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Segregation in Schools: The No Child Left Behind Act and The Effect on Disadvantaged Children

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In the history of America, education has been an important issue for the future of the country. Over the years, the Federal Government made improvements to education in schools to increase student success. In particular, the Brown vs. Board of Education case proved that schools were not equal and violated the 14th amendment. After this case, several education acts were passed, such as the No Child Left behind Act (NCLB). The NCLB act was passed to improve education in all children in America, especially disadvantaged children. The NCLB implemented new guidelines that were required by the state and the school. From research findings, the act improved test scores for disadvantaged students, but it does hold the school accountable for their success. The No Child Left Behind act improves the education of disadvantaged students, but it does violate the fourteenth amendment. It violates the amendment if schools close as a result of their failure to reach state standards. The connection to the class is the Brown vs. Board of Education’s role in improving education for all children by ruling that the “Separate but Equal doctrine” caused negative consequences to black students. This also connects to John Stuart Mill’s argument that if there is harm present, then it should not be a law.

First, it is important to analyze the laws that impacted education from 1896 to 2000. In 1896, the Plessy vs. Ferguson case initiated the “Separate but Equal doctrine”. This case was about Homer Plessy who was an African American that refused to sit in the back of a train. From this case, the court reversed the previous amendments of equal rights and protection to all people in America. After this ruling, in 1954 the Brown vs. Board of Education case questioned whether the doctrine provided equal resources and opportunities to minorities. In this case, the court found that black schools were inferior to white schools and that they reversed the previous ruling of segregation in schools. Segregation was found to cause damage to black students’ mental states. From the court’s past mistake of segregation in schools of white and black children, the effects on education would prove to be detrimental.

In the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson initiated the “War on Poverty” and the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965. This act provided more financial aid for schools such as preschools for poor children. The act proved to provide equal resources so poor children could succeed. From this act, the government continued to improve education for all children by passing three more acts in the late 60s and early 70s. For example, in 1968 the Bilingual Education Act required schools to provide programs to children that could not speak English. Before this act, if children could not speak English, they were not given equal opportunities to learn the curriculum and were left behind. Another act was President Richard Nixon passing Title IX in 1972. This act ruled female students could not be discriminated against. Additionally, the Individuals with Disabilities Act in 1975 was passed to give students with disabilities the right to have equal opportunities and the resources to succeed. The ESEA act did offer resources to all students to succeed, however, by the 1980s the government realized that many American children were struggling in reading, math, and comprehension which carried into their adult life.

During the 1980s, there was an educational crisis in American schools. President Ronald Reagan read a speech called “A Nation at Risk” which was a report about the state of education in America. They found that America was ranked last compared to industrialized countries, that 23 million Americans were illiterate in reading and writing, and that SAT scores declined from 1963 to 1980. The report provided proof that the American school system was failing American children and that other countries had a better school system. The government decided that education needed to be reformed and added improvements to the Elementary Secondary Education Act. President Bill Clinton worked to reform education through the Improved American School Act in 1994. This led to President George Bush passing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2002.

Particularly, the goal for the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was to make schools accountable for their students’ success. From the history of the law not accounting for disadvantaged students, this act focused on improving academic success in children who were minorities, had disabilities, had limited English speaking skills, and that were economically disadvantaged. To do this, the act required new guidelines that the state and schools had to follow. The new guideline was that schools had to test their students every year from grades third to eighth grade once and tenth to twelfth grade once. The test scores of the students were required to be sent to the state in a report called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). This report determined a school’s ranking, and whether they were rewarded or issued a penalty. If a school passed the state’s standards, then their school would receive more funding. In contrast, if they failed then the school would be evaluated and might be closed down.

Consequently, this act gave states the freedom to make their guidelines in education. This reform however affected disadvantaged students both positively and negatively. For example, Douglas Lauen and Michael Gaddis did a study on whether accountability pressure raised test scores of disadvantaged students due to the NCLB. The study was conducted in North Carolina from 2000 to 2008. They studied 1.7 million students in 1,800 schools of students ranging from third to eighth grade. They found that test scores increased in students below grade level compared to students near or above grade level. They also found an increase in poor and minority scores if they did not reach the standard the prior year. This proved that schools were focused more on students below the grade level and that it was a benefit to disadvantaged students. This also provides evidence that when schools are held accountable for their student’s success, scores increase in students that are struggling.

In comparison, a study by Thomas Dee and Brian Jacob examined data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in math and reading of fourth and eighth-grade minorities. They found that there was an increase in math scores of Black and Hispanic students from 2000 to 2006. They also found that compared to other countries, such as Australia and England, math achievement improved. Similar to the Lauen and Gaddis study, they found that students below grade level had a higher increase in math than students above grade level. Students near or above grade level did not increase significantly as compared to the below grade level group. This also supports the claim that the act was a benefit to all students. The data demonstrated that the achievement gap was closing between white and disadvantaged students. For example, fourth grade Hispanics had a nineteen percent increase in achievement compared to white students. This proves that the act improves math achievement significantly in disadvantaged students and that the act enforces the fourteen amendments.

However, there is little evidence that achievement improved in reading scores. For example, in comparison to scores before and after NCLB, the scores showed little or no significance in score changes. This shows that the act only benefitted disadvantaged groups in math achievement and not reading. This provides evidence that the act needs to be reformed because it is not helping raise both subject scores. As this act does not contribute to increasing reading scores, there are other disadvantages as well.

Moreover, states made the standards that each school had to make to receive funding. However, it was found that most low-income schools called Title I were not making the standards and were penalized. The state had the power and freedom to close the school or fire the administrators if the school failed to get students to pass the standard. This put a lot of pressure on school officials to be accountable for their students’ success. Due to the problems in the act, the Obama administration passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015 to reduce the rate of schools closing due to schools failing to reach the state standard.

Further, President Barrack Obama signed the Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) to provide funding to low-income schools and to improve educational achievement. The Act reformed the NCLB by requiring states to support schools that were “in need of improvement” or failing the standard. Schools that were “in need of improvement” were mostly low-income schools failing to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) report consistently. Due to the No Child Left Behind Act, schools were becoming close. For example, before the act ESSA act passed, Chicago closed forty-nine elementary schools from 2013 to 2014. Most of the schools that closed had a ninety percent population of African American students (Kunichoff). Also, sixty percent of the schools that closed had a high population of special needs children. This shows that NCLB had a negative impact on Black and special needs children. When the schools closed, the children were transferred to other schools, but it lacked the teachers and resources to provide to all the children. This represents that the No Child Left Behind act harmed disadvantaged students because the act did not provide equal education to all students.

In connection to the class, the Brown vs. Board of Education case argued that the “Separate but Equal” doctrine did not belong in education because school facilities were not equal. Segregated schools were found to violate the fourteenth amendment because black children showed psychological damage. The court reversed their previous decision and worked to fix the damage. The No Child Left Behind act was passed to improve educational achievement for all children with a focus on improving disadvantaged groups’ achievement. It was found that the act did increase math scores of below-grade average minorities due to making schools accountable. There is an argument however that it placed tremendous pressure on low-income schools to reach state standards.

Additionally, the standards for schools in Chicago resulted in many schools to be closed, and negatively impacted disadvantaged groups. (Kunichoff). This proved that it was not equal to all children because they were forced to go to different schools, and the government did not provide enough resources to account for the change. This evidence also symbolizes that the law harmed children.

Another connection the act has to class is John Stuart Mill’s argument that it should not be a law if there is harm present. His claim provides evidence that the act needs to be reformed because it does not take into account the mental effect it can have on children. The act also harms the schools because they are accountable for their student’s success. If the school fails to reach the standards, teachers and administrators could feel that they failed their students.

In the end, the No Child Left Behind act benefitted and harmed disadvantaged groups. Also, it did harm to schools that could not reach state standards. There is a history of laws that hurt minorities and then the government tries to fix it. There need to be a changed to the education act to account for the problems present today. For all American children to succeed, the court needs to carefully evaluate their next law and the implications it may have. The findings show that the disadvantages may outweigh the benefits of the act. This proves that laws fail to account for disadvantaged groups properly and that future laws might have the same problems.

Works Cited

  1. “A Nation At Risk.” Archived, US Department of Education (ED),
  2. Dee, Thomas S., and Brian A. Jacob. “The Impact of No Child Left Behind on Students, Teachers …” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity,
  3. Egalite, Anna J., et al. “Will Decentralization Affect Educational Inequity? The Every Student Succeeds Act – Anna J. Egalite, Lance D. Fusarelli, Bonnie C. Fusarelli, 2017.” SAGE Journals, 12 Oct. 2017,
  4. Hayes, William. “No Child Left Behind: Past, Present, and Future.” Google Books, R&L Education, 14 Aug. 2008,
  5. Editors. “Plessy v. Ferguson.”, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009,
  6. Kohler, Kristopher. Week 6, Lecture 1-Legal Mobilization- Brown. Mount St. Mary’s University, 2019, Sept 25.
  7. Kohler, Kristopher. Week 2, Lecture 1-John Stuart Mill. Mount St. Mary’s University, 2019, August 26-28.
  8. Kunichoff, Yana. “One Year After Closings, How Are Chicago’s Public Schools Now?” In These Times, 5 June 2014,
  9. Lauen, Douglas Lee, and S. Michael Gaddis. “Shining a Light or Fumbling in the Dark? The Effects of NCLB’s Subgroup-Specific Accountability on Student Achievement – Douglas Lee Lauen, S. Michael Gaddis, 2012.” SAGE Journals,
  10. Lee, Andrew M I. “No Child Left Behind (NCLB): What You Need to Know.” What Was No Child Left Behind? | NCLB: 2002–2015, Understood, 18 Oct. 2019,
  11. Mill, John Stuart, and Leonard Kahn. On Liberty. Broadview Press, 2015.
  12. Scott, Daryl Michael. Contempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black Psyche, 1880-1996. The University of North Carolina Press, 2000. pp. 119-136.
  13. Tooley, M. (2015, December 24). No Child Left Behind is gone, but will it be back? The Atlantic. Retrieved from archive/2015/12/no-child-left-behind-is-gone-but-will-it-be-back/421329/
  14. “U.S. Reports: Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).” The Library of Congress, 

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