OPINION: Dream of No Child Left Behind lives on in Every Student Succeeds Act


President George W. Bush enacted the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 in January 2002 with strong bipartisan support. That support quickly melted away upon implementation of the law.

Looking back on the law almost one and a half decades later, what gains did Bush’s national education policy make and what benefits will President Obama’s revamped education policy, the Every Student Succeeds Act, potentially achieve?

No Child Left Behind became one of the most reviled pieces of passed legislation in the past decade. The law manifested into broad standards for schools, a drop in support for classes not explicitly preparing students for math and English exams, and fiscal punishment of schools that failed to meet the lofty expectations set for all students nationwide, according to a paper written by David Hursh titled “Exacerbating inequality: the failed promise of the No Child Left Behind Act.”

The education policy replacement that Obama signed into law last December picks the few fruits that No Child Left Behind bore other than the implied increase in the federal funding of K-12 schools. Two of the most prominent successes of the educational law were the inclusion of special-education students in standardized testing and an improved way that data is utilized and collected.

As Ricki Sabia, a policy adviser for the National Down Syndrome Congress and mother of a son with Down syndrome, said in Carly Berwick’s article in The Atlantic, “No Child Left Behind’s one big achievement?,” the inclusion of students like her son in standardized testing that Bush’s education policy brought changed everything about the trajectory of these students’ educational careers.

“It wasn’t until he started taking state assessments and far exceeding expectations that they started to take my observations about his abilities seriously and stopped trying to get him into special-ed classes,” Sabia said in the article.

Favorable changes were also made by merely putting a spotlight on some school systems’ shortcomings among racial, low-socioeconomic and other intersectional segments of young students, according to an article by Ben Casselman on FiveThirtyEight.com called “No Child Left Behind worked.”

“Education experts argue that the law’s true legacy is the way it laid bare the inequities in the American educational system, and forced districts, in some cases for the first time, to address them,” Casselman said in his article.

No Child Left Behind advanced the issue of educational inequities by acknowledging the uneven playing field that students live on due to race, income and environment.

The Every Student Succeeds Acts sifts through its predecessor in a way that will hopefully create an improved national education system and set of educational standards in the U.S.

Before signing the new policy into law, Obama reflected on the areas that No Child Left Behind failed to reach.

The No Child Left Behind Act “didn’t always consider the specific needs of each community,” Obama said in the White House press release “Remarks by the President at Every Student Succeeds Act signing ceremony.” “It led to too much testing during classroom time. It often forced schools and school districts into cookie-cutter reforms that didn’t always produce the kinds of results that we wanted to see.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act allows for the yearly test, that No Child Left Behind became well-known for, to be broken into multiple, easier-to-complete exams that better measure student progress, according to Gregory Korte’s USA Today article, “The Every Student Succeeds Act vs. No Child Left Behind: what’s changed?”

Furthermore, states can also freely choose whether or not to adopt Common Core State Standards, decide the accountability goals they want their schools to strive for in relation to the minimum national bar and determine how to reprimand under-performing state K-12 schools, according to Korte.

John B. King Jr., U.S. secretary of education, is helping implement the Every Child Succeeds Act. In an interview with NPR, King said he is focused on how this education policy is implemented throughout the country, according to Eric Westervelt’s article “New education secretary: bold agenda. Just 10 months to get it done.”

“With (the) Every Student Succeeds Act, we will be laying a foundation for the work that states and districts will do, really over the next few years, so we’ll put in place, essentially, guard rails for the new flexibility that is available to states and districts, trying to make sure that their implementation honors the Civil Rights legacy of the law,” King said. “Our frame for state and district implementation will be that they need to use the new flexibility to improve equity and close achievement gaps.”

The few gems in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 are often overshadowed by the law’s failures. While praise may not reach most ears, No Child Left Behind’s victories are sure to be appreciably heard in the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Contributing writer for the Collegian. I’m a senior studying journalism and mass communications and working on minors in political science and music. I also manage digital operations as a communications fellow with the Kansas Democratic Party; I do not report on or write about anything political unless it shows up in the opinion section.