A couple of weeks ago, Margaret Spellings, U.S. Secretary of Education, appeared on The Daily Show. In the interview, Spellings gave a great snapshot of the purpose of the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act:
Here's the deal. These are local decisions. I'm not hiring teachers at the Department of Education, obviously. But, what we've done with this law is peel the onion and bring to bear information about how well are we serving every single kind. And the answer is not well enough--by far, these days. And so what we're causing is anxiety with grown-ups on behalf of kids.NCLB is merely the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), whose goal in 1965 was to encourage states to improve educational quality for poor and disenfranchised students by providing financial incentives for categorical programs. For years, the Federal government has required testing (mainly through NAEP) in exchange for the carrot to monitor the effectiveness of the funds and gauge progress in the improvement of education.
In the 2001 iteration, Congress went a step further in "peeling the onion" by requiring states who accept Federal funds to do their own measuring and reporting of progress, and attempted to kindle the flame after decades of smoldering educational reform by forcing action in schools that states identify as not making progress toward providing an "adequate" education for all students. Many schools have gone along for years without providing a basic education to all students--NCLB's assessment and reporting provisions attempt to expose this reality and mobilize people for change.