What's Next for NCLB?

Monday, June 17, 2013 -- Kristin Flynn

The official name of the umbrella statute is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), but it is commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB has been controversial since its adoption, and as it is becoming increasingly unwound with now 37 state waivers (and a waiver for the District of Columbia), it's also being rewritten as ESEA is up for reauthorization. And as you might guess, the proposals run a very wide gamut.

From a policymaking standpoint, on one side are those who want to devolve power from the federal level and give states more authority and accountability. On another side are those who want to continue to allow states waivers while maintaining a strong federal influence. In fact, competing proposals are so divergent that it appears unlikely that there will be adequate bipartisan agreement to actually pass revised legislation. The central issue is the degree of control at the federal level.

One thing that is clear is the position of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Duncan considers NCLB essentially broken in its present form because it is “punitive” and “prescriptive”. Part of the problem, according to Duncan, is that NCLB is “Loose on goals and tight on means; I think that's backwards.” Any replacement for NCLB should be the other way around – tight on goals, and loose on how those goals are achieved.

The National School Boards Association (NASB) has weighed in, advocating for: greater state and district flexibility in meeting goals; ensuring valid and reliable assessments; and the use of multiple measures of academic achievement that more accurately reflect achievement.

The future of NCLB is unclear, to say the least, other than that whatever is enacted – whenever it is enacted – will be quite different from the current legislation. So now let's say you're in charge: What does your reformulated ESEA look like? At what level does control and accountability reside? How is funding allocated? If AYP is jettisoned, how is progress measured? Share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences.