No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is federal legislation passed in 2002 to insure accountability in public education, particularly with respect to groups of students who had historically not been well served by public education. These groups included English language learners, special education students, racial and ethnic minorities, and students living in poverty. The goal of NCLB was to close what had come to be called “the achievement gap,” or the difference in performance between low-income and minority students compared to that of their peers on standardized tests.
The achievement gap was and is real and measurable, not just in standardized test scores, but in variety of other ways, such as behavior, graduation rates, grades, attendance, and participation in extra-curricular activities. In fact, California adopted its own accountability system in 1999 to address the achievement gap in this state. While far from perfect, itprovided a workable set of goals for improvement each year, for districts, for schools and for targeted subgroups.
This attention on underserved student groups was long overdue. It had been too easy for many school districts to focus on the high achievers in its district as evidence that things were working well. It had been too easy for many school districts to attribute the low performance of these groups as being caused by external forces that schools could not possibly address, such as multi-generational poverty.
But NCLB caused many of us to ask ourselves the harder questions. Have we really tried to modify our instructional systems to reach the needs of these students? Are we really doing everything we can to
counteract the effects of these external forces? Are we, as an educational system, taking responsibility and not placing blame on the students and/or their families?
Next week: THE BAD. Stay tuned.