The role of the federal government in setting education policy increased significantly with the passage by Congress of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, a sweeping education reform law that revised the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. "Federal policy has played a major role in supporting standards-based reform since the passage of the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA) of 1994. That law required states to establish challenging content and performance standards, implement assessments hold school systems accountable " (Goertz, 2005, pg. 73)
American attitudes toward the public schools have changed radically in the last 50 years. In the 1940s public opinion polls showed that 87 percent of Americans were satisfied with the public school system. By the late 1990s, however, many Americans believed the school system was in need of an overhaul, and in the November 1998 congressional elections voters in nearly every state ranked education reform as the number one or number two issue on their minds.
This change in attitude began in the 1960s and 1970s, but a major impetus was a 1983 U.S. Department of Education report titled A Nation at Risk. By linking U.S. economic troubles in the late 1970s and early 1980s to perceived problems with the U.S. education system, A Nation at Risk sent the message that the public schools were standing in the way of a strong economy, sparking a crisis of confidence in the public school system.
As a result many politicians found themselves called upon to "fix the schools" and "restore their greatness," triggering a 15-year period of reform. Although most experts believe further reforms are warranted, the agreement ends there. Some want to toughen curriculum requirements and increase teachers' salaries to attract more competent teachers, while others think the answer lies in tackling issues such as poor parenting and poverty, which they believe are the main impediments to progress in education. Still others want to offer parents greater choices in selecting schools for their children by establishing new types of schools that would compete with public schools for students and resources. Description of the Policy
Signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, the NCLB Act seeks to identify poorly performing public schools by requiring states to test students in grades three through eight annually in reading and math. Schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward state proficiency standards must allow students to transfer to better-performing public schools. If poor performance continues, schools must offer supplemental services such as private tutoring; persistently failing schools must take corrective actions, such as replacing certain teachers or changing the curriculum, or risk being restructured or taken over by the state.
The reasoning behind passing this legislation was to bolster the academic programs in schools and is amended from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The purpose of the No Child Left Behind Act "is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments." (Department of Education, 2002, pg. 15) The government has spelled out specific points in how to achieve these goals. These include: establishing academic assessments, accountability, ample teacher certification, associated with stimulating State educational standards. Another large aspect of this policy is the issue of accountability. Schools who are consistently failing must either improve or allow their students to go elsewhere at the school's expense.
While many school choice supporters believe choice programs will force public schools to improve in order to compete for students and funding, opponents fear that the loss of students to choice programs will consign poor and...