No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the primary federal education law for K-12 public schools, was signed by George W. Bush a decade ago. Heralded by many as a great bipartisan agreement, NCLB ushered in a new era of accountability for public schools and, for the first time, required schools to show evidence of student achievement or face consequences.
But NCLB was a compromise, and no one was completely happy with the plan. NCLB applies to a system with diverse stakeholders and powerful, entrenched interest groups, so we should have anticipated the derision the law receives today from all sides. In addition, the law required states to use high-stakes tests as a yardstick for student achievement, and some schools and teachers gamed the system by teaching to the test or simply cheating outright.
But because of NCLB, the first decade of the new century may be considered the era of education accountability. This is especially true in Arizona, where schools are growing into their new A-through-F school and district grading system — the system that is replacing labels such as “performing” and “performing plus.”
But if you look at the fine print, you will notice that the range is actually from “A” to “D,” since a school must earn a “D” for multiple years before being labeled an “F.”
State leaders quickly recognized this needed to be addressed or some schools would find ways to cut corners, much like what happened under NCLB. The Arizona Legislature is considering a bill—HB 2663—to allow the state board of education to classify a school as an “F” sooner. Otherwise, schools could flounder with a “D” for multiple years before taking serious measures to improve.
HB 2663 is an important adjustment to the system, and the details of the law and implementation will be critical. No school wants an “F,” but it’s more important that parents know the truth about their school and can find better educational opportunities immediately.