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No Child Left Behind?
There exists no question; the United States is notably trailing behind many countries in terms of academic testing performance on verbal and especially math examinations. As a result, Congress signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act on January 8, 2002. While the constitutionality of this measure is debatable, No Child Left Behind has been moderately successful in raising the performance of students in the United States.
Critics of the bill often argue vehemently against its constitutionality. Many cite the Tenth Amendment, which delegates powers not enumerated to the federal government to state governments. Opponents of the legislation posit that the federal government was never intended to have such a comprehensive and intrusive role in federal education. However, supporters of the bill point to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as evidence that the federal government can in fact assume an active role in shaping America’s public schools. Furthermore, the "necessary and proper clause" in Article One, Section 8 of the Constitution provides Congress with the authority to enact legislation in areas not specifically delegated to the federal government, with the intention that these laws will be in the best interests of the country at heart. While there will undoubtedly remain debate about the role, if any, the federal government should play in shaping America’s public school system, there is a clear consensus that steps must be taken to reform public schools, and the bipartisan bill has been moderately effective in doing so.
All questions of constitutionality aside, No Child Left Behind has been fairly effective in improving the performance of students in public schools. The law stipulates that all teachers must be "highly qualified" as of the end of last year; that is, they must have at least a bachelor’s degree and pass a proficiency test in the subject matter they wish to teach. Students in "failing" schools, institutions in which not every student passes the administered proficiency exams, have the option of enrolling in a higher-performing school. During the period of time in which No Child Left Behind has been implemented, nine-year olds achieved the highest scores in reading and math since the beginning of the 1970s. Furthermore, reading and math scores for African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans peaked at an all-time high, reducing the achievement disparity between White Americans and minorities. While there exists no one comprehensive method to measure intelligence and knowledge, standardized tests are a somewhat reliable and equitable attempt to ascertain students’ levels of understanding. These test results attest to the improvements brought about by the successful implementation of No Child Left Behind.
Nevertheless, No Child Left Behind is far from perfect. As the bill is up for reauthorization now after every five years, President Bush has highlighted several key facets of the legislation that must be improved. No Child Left Behind is a partially funded federal mandate; schools must comply with federal standards and do not receive complete funding to allow them to do so. States should be allowed to curtail their public education programs to suit the needs of a state’s demographics. In addition, funding must be increased for struggling schools. In New Jersey alone, there are 30 abbot school districts, impoverished areas where schools typically underperform. In attempting to correct this problem, the NJ Supreme Court ruled that a certain percentage of state taxes must be allotted to these abbot school districts, and that they must receive as much funding as the wealthiest school districts. Similar steps must be taken on the federal level to abet the plight of impoverished and struggling schools. While No Child Left Behind suffers from some minor imperfections, overall, the program is improving performance in America’s public school system.