Center for American Progress

Promoting Student Success with No Child Left Behind

Promoting Student Success with No Child Left Behind

Many recommendations put forward at NCLB reauthorization hearings mirror CAP policy solutions for closing the achievement gap.

The Center for American Progress in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that 24 states are failing in at least one of the nine education categories assessed in the recently released Leaders and Laggards state score cards. And nine states are failing in three or more areas.

The No Child Left Behind Act is designed to provide federal support to improve public education. Congress clearly has its work cut out for it in the coming months as it continues hearings to reauthorize NCLB and discusses ways to make the legislation stronger.

The Center for American Progress has released a series of reports over the past six months showing the effectiveness of innovative policy solutions like implementing incentive-based pay for teachers and administrators; expanding student learning time through longer school days, school years, or after-school programs; and staging early interventions for students at risk of dropping out of school.

Expert testimony presented during a joint committee hearing and several hearings held by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions over the past few months have been positive overall. Many recommendations put forward build on the foundations of the Act and mirror policy solutions that CAP has put forward in its reports, including improving accountability and data quality measures, closing the achievement gap, improving teacher quality, and empowering parents.

Improving Accountability and Data Quality

Better data and national standards for student achievement are key to meeting the No Child Left Behind Act’s goal of better assessing student needs and growth from year to year.

The Commission on No Child Left Behind is now recommending implementing a data system that tracks individual student progress from year to year and incorporates data about various subgroups, including race, gender, and English language proficiency. The goal is to have all states use such data systems within four years of the reauthorization of NCLB. Currently, some states compare the achievement of all the students in a given grade to the achievement of those students in the grade the following year, but this comparison may give states a false sense of progress. The recommended data system will allow states to better assess student needs and growth from year to year.

The Commission is also recommending that the federal government establish a set of voluntary national standards and tests in reading, math, and science—a proposal that CAP put forward in 2005 with its Education Task Force report “Renewing Our Schools, Securing Our Future.”

The report explains that NCLB currently has states hold districts accountable for bringing students up to “proficient” levels of achievement, yet also allows them to adopt their own definitions of “proficiency.” Many states have gamed their accountability systems so that they don’t count all subgroups of students.

The Center followed up its discussion of this problem in “The Case for National Standards, Accountability, and Fiscal Equality.” The report recommended that the federal government not only create national standards for students, teachers, and administrators, but also work to make education funding more equitable between states.

The recent report “Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Effectiveness,” confirmed this when it found that the National Assessment of Educational Progress is a much more accurate indicator of student achievement than state tests.

Closing the Achievement Gap and Improving Teacher Quality

Committee hearings on NCLB have also highlighted the need for a stronger focus on improving teacher and administrator quality—a key factor for promoting student achievement. Education research convincingly shows that the difference between a good teacher and a bad one can mean the difference of a full year of learning growth for students.

The Center for American Progress has released three reports exploring the issue of teacher performance and come to similar conclusions as many expert witnesses: a well-planned pay and rewards system can raise teacher quality and attract better teachers, especially in urban areas.

CAP’s “Teacher and Principal Compensation: An International Review” finds that teachers in schools overseas respond to the same incentives professionals in other fields respond to, if the incentives are well-structured.

A similar examination of American charter and private schools, “Teacher Compensation in Charter and Private Schools,” also found that some schools are already successfully implementing incentive programs, which make a portion of teachers’ pay contingent on performance and offer other non-financial incentives.

The report recommends two strategies for using financial incentives to raise teacher quality: 1) creating within the current system a more market-driven and performance approach, and 2) offering a subset of school administrators a more flexible approach that would allow them to experiment with new compensation strategies and make shifts according to their judgments of new policies’ success.

Empowering Parents and Communities

Parent empowerment and involvement with school communities is key to increasing student achievement. The Massachusetts Expanding Student Learning Time to Support Student Success Initiative, for example, owes much of its success to community support and collaboration between teachers, parents, students, and administrators.

Some experts advocating for increasing parental and community involvement at the NCLB reauthorization hearings have argued that NCLB should allow Title I funds to be used to train teachers and administrators on proper parental interaction. Others have proposed that districts and schools should increase the availability of clear and comprehensible school data so parents can make informed decisions about their child’s education. On-site coordinators could act as a liaison between teachers and parents and disseminate this information to parents.

Schools that are trying to expand student learning time have also been successful at increasing community engagement by creating after-school programs that partner with community agencies to increase community engagement.

The Center has done extensive research into solutions like these. “Expanding Learning Time in High Schools” shows that schools with longer school years, days, or more comprehensive after-school programs are more likely to help low-performing students who need more time and resources to reach testing standards. Increased instructional time also gives teachers room to make their lessons more interactive and to adjust their curricula to students’ diverse abilities by allowing more time for group work and individual assistance.


Student achievement has improved very little in recent years despite increased education spending and intensive efforts to improve educational outcomes. Only a third of fourth- and eighth-graders—and less than a fifth of low-income and minority children—are proficient in reading and math. And according to CAP’s recent report on America’s dropout challenge, the U.S. graduation rate has not reached above 70 percent in decades and on-time graduation rates lag at 50 to 55 percent for minority students.

Boosting student achievement will require innovative solutions, and the reauthorization of NCLB is the perfect opportunity for lawmakers to work with states, schools, and education experts to develop new policies that will more effectively close the education gap and ensure America’s future as a competitive player on the global stage.

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