This year marks the ten-year anniversary of the passage of the controversial education law, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 championed by then-President George W. Bush, which sought to establish baseline federal standards that state and local school districts need to meet in order to receive federal funding. Arguing that NCLB has failed to meet its lofty expectations, President Obama proposed his own plan, the “Race to the Top” program, much to the same effect. Both education policies rely on state and local school districts to tailor their goals and standards to those set in Washington, D.C., and have similarly ballooning costs, vague curriculum, and almost astronomical funding.
To be fair, though, thus far, President Obama’s program is much less expensive than NCLB ever was. The cost of NCLB, according to the New American Foundation, in the year 2010 came to about $22,131,000,000. From the year 2005 until 2010, the total cost of NCLB amounts to about $130,652,000. Sadly, this isn’t all the NCLB costs because these are “selected programs” and non-inclusive of all NCLB costs. As for Race to the Top, phase 1 (year 2010) cost up to $4 billion. President Obama’s 2012 budget, specifically education discretionary costs, will be about $77,400,6391, a 10.7% increase from 2011.
The curriculum of NCLB and Race to the Top are eerily similar, and have the same result: government vagueness that leaves much to the imagination of applicants for federal funds. The best instructions that this writer received came from the RAND Institute, not the Department of Education, stating that “NCLB requires each state to develop content and achievement standards in several subjects, administer tests to measure students’ progress toward these standards, develop targets for performance on these tests, and impose a series of interventions on schools and districts that do not meet the targets.” It does not detail or direct states to make the necessary changes to benefit the American student. With Race to the Top, according to the Department of Education website, there are similar circumstances:
- Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
- Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
- Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
- Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.
The most interesting aspect of the above list is that they link to press releases of Secretary Duncan’s speeches to organizations like the National Education Association (NEA), without explaining what standards or assessments need to be made. In short, both NCLB and Race to the Top are vague government education programs that give little direction and hand out billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money. As demonstrated in Obama’s presidency, there’s an abundance of hope and promise, but little tangible results and change.
Funding for these programs continues to increase in astonishing amounts. In researching the NCLB, this writer found that from 2000 to 2003, NCLB funding grew by 59.8%. According to the NEA, Obama’s 2009 budget for a NCLB component increased by 58.7% (including the failed American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA)). In the proposed funding of Race to the Top phase 2, Obama has proposed a budget of $3.4 billion, including awards to winning states of up to $700 million. None of these education programs helped stimulate the faltering American economy as Obama had promised. However, as is typical of government funding, there is little chance that these numbers will decrease in the near future, even with the financial troubles facing America.
Regrettably, this writer must admit that neither NCLB nor Race to the Top succeeded in providing effective and significant improvement in test scores due to the vagueness of federal standards and oversight. The cost, curriculum, and funding only point to another failed government experiment that let down the American taxpayers, parents, teachers, and especially the children. All in all, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top do not resolve the issues facing America’s education system, and leave little to suggest otherwise. As demonstrated by Obama, there’s an abundance of hope and promise, but few tangible results and change for the better.
Spencer Irvine is a research assistant at Accuracy in Academia.