The Unraveling of No Child Left Behind: How Negotiated Changes Transform the LawReport as inadecuate

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Civil Rights Project at Harvard University (The)

Over the past two years, the U.S. Department of Education's (ED) has made such extensive compromises in implementing the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB)that the law's legitimacy is in serious question. In response to growing state and local opposition to the law, political and professional criticisms of its requirements, and the increasing number of schools and districts identified for improvement, the administration has allowed a wide variety of changes in state accountability plans. These changes reflect a political strategy by the administration to respond to the growing state opposition to the law by providing relief from some of the law's provisions and reducing, at least temporarily, the number of schools and districts identified for improvement. But they are also a concession by ED officials that NCLB is not working and have created a policy that has no consistent meaning across states. This report documents the changes states have made to their accountability plans and examines how these policy shifts affect the meaning of accountability and who benefits (and loses) from the changes. The authors reviewed decision letters sent to all 50 states that outlined the changes approved by ED through December 2005. The intent of this report is to provide policymakers with information they can use to develop a systemic approach to correcting the flaws in NCLB by documenting the requirements that are difficult for states to implement and identifying areas where the law may not be working as intended. The report provides an easy to understand synopsis of the changes allowed by ED and state-by-state summaries of the amendments each state adopted. [Foreword by Gary Orfield.] (Contains 17 tables and 1 figure.)

Descriptors: Federal Legislation, Change, Politics of Education, Federal Government, Government Role, Accountability, Educational Policy, State Action

Harvard Education Publishing Group, 8 Story Street, 1st Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138. Tel: 800-513-0763 (Toll Free); Tel: 617-495-3432; Fax: 617-496-3584; e-mail: hepg[at]; Web site:

Author: Sunderman, Gail L.


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