Moving from Compliance to Performance Based Schools


From its inception in 2001, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal law, often shortened and pronounced as “nickelbee” has had its fair share of controversies. The law, which received major backing from the outgoing US president George Bush, reauthorized several federal educational programs that aimed at improving the performance of US secondary and primary schools through increasing the standards of accountability for school districts, schools, and the states in general (Bush, 2001). The law also provided more flexibility to parents when it came to choosing the appropriate schools for their children. Though the motives towards introducing the law had been well thought of, critics argue that most NCLB mandates force most schools in most states to be more compliant oriented rather than performance oriented. The federal law has time and again been accused of making the schools “teach to the test” rather than focusing on the performance of students. What then could be done to correct the US education standards to be more performance oriented rather being test oriented like it has been the case with NCLB? This essay will focus on answering that question, drawing on the NCLB framework, its failures, and ways that could be used to move the education standards from being compliant and test oriented to being performance and child oriented.

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The NCLB framework

NCLB federal legislation uses a theoretical framework of the standards-based educational reform, which was formerly known as outcome-based education. According to its creators, the legislation was based on the belief that establishment of measurable goals and setting high standards can actually improve the students’ outcomes in education (Myint, 2002). Going by that principle, the federal Act therefore required states to develop assessment mechanisms that can be used to asses all students in certain grades. It was also the function of the act to request respective schools to distribute the names, addresses and phone numbers of all the students that had been enrolled to institutions of higher learning and to military recruiters unless the parents or the students opted out (Bush, 2001). Theoretically speaking, the NCLB was a well thought federal law that had the capability of rejuvenating the educational sector and ensure that focus was given to students.

But the problem of the federal law came as a result of tying the assessment mechanisms to federal funding of schools. It should be noted that NCLB failed to introduce a national achievement standard, leaving individual states with the authority to set their own educational standards so as to benefit from federal funding (Chesler et al., 2004). The federal law, not knowing about future loopholes, relied extensively on the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution, which is very specific that powers that are “neither granted to the federal government nor prohibited by individual state governments are powers set aside for individual states.” (Bush, 2001)..

Shortcomings and remedies

The shortcomings that have been occasioned by the NCLB in relation to the US educational standards are many and varied. Recently, frustration with the law has hit new heights at the grass-root level from California to Maine. Colorado, Utah, and Connecticut states are already up in open rebellion towards the legislation, and have trumped up the federal mandates guaranteed under the Act. Five other states – New Jersey, Minnesota, Maine, Virginia, and Nevada are in the flanks, waiting to join in the open rebellion towards NCLB (Marks, 2005). According to a study released recently by Civil Society Institute, a total of 21 American states are considering some kind of legal legislation against the NCLB.

Frustration has been heightened within US states to what local educators term as rigidity of the law that established measurable goals aimed at setting high levels of education to improve outcomes. This law requires standardized testing, high-stakes, and penalizes educational institutions that are below the set yearly standards (Marks, 2005). This is because funding of the schools within states is tied with the performance of the standardized tests. This relationship brings a multi-prier effect in the educational performance of students across the states. First, those who fail to achieve the set standards are denied the federal funding. This has actually undermined the long-term success of students. Second, the high scores set by NCLB has been found to encourage teachers and other education administrators to “teach to the test” so that the students can pass, therefore enabling the schools to benefit from the federal funding.

The above condition can only be corrected through disassociating federal funding from educational standards. Schools must be funded on the basis of the needs present rather than on the ability to achieve high scores in examinations (Menken, 2006). If funding is not linked to the ability to get high scores among students, states will be discouraged to lower their achievement goals like they do today. Tying funding to compliance of been able to score high scores in state examinations has really motivated teachers to teach students for the purposes of passing their examinations rather than for their long-term individual development. This needs to be discouraged through severing the link between federal funding and high scores. Schools must be funded on the basis of genuine need rather than a reward for passing examinations. According to the National Centre for Fair and Open Testing, the US education system should shift its focus from applying sanctions to schools that fail to raise their test scores, to actually holding localities and individual states accountable for failure to make the desired systematic changes that are intended to improve the achievement of students (Marks, 2005).

As a means of assessment, all students within a state must sit the same test under similar situations (standardized testing). This has inevitably encouraged the teachers to teach a narrow subset of subjects that increases the student’s chance of performing well in the tests rather than focusing on preparing the students on deep understanding of complex situations (Menken, 2006). Teachers have been accused of not giving appropriate attention to the practical side of the subjects they teach as they are only interested in teaching the students to pass the examinations. Again, this should not be the case. A well constituted advisory body needs to be formed at the federal level to ensure that set tests are objective enough to give a clear picture about the students’ performance and capabilities. Though the states should reserve the right of setting tests for their students, it should be the function of such an advisory body to ensure that the tests are objective enough to measure the knowledge levels of individual grades without undue bias. This will discourage the teachers to “teach to the test,” which often misrepresent the educational purposes that examinations are intended to measure (Myint, 2002).

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From its inception, NCLB has been accused by its critics of lowering the expectations of low-performing students even lower through the imposition of punitive measures set on the schools. In fact, it has been credited with pushing low-performing students out of educational institutions. Schools that perform well in the examinations are given some special recognition and awards that have indeed encouraged some school administrators to push out low-performing and disadvantaged students out of the institutions (Hannaway, 2002). This is more compliance based rather than performance based since the schools want to comply with the NCLB Act so as to reap benefits in form of awards and recognition at the expense of the disadvantaged. This is wrong and should be corrected by enjoining legislation in the act that identifies the existence of low-performing students in our schools. The legislation must offer more incentives to uplifting the educational standards of these groups of students (Myint, 2002). Expelling students in public schools on the basis of their academic capabilities need to be legislated against. This will make American learning institutions more performance oriented rather than compliance oriented.

Through the NCLB Act, it has become fashionable for some local schools to consider funding instruction for remedial special education or for core subjects only (Marks, 2005). School programs are been forced by the NCLB Act to ration education in such a way that only mandated skill levels in arithmetic, writing, and reading to all students are guaranteed. Owing to this situation, gifted educational programs that are not deemed to add any weight to the mandated skills are not taught well. Students with exceptionally gifts are going to waste basically because of the Acts audacity to give emphasis to mandated subjects. But this should not be the case. Policy makers in the relevant departments need to come up with legislation that will emphasize the importance of the gifted students, and offer them appropriate channels to further their growth. Legislation must be passed that will ensure all gifted students are identified, and accorded an appropriate education that must include grade advancement (Marks, 2005). This way, the education system will be free from the concept of “teaching to the test” to a more rational approach of empowering the students to realize their gifts and full potentials.

NCLB has time and again been criticized of introducing a narrow curriculum which focuses on English language and mathematics. This has elevated the scores of the two fundamental subjects, while making the students lose out on the benefits of a broad education setup (Hannaway, 2007). Subjects like physical education, foreign languages, and elementary social studies are no longer emphasized in the American education system. According to the American Heart Association, this trend has contributed to an increase in childhood obesity (Marks, 2005). To rectify the situation, NCLB Act should introduce a legislation that will recognize all subjects as vital and important to individual development of the students. The Arts need to be emphasized just like mathematics; and physical education just like English. This will give all the students an equal platform to further their educational achievements. One student may be good in mathematics while the other is good in performing arts. In a good educational setup, both the students must be given an equal chance of furthering the respective fields of skill, and should be supported equally in their attempts to develop their abilities.

Schools that do not meet some set established standards are given more funds to further boost the scores under the NCLB Act. Critics have argued that this sort of arrangement is actually an incentive for schools not to perform better so as to receive more federal funding (Chesler, 2004). Such an arrangement needs to be revised to ensure that schools are motivated to perform not by the amount of funding that they receives, but rather by an inherent desire to improve the grades of their students and prepare them for the challenges that lays ahead. In fact, funding based on performance has never been credited with raising the performance of students.


According to Mathews (2006), “teaching to the test,” brought about by the NCLB Act, is a wrong concept as it has a negative effect on instruction and make the test scores meaningless.

All efforts must be made to ensure that the annual tests accorded by states must rise to the occasion of guaranteeing the performance of students rather than ensuring compliance to NCLB Act, which demands schools to use the standardized tests if they want to be considered for federal funding. Funding must be untied to tests to ensure that teachers no longer prepare their students for the purposes of passing the tests. This can only be done through passing a legislation that will tie the funding of schools to the particular needs of the students rather the grades. This is vital in ensuring that quality education, affecting the long-term development of the students, is offered.

An advisory body also needs to be formulated to ensure that exams offered in all the states are of high quality, and reflects the correct academic standing of the students in relation to the grade in which the students are tested for. Emphasis need to be given to the gifted students and non-core subjects to give everybody an equal footing in perfecting their skills. All skills need to be funded in equal measure to ensure all the students benefits. This will also ensure that the education curriculum is not monopolized to just a few subjects of mathematics, English, and the Sciences. Above all, proper legislation need to be executed to ensure that low-performing students are indeed encouraged and supported in their attempts to get quality education in American schools. When this is taken care of, US schools will be on the correct path of moving from compliance based to performance based schools.

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  1. Bush, G.W. (2001) No Child Left Behind. Web.
  2. Chesler, B.J., Romeo, L., Gillin, J., & Beger, A. (2004). NCATE Moves towards performance-based standards.
  3. Hannaway, J (2007). Management decentralization and performance-based incentives:
  4. Theoritical considerations for schools. The National Academic Press. Web.
  5. Marks, A. (2005). Local discontent with “No Child Left Behind” grows. The Christian Science Monitor. Web.
  6. Menken, K (2006). Teaching to the test: How No Child Left behind Impacts Language policy, Curriculum and Instruction for English language learners.
  7. Myint, B. (2002). Testing the limits of No Child Left Behind. New York: Routledge
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