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The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 - What Does It Mean To You?

On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law. He offered this advice to parents:

"We know that every child can learn. Now is the time to ensure that every child does learn."

"As parents, you are your children's first teachers and their strongest advocates. You have a critical role to play - both in how you raise your children and in how you work for meaningful and accurate accountability in their schools."

"Too many children are segregated in schools without standards, shuffled from grade to grade . . . This is discrimination, pure and simple. "

"Some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less. It is the soft bigotry of low expectations."
-- President George W. Bush

Secretary of Education Rod Paige said,

"No one cares more about your child's future than you do, and no one is better positioned to hold schools accountable for performance than you are."

"You have a right to know whether your child is really learning at school . . . If your child is not making adequate progress in school, you can and must ask why. A good teacher will be happy to answer your questions. Do your part and ask."

Strong words!

Because this statute will affect educational policy and decision-making for years, we need to learn more about it. We downloaded the NCLB statute and printed it. We wanted to read this law and think about what it may mean for our disabled children, their parents and their teachers.

(NOTE: If you want to download the No Child Left Behind Act, go to http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/esea/. The statute is Public Law 107-110. When you click the link, you will be presented with various options for downloading the statute.)

Let's take a quick look at this new law.


The heart of the No Child Left Behind Act is the promise to raise standards for all children and to help all children meet these standards.

Because we cannot know if children are reaching these standards unless we measure performance, the law requires schools to test all children in grades three through eight annually in reading and math. These assessments will allow parents and officials to know if children are learning to read and do math and hold schools accountable for ensuring that children are learning.

The No Child Left Behind Act is based on four principles:

  • Accountability for results
  • Local control and flexibility
  • Expanded parental choice
  • Use of research-based instruction that works

Download Fact Sheet: The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

Measuring Progress with Annual Testing

When we read about these requirements about annual testing with objective tests, we were surprised.

"Just as you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't judge a school by its location or its design . . . The only sure way for parents to know how their children's schools are doing is to examine the regular, objective information on student progress that the president's plan will require all public schools to produce. The best way to obtain that useful information is through standards-based assessments—or tests."

"Taking a test is like going to the doctor for a check-up. Just like a check-up, a test can tell you what kind of help you need and just where you need it most . . . While tests may intimidate, just like a doctor's office, they are safe and effective." http://www.ed.gov/inits/backtoschool/families/part4.html

If you have read Chapters 10 and 11 about Tests and Measurements and Chapter 12 about SMART IEPs in our book, From Emotions to Advocacy, you are familiar with these concepts - and you are ahead of the game! (Remember the SMART IEP Weight Loss Program in Chapter 12?)

If you have attended a Wrightslaw seminar or conference where we teach parents and teachers how to write SMART IEP goals and objectives that measure progress with objective tests, you are ahead of the game too!

What Does the Law Mean to Families, Teachers, Community Leaders?

In August 2001, the U. S. Department of Education published booklets to explain the principles in No Child Left Behind:

What No Child Left Behind Means for . . . Families, Familias - Espanol, Educators, Communities

For Families

Parents, read the message from President George W. Bush:

"It's time for our schools to set high standards for what our children should know and be able to do, to give our schools the tools they need to help every child reach those high standards, and to insist that they reach them. We know that every child can learn. Now is the time to ensure that every child does."

"As parents, you are your children's first and foremost teachers and their strongest advocates. You have a critical role to play—both in the way you raise your children and in the way you work for meaningful and accurate accountability in their schools. This book will show you the way to help change your schools for the better."

We know that when parents advocate for children, their children are far more likely to become independent, self-sufficient members of society.

We also know that for many parents, negotiating with the school is a frustrating, exhausting ordeal. When confronted with an IEP team that epitomizes the "soft bigotry of low expectations," some parents throw in the towel. Others persist and prevail.

Our new book, Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, teaches parents how to be successful advocates for their children. (News Release from Publisher about Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy in pdf)

For Teachers

The Teacher's Booklet includes this message from President Bush:

"Teaching has never been an easy profession; but these days it is harder than ever. We are asking our schools and teachers to educate all children to meet high standards. This is no simple task."

The Teacher's booklet will show you:

  • What high standards mean and do
  • The purpose of assessments
  • How to use test scores to help every student improve
  • How to improve reading instruction
  • Where to turn for help

For Community Leaders

President Bush has a message for community leaders. We hope these leaders will heed his words:

"Our schools are our responsibility, and all of us must take that responsibility seriously . . . what you can do to improve instruction and make schools more accountable for student performance."

"I hope this starts a conversation in your community about how we can raise expectations for our children.

Does This Law Apply to Children with Disabilities?

Yes. The No Child Left Behind Act applies to all public school children - kids with disabilities, kids with behavior problems, and other kids who have traditionally been written off - minorities, immigrants, and English as Second Language (ESL) youngsters. This law should make it easier to get annual objective testing of your child's skills - a traditional battleground for many parents of kids with disabilities.

Taken together, they describe an ambitious, comprehensive plan to reform schools, change school culture, empower parents, and improve your child's education.

More Information from Wrightslaw

NCLB Act: Schools Must Measure Progress & Report Results to Parents. Schools must measure each child's progress every year and must report the results to the child's parents and to the public. Yes, this requirement applies to children in special education.

The Facts About Teacher Training & Certification: Are We Destroying the Future, One Child at a Time?" We take a closer look at teacher quality, training and certification. Learn about the findings of the Teacher Quality Report, check your state's pass rates for teachers, and learn more about the No Child Left Behind Act.

Kids from 8,652 Failing Schools Can Transfer This Fall - Is Your Child's School on "The List"? U. S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced that students in more than 8,600 schools will be able to attend a higher-performing school in their district because the schools they currently attend failed to meet state academic standards for the past two years. Learn about failing schools and parent options.

No Child Left Behind Site

Visit the No Child Left Behind website.

Download, print and read the Fact Sheets,
FAQs, and brochures from the site. Order the Parent Tool Box. Subscribe to a free electronic newsletter (links below).

Download Fact Sheets: Each fact sheet provides valuable information - share them with a friend.

Facts About Good Teachers: Nothing is more important to a child's success in school than finding well-prepared teachers. But millions of children do not have the benefit of a well-prepared teacher in their classrooms.

Facts About Measuring Progress: For too long, America's education system has not been accountable for its results, and too many children have been locked in failing schools and left behind.

Facts About Reading Achievement: Less than 40% of students are proficient readers - more than half do not have the reading skills they need for academic and lifelong success. The Solution? Provide teachers with up-to-date information on how to use scientific-based research to teach reading skills to children; and actually use the methods and related material in the classroom.

No Child Left Behind Electronic Newsletter:

Parent's Tool Box includes brochures and information that you can receive from the U. S. Department of Education.






Share this information with other parents and teachers. Make copies of these brochures. Don't forget to share with your school administrators and school board members - they need to know what this law says!

Our Concerns

Now it's time to share our concerns about the No Child Left Behind Act. Educational reform is difficult. Why? Lots of reasons -

Schools are bureaucracies - they vigorously resist change. Many school administrators want to run their school-factories as they see fit. Many school staff believe that their primary mission is to socialize children, not to teach knowledge and skills. (For more about school reform, see Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms by Diane Ravich)

Politicians get sidetracked when they set out to improve educational results. Instead of insisting that schools accomplish their primary mission - teaching children knowledge and skills - politicians continue to add popular programs (i.e., drug and alcohol education, family life, driver training) - but do not increase the length of the instructional school day.

What about parents? Parents are afraid. Parents of kids with disabilities have more fears than the average parent. Many parents fear that their children will be damaged by high standards and tests. And school people who support the status quo will play on these fears. (Parents - Do not forget this.)

Children are damaged by: low expectations, the prevailing belief that kids with disabilities cannot learn, the failure to teach kids to read, the failure of schools to measure and remediate skills, and the failure to use research-based instructional methods and strategies.

When kids fail, whom do they blame? Most kids blame themselves. Negative feelings are the basis for many behavior and discipline problems. (Parents and Teachers - Never forget this)

We have another concern - the U. S. Department of Education has a poor track record in enforcing the IDEA. (To learn how dismal this record is, read the IDEA Compliance Report, Back to School on Civil Rights). The U.S. Department of Education is a funding and training agency, not an enforcement agency like the U. S. Department of Justice.

Who will enforce this new law? Who will ensure that local and state education agencies measure progress objectively and are held accountable for results?

We continue to study this law. As we learn more, we will keep you posted.

Last revised: 04/28/10

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