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Race, inequality and educational accountability: the irony of ‘No Child Left Behind’

Updated: May 1


The No Child Left Behind Act, the major education initiative of the Bush Administration, was intended to raise educational achievement and close the racial/ethnic achievement gap. Its strategies include focusing schools’ attention on raising test scores, mandating better qualified teachers and providing educational choice.

Unfortunately, the complex requirements of the law have failed to achieve these goals, and have provoked a number of unintended negative consequences which frequently harm the students the law is most intended to help. Among these consequences are a narrowed curriculum, focused on the low‐level skills generally reflected on high stakes tests; inappropriate assessment of English language learners and students with special needs; and strong incentives to exclude low‐scoring students from school, so as to achieve test score targets.

In addition, the law fails to address the pressing problems of unequal educational resources across schools serving wealthy and poor children and the shortage of well‐prepared teachers in high‐need schools. A policy that would live up to the law’s name would need to address these issues and reshape the law’s requirements to enable the use of assessments and school improvement strategies that support higher‐quality teaching and learning.

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