Share this page:

Issues Library—Federal Education Policy

No Child Left Behind

What is No Child Left Behind (NCLB)?

Enacted in 1965, this program has been known for most of its history as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The Act provides direction for the funding of elementary and secondary education, and has been expanded and reauthorized consistently since its original passage. In 2001, the act came before Congress for reauthorization as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). NCLB established several new requirements, making the states set educational standards, test students on core subjects annually, and reform public schools that fail to progress on these tests. The combination of testing and reforms was meant to improve learning opportunities.

How Successful was No Child Left Behind?

After nine years, this radical revamp has failed to yield significant improvements in student learning. It has resulted in a perverse incentive: when states are penalized if their schools fail to meet a certain threshhold on state tests, the easiest solution is for the states to water down their tests, thus boosting their schools' scores. The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that students only made modest improvement in reading and math, with 8th-grade reading scores remaining flat since NCLB was enacted.1

The act has been up for reauthorization since 2007, but Congress has yet to take any action. In March 2010, the Obama administration released its blueprint for revising the ESEA, which suggests no improvements for the incentive program, and instead removes tutoring and school choice options and consolidates more power in federal hands.2 In January 2011, Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressed his support for imminent reauthorization consistent with the administration’s proposals.3

What Does No Child Left Behind Mean for Homeschoolers?

When the Act came up for reauthorizaiton in 2001, HSLDA worked with Congress to place language in NCLB to ensure that federal, state, and local governments could not use provisions of the law to regulate homeschoolers or private or religious schools that do not receive federal funds. Additional language protects against a nationalized test, nationalized curriculum, nationalized teacher ceritifcationcertification, or a national database of student specific information. HSLDA will continue to work with Congress to ensure that such language remains in any reauthorized version of the act, whenever that occurs.


1. From Matthew Ladner and Dan Lips, “How No Child Left Behind Threatens Florida’s Successful Education Reforms,” The Heritage Foundation, January 7, 2009,

2. Lindsey Burke, “ESEA Reauthorization Blueprint: Another Federal Overreach,” Heritage Blog, March 15, 2010,

3. Arne Duncan, “School reform: A chance for bipartisan governing”, Washington Post, January 3, 2011, accessed January 25, 2011,

 Related HSLDA Articles

No Child Left Behind: Why Congress Should Reauthorize Section 9506
September 7, 2007

No Child Left Behind: Why Congress Should Reauthorize Section 9527
September 7, 2007

No Child Left Behind: Why Congress Should Reauthorize Section 9531
September 7, 2007

No Child Left Behind: Why Congress Should Reauthorize Section 9530
September 7, 2009

No Child Left Behind: Why Congress Should Reauthorize Section 9529
September 7, 2007

 Helpful Reading from Outside Sources

U.S. Department of Education

Education Next

The Heritage Foundation’s Education Issues Center


2001 Education Spending Comparison
August 6, 2001

President Bush Releases Blueprint for Education Reform
January 24, 2001

Court Report: Freedom Watch on the Elementary and Secondary Education
May/June 2000

HSLDA’s Proposed Amendments to the 2000 Elementary and Secondary Education Act
March 29, 2000

Court Report: Recommended Changes for the ESEA
March/April 2000