Top 10 Myths about No Child Left Behind … and Why You Shouldn’t Believe Them

Published November 1, 2004

If you listen to media reports on the implementation and costs associated with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), you’ve been bombarded by a slew of misinformation.

Below are 10 common myths about NCLB … and the facts to debunk them.

Myth 1 — NCLB is an unfunded mandate that imposes on states a one-size-fits-all education system.

Fact: The president and Congress have not only fully funded NCLB, states have been given a great deal of flexibility as they implement the program’s goals.

NCLB not only increased standards for public elementary and secondary education–it brought an additional $6.4 billion in federal education funding, a 28.5 percent increase. Instead of binding funding to specific programs not proven effective to increase academic achievement, federal funding is now correlated to several broad areas, such as academic achievement, high-quality teachers, parental choice, and accountability, for states to find methods that best suit them.

Myth 2 — NCLB is nothing more than new federal mandates states have to follow.

Fact: Many of the “new mandates” aren’t new at all. Accountability measures were already in place prior to NCLB.

Under the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which preceded NCLB’s enactment by eight years, each state was required to develop comprehensive academic standards and correlate those standards with a curriculum-based exam. Math and reading exams, at the very least, were to be administered at three grade levels. But states were never held accountable for compliance with the 1994 law.

Myth 3 — NCLB requires a national standardized test.

Fact: NCLB in fact forbids a national test. States are free to choose the testing vehicles that best fit their students’ needs.

Myth 4 — The federal government has imposed unrealistic requirements on teachers seeking “highly qualified” status.

Fact: In order to be certified as a highly qualified teacher, an instructor must be fully certified, have a bachelor’s degree, and have demonstrated knowledge in the teacher’s subject area.

Every state already mandates the first two requirements. With respect to the third requirement, NCLB allows each state education agency to choose how it will determine if a teacher has demonstrated subject-specific mastery. NCLB gives states the flexibility to establish their own “highly qualified” standards, and states may determine who is “highly qualified” by administering a test or using some other objective evaluation system developed or approved by the state.

Myth 5 — Teachers who choose to seek advanced certification will bear an unfair financial burden under NCLB.

Fact: NCLB includes new flexibility and increased funding for teachers. States have been allocated $2.9 billion for teacher quality programs to help districts train, recruit, and retain quality teachers.

Myth 6 — School administrators don’t have the flexibility to recruit and retain teachers.

Fact: Well aware of the need for exemplary teachers in fields such as math, science, and special education, NCLB’s authors gave states several options for attracting uniquely qualified professionals to the teaching field.

Under NCLB, states are authorized to implement high-quality teachers recruitment and retention programs that can include professional development opportunities, differential pay, signing bonuses, and performance bonuses, to name just a few of the incentives available.

Myth 7 — Schools in need of improvement will lose federal funding.

Fact: No financial penalties are imposed on schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress under NCLB. In fact, states are required by the law to set aside a portion of their Title I funds specifically to provide additional assistance to schools in need of improvement.

Myth 8 — Schools are required by NCLB to pay for tutors, instead of using money on general school improvements.

Fact: If a school is deemed in need of improvement for three consecutive years, the school district must provide a supplemental education service option for parents. That service can be paid for with Title I funds the states will have set aside explicitly for schools in need of improvement.

States are authorized by NCLB to choose from a variety of supplemental service options. In addition to offering students tutoring, states may turn to public- or private-sector educational service providers, additional classes, or individualized education assistance. If children trapped in failing school systems are to have a chance at a successful education, these new options are key.

Myth 9 — NCLB reduces local control of schools.

Fact: After almost four decades of federal government involvement in public schools, achieving at best stagnant academic results, NCLB directly ties federal education spending to student achievement and school success. Such accountability empowers local school officials.

Under NCLB, for the first time, states and individual school districts may transfer to any Title I program they choose up to 50 percent of the federal formula grant funds they receive under the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, Educational Technology, Innovative Programs, and Safe and Drug-Free Schools programs. NCLB gives states and school districts the authority to determine which programs are most important and most deserving of funding, rather than having the federal government decide exactly how much should be spent on exactly which programs.

Myth 10 — More money will fix the nation’s education problems.

Fact: The problem with America’s education system has not been a lack of funding, but a lack of accountability for the money our schools spend.

Despite America’s multi-billion-dollar investments in public education, U.S. students continue to achieve poorly compared to their foreign counterparts, and the achievement gap between rich, poor, white, and minority students remains wide. Over the past 20 years, inflation-adjusted per-pupil funding has increased by an average of $2,269 in the U.S., but Scholastic Aptitude Test scores have declined, and 74 percent of public school eighth-graders who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress in mathematics failed to reach the proficiency level.

In response to this “disconnect” between funding and achievement, NCLB creates a partnership among school district, state, and federal government officials to develop higher standards, increase accountability, and improve student academic achievement.

Lori Drummer ([email protected]) is director of the Education Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council.