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School Improvement Under No Child Left Behind

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All across the country, educators, parents, and state officials are concerned that too many schools are being classified as “in need of improvement” due to the accountability requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. These requirements mandate that states establish steadily increasing targets for student achievement and that schools progress toward meeting the long-term goal of proficiency in reading and math for all students by 2013-14. Those schools that do not meet state targets for two consecutive years are identified as “schools in need of improvement” (SINI) and are required to institute changes so that all students receive adequate and appropriate instruction to enable them to reach proficiency.

In addition to the apprehension that a growing number of schools will be labeled as “in need of improvement,” it is sometimes mistakenly believed that schools designated for improvement lose federal funds. Although these schools may lose funds for other reasons, the law does not say that schools lose money because of their status as a school in need of improvement. Indeed, NCLB provides additional resources in the form of a School Improvement Fund (SIF) to help these schools implement improvement strategies. Nationally, the SIF totaled $493 million this school year, and an estimated $514 million was allocated toward school improvement for 2005-06.

These fears about the labeling of schools and the loss of funding have overshadowed discussion of the law’s requirements for enabling those schools to make the improvements necessary to produce students who are proficient in reading and math. Who is responsible and what is being done to carry out school improvement? This paper from the Center for American Progress is likely the first examination of how states are implementing their role as providers of technical assistance and resources to schools in need of improvement.

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