Background on Former Legislation

NCLB came about as a result of growing achievement gaps in America’s public schools. With the intent to improve public education, NCLB required higher academic standards, established accountability measures based on academic test scores as well as the nationwide goal that all students in every school reach grade-level proficiency in reading and math by the year 2014. States developed required Annual Yearly Progress (APY) targets based on the federal mandate. Districts had to identify schools that did not meet AYP targets, and schools that did not make the grade faced sanctions including school closures and staff changes. What NCLB did was establish an accountability system. However, the one-size-fits all approach did not take into consideration the multiple factors that impact students’ academic performance, nor were solutions localized. Moreover, NCLB’s universal prescriptive solution was widely perceived as punitive. What NCLB was create a sense of urgency and establish accountability, yet the law fell short of addressing the issue from a local standpoint.

Shortcomings of No Child Left Behind

  1. Accountability system based on academic assessments scores as sole indicators
  2. Federally prescribed school turnaround policy
  3. Teacher evaluation system based on test scores
  4. Punitive measures for schools that do not reach goals

By the 2010-2011, nearly 48% of America’s public schools failed to meet AYP targets. At that point, the Education Department announced that the federal government would allow states to apply for waivers for requirements of NCLB. In order to qualify, however, states must adopt “college and career readiness” academic standards at the same time that Common Core State Standards emerged.

To be clear, even before ESSA, the federal government has not been allowed to mandate that states adopt a set of standards or curriculum. However, financial incentives from the federal government can influence states’ participation in initiatives or adoption of strategies or systems.

Of the many implications that result from the rollback of NCLB requirements, one notable change is increased autonomy for educational leaders at the state, district and school levels. Moreover, while ESSA authorizes similar funding levels and formulas as NCLB, State (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) have greater flexibility with how funds are utilized. For example, ESSA allows transferability between TITLE II (Educator Supports) and TITLE IV (21st Century Schools) and from TITLE II and TITLE IV into TITLE I (Improving Basic Programs).

References: Every Student Succeeds Act, S.1177, 114th Cong. (2015). Retrieved from

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Public Law 107-110. (2002). Retrieved from