Background for the No Child Left Behind Act

This act is the latest of a number of federal laws implementing education reform. The best known law previously was Goals 2000, which was essentially federal codification of the principles of Outcomes Based Education, and which helped prompt many states to adopt Performance Based Tests such as WASL and CLAS, along with other controversial methods of teaching reading, mathematics, and science. Key to OBE was the concept taken from TQM of measuring quality and implementing processes which would result in continual improvement. One of the key architects of NCLB was Sandy Kress, who was also instrumental in the Texas version of OBE, the TAAS test.

The act is the result of bi-partisan cooperation between, among others, Senator Edward M. Kennedy's, and President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind proposals. Several of the proposals were based on the reform strategies instituted by President Bush during his tenure as governor of Texas.

The act began as House Resolution 1 in March 2001 during the 107th Congress. The 670 page act was eventually passed by the House of Representatives on December 13, 2001 by a vote of 381-41. It passed in the Senate by a vote of 87-10 on December 18, 2001. It was signed into law by President Bush on January 8, 2002 at Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio. On hand for the signing ceremony were Democratic Rep. George Miller of California, Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Republican Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, and Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

Teachers' unions such as the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have opposed NCLB reforms almost from inception, and have worked to both weaken the law's provisions and to turn around public perception of the law and its necessity. The unions question NCLB's effectiveness as presently written and funded, and note a number of difficulties school districts face in implementing its provisions. Supporters of NCLB's reforms on the other hand claim that union opposition may have more to do with the fact that key provisions of the law will have the effect of reducing union income as unionized school districts with failing schools are forced to reconstitute and teachers are in some cases no longer forced to join unions or allowed to bargain collectively even if they opt for union membership. In inner city school districts where public school students consistently under-perform, this union resistance to NCLB has often pitted the teachers' unions against parents who see their children's low performance as indicative of poor instruction. The teachers' counter-argument often stresses research[citation needed]suggesting that a student's home environment plays a larger part in determining his or her test scores than does the school environment.

In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education entered into a contract with Ketchum Inc. to promote the law. A $240,000 subcontract was provided to the Graham Williams Group which included political commentator Armstrong Williams promoting the act via his television show and additionally television and radio advertisements. USA Today reported that his contract included the stipulation that he "regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts." Rep. Miller, a member of the House Education Committee, called the contract "a very questionable use of taxpayers' money" that is "probably illegal". Armstrong said that he "wanted to do it because it's something I believe in", but later said "my judgment was not the best. I wouldn't do it again, and I learned from it." The same public relations firm that arranged Williams' contract also produced a video promoting the No Child Left Behind Act designed to come across as a news story. The advertisements were pulled after a similar ad for the new Medicare ad was challenged by the Government Accountability Office for being 'covert propaganda', which is against federal law. The firm also provided the Department of Education with monthly rankings of reporters based on how they cover the law.

Despite the fierce controversy about the law among educators, a Gallup survey found as many as seven in 10 Americans say they don't know enough to have an opinion about No Child Left Behind. The same is true for parents, where 55 percent say they don't know enough to say whether the law is improving local public education or not. Broadly speaking, opinion surveys have shown strong public support for the concept of setting and enforcing standards in public schools, including the use of testing. But a recent survey by the nonpartisan group Public Agenda found that parents now view other issues, like school funding and discipline, as more pressing.