No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

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The No Child Left Behind Act was a major education reform initiated by President George W. Bush in 2001. The bill, which became the primary federal law regulating K-12 education, revamped the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). The bill passed both houses of Congress with broad bipartisan support and was officially signed into law by President Bush on January 8, 2002.

NCLB was designed to address the concern that the American education system was lagging behind its international competitors by holding schools responsible for boosting student performance through mandated standardized tests and minimum performance benchmarks. The law required states to test students in grades 3-8 in reading and math and break down student data into subgroups by race, disability, and socioeconomic status. States also had to ensure all teachers were “highly qualified,” meaning they have a bachelor’s degree and state certification in the subject they are teaching. Schools and districts that failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) for two years were subject to increasingly heavy sanctions including being forced to allow students to transfer to better performing schools, offering free tutoring, and could ultimately face state intervention.

In 2012, President Barack Obama introduced more flexibility to NCLB and softened the consequences for underperforming schools by granting waivers to states. The waivers allowed certain states to avoid many of the mandates of the law in exchange for agreements to raise standards, improve accountability, and improve teacher effectiveness. Congress replaced NCLB with the Every Student Succeeds Act in December 2015.

[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]