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The No Child Left Behind Act Critique Essay

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Updated: Oct 8th, 2021

No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was introduced by the U.S. Congress in December 2001. In spite of the benefits and advantages expected by children, schools, and the states, NCLB becomes a real problem for modern society and children, lower educational achievements and progress of students. The aims and goals of this Act, narrow performance based on accountability become the main threat for schools and educational establishments.

The main limitation of this act is that test-based accountability systems and the accountability provisions in NCLB are ineffective and do not reflect the real needs and educational goals of students. In his article, T. Rueter questions: “Who says that a standardized test is the only way to measure student achievement? What about portfolios, exhibitions, essays, student-initiated projects, and teacher evaluations? (2005). Defined in this way, the problem of “low expectations” suggests the solution presumably built into the provisions of NCLB: higher expectations. However, the law requires not higher expectations—which, after all, cannot be legislated—but rather documented success, across the board and against a set of external standards. Expecting every child to succeed is one thing; requiring that success is another. Supporters regard NCLB as a much-needed push in the right direction: a set of measures that will drive broad gains in student achievement and hold states and schools appropriately accountable for student progress. A number of critics see it essentially as a disingenuous set of demands, framed in an appealing language of expectations, that will force schools to fail on a scale large enough to rationalize shifting public dollars to private schools—that is, as a political effort to reform public education out of existence (Herszenhorn 2001).

. NCLB threatens rural schools and the poor district around the country. Rural school leaders pointed out that teachers in small high schools often teach multiple subjects: history, geography, and American government, for example, or biology, chemistry, and physics. Requiring these teachers to prove themselves “highly qualified” in every subject they teach, which generally means having a separate college degree in each subject, could force thousands of them either to go back to school or, more likely, to move to more populated areas where they can teach a single subject (Tompkins 2003). Apart from the need to find and hire teachers with multiple certifications, rural schools struggle to compete with more generously funded urban and suburban districts to attract good teachers. The average teacher in a rural area makes only 86 cents for every dollar earned by his or her counterpart in urban and suburban schools. In 13 states, the pay gap is more than $5,000 a year (Tompkins, 2003). Tompkins (2003) predicts that under NCLB hard-to-staff schools will become harder to staff, as teachers in schools “needing improvement” look to move to schools in prosperous communities that can afford to pay more. The real losers then will be the students left behind in sub-par schools without the financial wherewithal to attract good teachers.

The requirement that students in schools “needing improvement” be allowed to transfer elsewhere has drawn protests from rural and urban schools leaders alike. Although NCLB gives families the right to take students, and the federal government the right to make money, out of struggling schools, it does not guarantee students any new places to go. Letters went out in the spring of 2003 to families of 228,000 children in New York City entitled to transfer out of “failing” schools (Herszenhorn 2001). The year before, 6,400 students in such schools requested transfers, but only 1,507 received them because students were permitted to transfer only within their districts and the New York City Board of Education was obligated to approve only as many transfers as it had seats available (Herszenhorn, 2003).

Consequently, rich districts do not have to open their doors to students from poor districts. Because the greatest disparities are between school districts rather than between schools within a single district, students in struggling schools are unlikely to end up in significantly better schools unless they can transfer to other districts. The promise of free tutoring for poor children in failing schools also has not materialized for thousands of children in New York City (Gross, 2003). A group of parents filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that children assigned to failing schools in New York City and Albany were denied the opportunity to transfer or to receive the supplemental services required by NCLB. A federal court judge in Manhattan dismissed the suit in 2003 with the argument that Congress never intended “to create individually enforceable rights” with the law and that the opportunity-to-transfer option might not be available to all students (Herszenhorn 2001).

Many states, wracked by mammoth budget crises, are leaving schools to fend for themselves in the face of the underfunded test-score mandates. Eisenhower Elementary in Oklahoma City is a case in point. At the end of the 2002-2003 school year, 600 teachers in Oklahoma City lost their jobs and seven schools were closed. More than half the city’s 70 elementary schools failed to make adequate progress under the requirements of the federal law and 11 schools were deeming failing (Herszenhorn 2003). Although the school, which serves many low-income students, received federal funding for tutoring and other supports designed to raise test scores, the city sent layoff notices to half the school’s teachers days before standardized tests were given. Not surprisingly, student performance fell short of Principal Angela Houston’s hopes.

Then there is the matter of test scoring. Millions of students in at least 20 states had been affected by errors in scoring standardized proficiency tests, and concluded, The standards and accountability movement has not reckoned with such fundamental moral questions as the relationship between those who set the standards of accountability and those who fail to meet them. Instead, it focuses narrowly on the relationship between schools and taxpayers and all too often takes as the measure of accountability the mere act of reporting out test scores. the problem is that “annual high-stakes testing impedes learning. It produces rote memorization and a “drill and grill” curriculum. Between pre-testing and the actual testing, students may be involved in 3 to 4 weeks of test-related activities distinct from normal instruction” (Rueter 2005). The stakes have been raised for students but support for learning remains tied to highly inequitable and in many places wholly inadequate systems of funding. Addressing this problem will require a broad public consciousness of responsibility to young people, including and especially those harmed by systems of “accountability” In disproportionate numbers, the victims are poor children who tend to start school far behind their wealthier peers for a host of reasons and in this way are set up to fail before they even start school.

In sum, NCLB is ineffective and even dangerous for modern education and students. It deprives many low-class students of a chance to compete with middle and upper-class students. Narrow performance based on accountability, testing, and restricted curriculum are the main threats created by NCLB.


Gross, J. (2003). Free tutoring reaches only fraction of students. The New York Times. Web.

Herszenhorn, D. M. (2000). Rich states, poor cities and mighty suburbs. The New York Times, p. A39.

Herszenhorn, D. M. (2003). City begins informing parents about school-transfer rights. The New York Times. Web.

Rueter, T. (2005). “Disastrous” No Child Left Behind Act Should be Repealed. Web.

Tompkins, R. B. (2003). Leaving rural children behind. Education Week, 22 (28), p. 44.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "The No Child Left Behind Act Critique." October 8, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-no-child-left-behind-act-critique/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'The No Child Left Behind Act Critique'. 8 October.

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