No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

No Child Left Behind was a major piece of education legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in 2001 and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002. The Act, which reauthorized and amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, was intended to close achievement gaps “by providing all children with a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.”

Under NCLB, states were required to test students in reading and math in grades 3–8 and once in high school and to report the results, for both the student population as a whole and for particular “subgroups” of students, including English-learners and students in special education, racial minorities, and children from low-income families. Schools that failed to make “adequate yearly progress” for two years or more were subject to a cascade of increasingly serious sanctions. All students were expected to meet or exceed state standards in reading and math by 2014.  NCLB required each state to establish state academic standards and a state testing system that met federal requirements. 

Despite enjoying initial bipartisan support, over time NCLB came under increasing criticism from diverse stakeholders, including parents, teachers, school administrators, and state governments. Under the Obama Administration, states were allowed to apply for waivers from various NCLB requirements subject to meeting certain conditions. In 2015, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, superseding No Child Left Behind and modifying some of its most controversial and unpopular provisions.