these steps will help accelerate the progress that America’s students are making, strengthen opportunity for all students, and ensure greater economic security for our nation.

I am hopeful that lawmakers from both parties will be able to come to agreement on a law that does all these things. I have been clear about my concerns about early proposals that have gone in a very different direction — one that would impose painful cuts on our schools, including a potential loss of as much as $675 million in the neediest schools. But I’m delighted to see that the leading Republican and Democrat on education in the Senate, Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray, have announced their intention to develop a bipartisan bill.

I believe that ensuring a strong education for our young people — and ensuring that schools and educators have the resources they need to provide that education — is among the nation’s most important responsibilities.

I am hopeful that Republicans and Democrats in Congress will work together to reach bipartisan agreement on a bill that holds true to the promise of real opportunity.

I urge you to get the facts about this vital decision.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.


  1. In our many correspondences with your department and from the comments of very well respected Phd’s time and time again it is evident that you are not interested in equal expectations for ALL children. 80% of Children with Disabilities are intellectually able to be college ready. 80%, unless these students are included in a meaningful way in ALL ed initiatives and not brushed off as ONLY falling under IDEA you will continue to neglect your stated goal of serving ALL. Education equity is a civil right and those rights also apply to students with disabilities, in the General ED setting and with additional support from IDEA. By the way, let’s step up and fully fund IDEA and then we can see about adding another program to the mix.

  2. It is refreshing to learn about your intentions, education in America needs real leadership and no political influence that has diverted our main objective of serving effectively our students.

  3. We are a family that is and has been historically affected by these latest and future changes at a federal level, I am also a Wisconsin resident with a Walker factor that almost always is in contradiction as to what is coming from federal levels. My kids, 11 and 16 by virtue of their place in this history have become political pawns and it feels like a social experiment.

    My 16 yr. old is now in the 10 th “grade”, a special needs child who is NOT cognitively challenged, has plateaued at a 4th grade reading level and 1st grade spelling. Still, she is unable to succeed in a regular education classroom because she is given the “books” and materials in the same formats as others- when she needs the same materials in alternative formats that never ever have made it in to regular education classrooms. I compare this to giving a blind person a cane and only allowing them to use it in a special education classroom. My daughter became suicidal at one point last year feeling attendance in regular education classrooms without appropriate supports a failure. I am also concerned when schools “modify” assignments for students with special needs without cognitive impairments as we both know that LIFE is not going to modify assignments.

    In my efforts to advocate for my daughter, I have experienced schools and the OCR accept that because a device was used once (one screen shot of one book read in all of the fifth grade) in a school year that it would suffice as compliance. I have entered in to assistive technology agreements that have not ever been implemented as well. I, and many families like mine cannot afford legal fees to get these laws enforced or implemented in our schools. I live on the shore of lake superior, a resident of a small school-there are no private schools as options either. My kids have been victimized by the social experiment that is this legislation. These laws need absolutes for these kids! no weasel loopholes for districts to slide through with threats to our entire districts as disciplines if they don’t.

    These are kids who are challenged and we as a society, must be their voice.

    While you are writing, remember the kids and families that have to survive and find a way to thrive when schools do not or will not look at a child’s needs individually. Know that it almost took my daughters life away too. Don’t make it so easy to comply for the schools. Pay attention to the years and ages of 14 -17 and know that it is no longer about learning to read but delivery of the same materials in alternative formats as a standard in regular ed classrooms, and that they need to be able to use them IF (which should be when for my daughter) they are going to go on to college.

    And please say a prayer for ALL Wisconsin students as we are being further victimized by Scott Walker refusal of all things Federal.

    Thank you very much for your efforts.

  4. Hi,
    You have placed an impossible weight on your educators. You are basing your results on the Ford assembly line model, but children aren’t cars and teachers aren’t machines. Unless you give teachers room to teach instead of striving to meet a number, you will lose the creativity that made this country unique. No child is alike so it is unfair to the children to expect that they all meet the same goal. An exceptional teacher recognizes each child’s uniqueness and strives to improve it. However, when you burden the teacher with the goal of having each child fit a certain mold you do a great disservice to both the child and the teacher. Henry Ford did a wonderful thing for the machine part of the business world. But that model can not be applied to children. For that you need exceptional teachers, teachers you are currently driving out of the educational world. What you are left with are young teachers who will strive to make every child fit a mold and instead of a child left behind you will have an entire society left behind. Children were never “left behind”, they were allowed to develop their own unique skills and talents, something you are currently “testing” out of them.

  5. the government has no business in the education of students , evaluation of teachers , and schools at the K-12 level . this is a state responsibility . i urge no funding of Common Core standards and its implementation at any level of education . i do not support No Child Left Behind or Race To The Top .

    further , federal funding for education at any level inevitably leads to higher tuition costs and in spite of grants , student loans etc , makes higher education more unattainable to students for whom higher education is more appropriate .

    pick any university and plot tuition costs versus time noting when the USDE was formed and note the dramatic escalation of costs .

  6. For 2013-2014 California suspended standardized testing for all students and that action has brought havoc to parents who have received no testing outcomes to gauge the progress and levels of proficiency. So the Districts have not been accountable to the parents. Many parents feel dis empowered. We cannot allow that to happen. Lets hope the new Congress will not be in too fast of a haste to water down standardized testing requirement.

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