No Child Left Behind turns 10 day. Blow out the candles or blow out the law?

With leaders from both parties and the requisite schoolchildren around him, President Bush signed No Child into law 10 years ago today. (AP Images.)

With leaders from both parties and the requisite schoolchildren around him, President Bush signed No Child into law 10 years ago today. (AP Images.)

Monday’s AJC print education op-ed page is devoted to No Child Left Behind, signed into law 10 years today by President George W. Bush.

Here is one of the articles on the page, an op-ed by Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and author of, Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education.”

By Neal McCluskey

Today is the 10th birthday of the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal government’s signature education law. You probably didn’t notice a lot of partying, though, because in keeping with numerous decades of federal meddling, the act’s been an expensive dud.

NCLB – really just the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 – certainly has been lame. Despite federal k-12 spending rising from $27 billion in 2001, the year before NCLB, to $38 billion in 2011, reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress – the so-called “nation’s report card” – have either been stagnant, or grown at slower rates than many periods before NCLB.

So, overall progress has been underwhelming. But NCLB did one good thing. By requiring disaggregation of test scores for numerous groups that have historically struggled, it has shone bright sunlight on neglected, cobweb-enmeshed classroom corners. Right?


For one thing, education bureaucrats around the country created wildly varying tests, definitions of “proficiency,” and played lots of other tricks that have made it nearly impossible to know if a child is truly proficient, or just so labeled by a system dodging punishment. There’s also a serious question of whether rising test scores for historic strugglers have reflected increasing knowledge or just better testing strategies. And then there’s outright cheating, with which Georgians are all too familiar.

In other words, rather than sunshine, in many cases NCLB has created a bright, shining lie.

NCLB has been a failure. Ultimate blame, however, doesn’t rest with the law. It rests with the basic reality of how federal policy is made.

The fact is that Washington has been heavily involved in education since the mid-1960s, and long-term test scores evince little evidence that, outside of desegregation, it has done any good. Indeed, NAEP scores for 17-year-oldsbasically, our schools’ “final products” – have been almost completely stagnant since 1970. Meanwhile, inflation-adjusted federal spending per-pupil has grown nearly 400 percent.

Why  was so much invested, for so long, with so little return? Because federal politicians don’t have to worry if the spending does any good. What’s important is keeping happy the people who hold the most power in education politics – the teachers, administrators, and others whose very livelihoods come from taxpayer funding – and that means coupling ever-more money to Potemkin accountability.

Parents and taxpayers might also be considered, of course, but with full-time jobs and myriad other concerns, they can’t and won’t sustainably project force in education equal to that wielded by those who would be held accountable.

The only way around this fundamental political problem – those you want held accountable exert the most sway over the politicians who hold the hammer – is to get politics out of education. At the federal level, that means removing Washington completely from the classroom, a place, not coincidentally, in which it has no constitutional authority to govern anyway.

After ten years of NCLB, and approaching fifty years of overall federal failure, there simply shouldn’t be any further question: It’s time to get Washington out of education.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

58 comments Add your comment

Hillbilly D

January 8th, 2012
1:51 pm

While I believe “No Child Left Behind” was well intentioned, it’s pretty much been a failure, in my view. About the only positive thing about it is that it is a good argument for local control of schools.

Mikey D

January 8th, 2012
1:57 pm

I agree with many of the assertions in this article, most notably about the feds needing to be removed completely from the equation. But the notion that teachers hold the most power in education politics is simply laughable, at least in Georgia.


January 8th, 2012
1:59 pm


Local control was and still is the problem. They wrote the standards, they wrote the test, they set the cut score all the while doing absolutely nothing to address the failures of public education. And people wonder why Johnny cannot read & write. He don’t cypher so guud ether.

Sandra Brevard

January 8th, 2012
2:18 pm

Article misses the mark. Parents, community members, and taxpayers are not against accountability; but are against massive, intrusive testing regimes that turn learning environments into test-prep centers. Teachers have no impact on runaway unfunded and unfundable mandates. Who pays? Who benefits? Not the kids.


January 8th, 2012
2:26 pm

Mixed feelings abou this. In Dekalb, we already have a gross misuse of Title 1 funds, a bloated administration and central office staff that do little to nothing to improve students’ abilitties to think or read critically or secure a place in this global market (in fact, one could argue that DCSS’s authority to implement ineffective programs, ignore discipline, and hire whomever it wants has actually harmed students), and a board that seems paralyzed by its own self-interest and/or ignorance.

I’ve seen NCLB at work (at least in Dekalb): students earning As or Bs in failing schools transfer to the few “passing” schools only to discover they are lacking some basic skills; poorly written and composed benchmarks (thank you, Dr. Atkinson for finally doing away with these); impossible and ineffectual “data notebooks” that do nothing to help the 20 to 45% of students reading below level needing remedial reading instruction-not the ruse of intervention. Not good either.


January 8th, 2012
2:33 pm

Teachers powerful????? You obviously have never been a teacher. We are told what to teach, how to teach, when to teach. I have to fight to be able to teach my students. My instructional time has been greatly reduced over the years. Our suggestions are never even considered when curriculum is adopted. I love teaching and I love my students but I am retiring. I am tired of fighting to do my job.

Jim from Roswell

January 8th, 2012
2:39 pm

The Feds don’t need to be involved because they are too far away from the problems and they are only worried about politics anyway. I’m all for abolishing the US Dept. of Education. Just like the Dept. of Energy is has grown to massive size and the results are actually diminishing. Reduce our federal taxes and stay out of education.

Local control has its issues as well. All you have to do is look at the problems Clayton County has had in the last few years to see that local control is not always the answer.

The states must take on the responsiblity of the education of the children within its borders. If a local government like Clayton County fails then the state must step in quickly and decisively and fix the issue. To heck with politics and the feelings of politicians. Some of the school board members in Clayton County sounded quite ignorant to me. I was not surprising they has issues once I heard a few of the school board members speak.

bootney farnsworth

January 8th, 2012
3:27 pm

blow out the law

Public HS Teacher

January 8th, 2012
3:45 pm

If a law doesn’t work, then it should be repealed. Such is the case with NCLB.

The Truth

January 8th, 2012
3:51 pm

The problem with education is the same problem with corporations and with every aspect of society….. people in power abuse their power.

The results are the same regardless of the orgainization. The organization could be the Catholic Church, Coca-Cola, the City of Rome, whatever. The symptoms are:
1. People with any decision making capability do not make decisions based on what is right for the company. They make decisions based on personal issues (hire their nephew), or on selfish motives (get money under the table), or whatever.
2. People in a position with any power will abuse those beneath them, especially if those people do not appropriately worship at the right alter (and I am not referring to religon). I call this “the club.” If you are not in “the club” then you are left out. You will likely have the lesser desirable jobs/responsibilities. You will likely have the last choice of vacation times. And, so on. Your ability does not matter at all. All that matters is your “club” membership.

This exists everywhere in every segment of society. So, why should it exist in education?


January 8th, 2012
3:57 pm

Truth, when Coca-Cola introduced “New Coke”, it did not take them ten years to realize what a failure it was.


January 8th, 2012
4:01 pm

As a 25 year veteran teacher, I too, am ready to get out One could be a more effective teacher when we were allowed to teach the subject and not forced to play all sorts of games. Georgia teachers have no authority whatsoever. I love my students and have been an effective teacher but I am tired of the extra paperwork and no monetary benefits.

A Teacher, 2

January 8th, 2012
4:13 pm

Get the Federal Government out of the equation completely, NOW! Scale back the state’s involvement. I should not hear a legislator say, “We have to have state legislation on education because of DeKalb and Clayton counties, so everybody must suffer.” (Yes, I was told that by a South Georgia Representative at the Capitol. There probably needs to be a few guidelines on the state level, but the majority of the policy needs to be set by the local BOE.

[...] Ohio. Cast as a symbol of possibility, the law offered the promise of improved schools …No Child Left Behind turns 10 day. Blow out the candles or blow out the law?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)The Legacy of No Child Left BehindNational Journalall 275 news [...]


January 8th, 2012
4:23 pm

Shoot the funding. Shoot the law.

Both the massive increase in the size of the Department of Education and NCLB are failures. Let’s blow both of them up. Give education control to those who are close to the issues, teachers and parents.

The intrusion of politics into education has been a failure on an almost unimagiable scale. Federalizing most problems only increases the cost of not finding a solution and makes the problem itself more complex, not less.

Do you think many politicians or teachers’ advocates will agree?

Really amazed

January 8th, 2012
4:26 pm

@Public HS teacher, has Maureen given you my email info yet? I would still love the name of the AP calc teacher and her info. Thanks.


January 8th, 2012
4:52 pm

Cal Thomas said it best as for speaking about “Education” in our nation. He said it is like floor wax, its top shines and its depth is not very deep. Enough said.


January 8th, 2012
5:24 pm

NCLB blows, period. Let’s just admit it.


January 8th, 2012
5:31 pm

I see the calls for the feds out of education. I have the same disgust with the state and locals. No one, except those in the classrooms, has a clue what is going on. We need to empower teachers (if you have a question about their decisions, ASK them) and get the know-nothing idiots out of power!


January 8th, 2012
5:48 pm

How did we ever successfully educate children before the federal government got involved? I fear Common Core Standards will bring even more of the testing craze….


January 8th, 2012
5:59 pm

As long as we have politicians deciding the fate of the education agenda, we will continue to dodge ineffective mandates and succumb to the “education reform fatigue syndrome” that plagues our teachers and students.

WE the teachers must start speaking out from a grassroots level. PAGE and GAE are ineffective and always have been. The General Assembly hates teachers ( heard the from a State Rep.) from what I understand but they tolerate them because teachers VOTE and we are large voting block. Get involved and plug in somewhere…make your voice be heard…bug the heck out of your Senators and Representatives.


January 8th, 2012
6:01 pm

@ Note post on Jan 8 @ 5:48pm
It will!!!

[...] Ohio. Cast as a symbol of possibility, the law offered the promise of improved schools …No Child Left Behind turns 10 day. Blow out the candles or blow out the law?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Promise of No Child Left Behind falls short after 10 yearsUSA [...]


January 8th, 2012
6:57 pm

Do I think NCLB was well-intentioned? No. It was a miasma of stupidity and greed. It is as though we can ignore what a sped designation means and say that even children with significant retardation, autism, or other problems can be on grade level. If they could, THEY WOULDN’T BE SPECIAL ED! And, who has profited? By billion$, friend$ of Bu$h (FOB). Certainly not too many kids have actually been helped by this travesty.


January 8th, 2012
7:26 pm

I know we all make mistakes and it’s rude to point out typos but please fix the title of this column. People from other states do sometimes read the AJC, especially after the latest embarrassment has made national news. This is why people make fun of us.

[...] Ohio. Cast as a symbol of possibility, the law offered the promise of improved schools …No Child Left Behind turns 10 day. Blow out the candles or blow out the law?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Promise of No Child Left Behind falls short after 10 yearsUSA [...]

Same but different

January 8th, 2012
7:32 pm

Why then did Obama take the idea and make it even crazier by adding the competition called “Race To The Top”?????

[...] Ohio. Cast as a symbol of possibility, the law offered the promise of improved schools …No Child Left Behind turns 10 day. Blow out the candles or blow out the law?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Promise of No Child Left Behind falls short after 10 yearsUSA [...]


January 8th, 2012
8:07 pm

Gwinnett Co Offensive Math Test Version 2.0

Q 1. How many days will it take for your parents to make 4 batches of Meth in the kitchen? How many days until you can go in the house safely? How many teeth do your parents have combined?

Q 2. You have 35 classmates, you have 7 family members. How many playground insults (A), and how many days (B), will it take to accurately describe all members of your family (C)? A x B = C.
Solve for C

Q 3. You parents regularly smuggle drugs over the border. Given a 13% apprehension rate, how many trips can they make until there is a 100% chance of capture?

Q 4. You have 3 bags of killer weed. One is rated at a 12% THC level, the second at 21%, and the third at 33%. How much of each will it take to stone your entire class? Do not include teacher. How many bags of Cheetos will you need?

[...] Ohio. Cast as a symbol of possibility, the law offered the promise of improved schools …No Child Left Behind turns 10 day. Blow out the candles or blow out the law?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Promise of No Child Left Behind falls short after 10 yearsUSA [...]

Ed Johnson

January 8th, 2012
8:09 pm

“Get involved and plug in somewhere…make your voice be heard…bug the heck out of your Senators and Representatives.”

Start with this one…

Archie@Arkham Asylum

January 8th, 2012
8:13 pm

Blow out the law! ‘Nuff said!


January 8th, 2012
8:58 pm

The law coupled with the liberal transfer policies means that schools that were passing are now failing because transfer students especially at the high school level are often not able to meet the academic rigors of the new school. Everyone loses in this situation.

mountain man

January 8th, 2012
9:16 pm

NCLB is the “just say no” program for education. All children are expected to be on target, if not, fire the teacher. Bring in new teacher, if no improvement, fire that teacher. Soon, no more teachers. And the student is exactly the same. Why, because that is not the problem.


January 8th, 2012
9:18 pm

Get the Feds out of education? ROFLMAO – Good luck with that.

Brown vs Board effectively wrested control away from the locals and the Feds haven’t looked back since. Actually, IDEA has probably done more harm to education than NCLB, but you’ll never see anyone politic against a ten-year-old in a wheelchair to get that one overturned.

As I have said many times, politicians look for a “crisis” to solve, and the education establishment handed them one on a silver platter when they pass kids from grade to grade who cannot do the work and graduate illiterates.

…and even with NCLB, they are still doing so. Might want to work on that….

Old Physics Teacher

January 8th, 2012
9:50 pm

Sigh, there’s nothing good coming out of Washington OR Atlanta. In a just world, all full-time administrators, other than the Super, would be abolished. Every one of them would have to spend half-time in a classroom. The State and Federal politicians would be forbidden from passing any education laws without spending time in a classroom themselves. I believe if all this money would be tracked, you would find the administrators have sucked up the majority of the funds. Real educators suffer petty bureaucrats from State, Federal,and our own board offices..

[...] Ohio. Cast as a symbol of possibility, the law offered the promise of improved schools …No Child Left Behind turns 10 day. Blow out the candles or blow out the law?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)all 282 news [...]

Ayn Rant

January 9th, 2012
5:18 am

NCLB is flawed in objectives and in structure, and should be repealed. It purports to teach stuff that some pupils find impossible to learn, and most pupils find excruciatingly boring and unchallenging. It is a federal/state/local program that involves multiple incompetent bureaucracies.

But, American education was screwed up long before NCLB and federal government intervention, and it will get worse without the funding and structure that NCLB provides. The fundamental problem is local control of education by thousands of school boards composed of elected politicians who focus on school administration but have no coherent ideas about what should be taught, how it should be presented and supported, and how the actual education process should be evaluated and managed.

The “what” and the “it”, i. e. ,the curricula, of American primary education are undefined. Teachers do not know what should be taught, parents and students do not know what should be learned, and education “achievements” such as grades and diplomas are dubious indicators of success.

The federal government should first cease all funding and interference in local primary education. Federal education funds should be directed toward a national project to define and support primary education curricula, and to build tools and aids to promote teaching the curricula. The curricula should be implemented in the federally-controlled schools, which would serve as a showcase, and should be made available to state and local school administrations, to fill the void in local schools.

God Bless the Teacher!

January 9th, 2012
6:09 am

The law was flawed to begin with because there was no STUDENT accountability component. I can fly wherever I want, but I have to buy the ticket and get on the plane. Holding schools and teachers accountable for something that, in the end, depends on the intrinsic motivation of a teenager is insane. Let’s hold doctors responsible for the deaths of patients who don’t adhere to the prescribed medical recommendations. Let’s hold lawyers responsible for clients who don’t tell the truth. Let’s hold clergy accountable for congregants who sin.

mountain man

January 9th, 2012
6:25 am

Let’s hold politicians responsible when their constituents break the laws they make!

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

January 9th, 2012
7:38 am

The issue isnt Fed/Local control, NCLB or RTTT etc. The majority of the issue is these awful stupid parents who are more interested in political correct non-sense at the expense of their very own children.

Some portion of society seem to be in the “right” 100% of the time and if not they certianly have plenty of excuses.

Oh well it matters not because these parents are directly sending their children to prison. Im happy for them…for ALL of them.



January 9th, 2012
8:04 am

total failure…But then again, Government, The Dc crowd, became involved along with the Teachers Union. just keep wondering when the Citizens are going to wise up, kick the DC crowd out of education, make parents responsible and allow teachers to teach, other than how to pass some test or preach social reform or baby sit. Also, can we ever fire bad teachers?

teacher for life

January 9th, 2012
8:17 am

There should always be a way to measure school performance. The accountability end needs to be updated, but the assessments are showing us which schools and districts are performing well or not serving their students. The problem is that people think that the assessments will improve schools. Teaching and learning improves schools. The tests just verify if teaching and learning is occurring. Businesses don’t blame the accountants when the business isn’t running well and they don’t expect the accountants to make the business run better.

Keep the tests, update accountability and improve teaching and learning.

HS Public Teacher

January 9th, 2012
8:29 am

@Really amazed – No. I have gotten nothing yet.

Beverly Fraud

January 9th, 2012
8:38 am

No Child Left Behind = Education FUBAR.



January 9th, 2012
8:46 am

It certainly would be a good thing to get the Federal government out of education. In fact, eliminate the entire Department of Education. That said, however, if the exact same bill had been passed by a Democrat Congress and signed by President Obama, the AJC would be praising it to the heavens.

Dr. John Trotter

January 9th, 2012
8:55 am

Dittos to what Catlady has said. NCLB was not necessarily well-intentioned. Follow the money. Billions were indeed made off this boondoggle, and, yes, one of George W. Bush’s brothers was associated with one of the corporations which made tons of money off NCLB.

Bev, you are also right. Beyond all recognition!

But, because of the cheddar being made from this scam, NCLB (Never Can Leave Billions), it will be renewed.


January 9th, 2012
9:24 am

We ran a post not too long ago called, “DeKalb & NCLB: An Educational Gulag that harms low-income, minority children the most” which features a video of Charlotte Iserbyt – who served as a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), U.S. Department of Education during the first term of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and staff employee of the US State Department – and who is very vocal in her criticisms of public education and NCLB.

I think it’s pretty good. Feel free to read it here -

Really amazed

January 9th, 2012
10:59 am

@Maureen, Public HS teacher still has not received email info on me. Please forward that info to him. We both would truly appreciate it. Thanks in advance.

Maureen Downey

January 9th, 2012
11:02 am

@Really, I sent the information early last week to the e-mail attached to the comments.
Public HS Teacher, can you send me an e-mail so I can send the info to you? I did send you a note last week but never received a response.