Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview: Bush, G.W.

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

The George W. Bush Years: No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)

The 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore was extremely close, with Gore winning the popular vote and Bush the Electoral College vote-and the presidency-only after the U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding the Florida outcome. Though education was a key issue in the election campaign, it was a surprise to the Congress and the country that three days after President Bush's inauguration in January 2001, his first legislative proposal was the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The proposal was advanced to the Republican-controlled House and Senate as a 25-page concept paper, with an invitation to Congress to join the administration in writing the bill together.

The proposed act incorporated new provisions into the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which had been last reauthorized as the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994 (IASA). NCLB was to become a huge bill of some 1,100 pages, which carried forward Title I, the 21st Century Schools Act, bilingual education, Title II grants for innovation, a major reading program, and other programs with long standing under IASA and ESEA. The signature provisions that were ultimately included in NCLB advanced the strategy, begun with Goals 2000, of federal support for improving achievement through standards, assessments, and specific requirements of accountability. NCLB built directly on the IASA requirements that standards and assessments in each state must be the same for all students, with accountability requirements that states and districts take corrective action on schools "in need of improvement." During the year that the legislation was being shaped, the president and congressional leaders created a new, highly specific metric to assess annual progress for all elementary and secondary schools and to determine which schools, districts, and states would be sanctioned for failure to meet progress targets. The formula had three elements: (1) By the year 2014, all students must be performing in reading, mathematics, and science at the "proficient" level; (2) in each school each year, student "adequate yearly progress" must increase at such a rate that 100% proficiency would be met by 2014; and (3) the annual rate of progress applies not only to the aggregate student enrollment of a school, district, or state but also to "disaggregated" groups of students according to income, race, gender, English language ability, and special education status. If any of the groups are below expected progress rates, the entire school is considered "failing" and in need of improvement to be realized through presidential sanctions.


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Footnotes: The PDF version of this essay contains extensive footnotes that include numerous citations and supplementary text. For ease of reading, the footnotes are omitted from this version.


To view snapshots of the political context for the G.W. Bush administrations, see Education Policymakers 2001-2004 and 2005-present.