Major Revisions in No Child Left Behind Law Recommended

For Release

April 26, 2010

Congress and the Obama administration should use the upcoming reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 to promote more consistent and rigorous academic standards across states, as well as more consistent and relevant teacher qualification requirements, according to a new RAND Corporation report.

The report finds that the flexibility provided for in the Elementary and Secondary Act—which originated in 1965 and was reauthorized as No Child Left Behind in 2001—has expanded the patchwork of accountability systems across states. The result is 52 separate systems, each with different academic standards, levels of student proficiency and requirements for teacher certification.

The RAND recommendations follow several years of study and evaluation conducted by RAND and others for the U.S. Department of Education. The nonprofit research institution has examined the impacts of the No Child Left Behind law on teachers, schools, school districts and at the state level.

While the legislation generally has helped schools focus on improvement and helped states put into place accountability systems, researchers say the goal of 100 percent proficiency among students in reading and mathematics by 2014 is unattainable.

The report also recommends expanding the focus from just two academic areas—reading and mathematics—to include other school curricula, such as science, social studies and the arts. It recommends broadening test measures and holding schools accountable for results in areas beyond reading and math.

Researchers say that the states’ reliance on traditional student tests has resulted in a narrowing of school curricula, encouraging teachers to focus on some students at the expense of others and discouraging the development of higher-thinking and problem-solving skills.

"While No Child Left Behind aims to improve schools, Congress can improve the law," said Brian Stecher, the report's co-author and associate director of RAND Education. "Schools and school districts certainly engaged in a flurry of improvement activities, including implementing the lesser corrective actions mandated by the law. But states typically have not implemented the most severe restructuring interventions for the chronically lowest-performing schools."

In addition to setting the ambitious reading and mathematics proficiency goal, No Child Left Behind focused on judging schools in terms of student outcomes, providing strong accountability and enforcement, and using parental choice—and the marketplace as a whole—as a way to drive improvement.

The RAND report recommends that Congress eliminate the requirement that all schools achieve 100 percent proficiency by 2014, since it is clearly unattainable and may discourage further improvement efforts on the part of principals and teachers. The current improvement targeting structure should be changed by setting more appropriate goals that incorporate growth measures and use alternative accountability approaches.

Co-author Georges Vernez said lawmakers should maintain the school choice option in No Child Left Behind, but that they should recognize it has a very limited probability of providing a means for families to gain a better education for their children. Lawmakers should continue to focus efforts on improving low-performing schools.

Parents have not responded in great numbers to the school choice option or to receiving supplemental educational services, such as after-school tutoring.

The report also recommends that Congress consider the following changes:

  • Provide incentives for teachers of proven capability to teach in low-performing schools, such as a higher salary or lower class loads.
  • Allow for a more-flexible system of interventions that enables states and districts to identify and prioritize which schools are most in need, and to design interventions and consequences to address their particular needs.
  • Broaden staff development beyond academic content and effective instruction to include approaches to problem solving, the development of interventions geared to the problems identified, and tools and practices for effective implementation of interventions.
  • Commit more resources to find better instructional methods and programs, especially for students with limited English proficiency and learning disabilities.

The report, "Reauthorizing No Child Left Behind: Facts and Recommendations," is based mainly on two earlier studies—the National Longitudinal Study of No Child Left Behind (NLS–NCLB) and the Study of State Implementation of Accountability and Teacher Quality Under No Child Left Behind (SSI–NCLB)—led by RAND in collaboration with the American Institutes for Research and the National Opinion Research Center. Both studies were funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The report can be found at

The report was prepared by RAND Education, a leader in providing objective, reliable research and analysis on educational challenges that is used to improve educational access, quality and outcomes in the United States and throughout the world.

About RAND

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