Mixed Grades for a Federal Education Law
No Child Left Behind Builds No Consensus Among the Public About Either Its Strong or Weak Points
As Congress prepares to debate reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, Americans express mixed views about the nation’s signature education law. Among those who have heard about the law, 34% say it has made schools better; 26% say it has made schools worse; and 32% say it has had no impact.
Parents of public school children have relatively positive views of No Child Left Behind, which uses annual testing to measure school progress and requires schools to raise reading and math test scores. More than four-in-ten public school parents (42%) who have heard a lot or a little about the law say it has made schools in the country better (compared with 34% of the public). However, just 30% of public school parents say that No Child Left Behind has made their children’s schools better.
Among those in the public who have at least some familiarity with the No Child Left Behind legislation, 45% overall, and about the same percentage among parents with children in public schools (43%), say the law overemphasizes standardized testing. About three-in-ten in both groups say the emphasis on testing is appropriate, while smaller numbers believe there has been too little emphasis on standarized tests.
The nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted in April, finds that Americans also are divided in their views of whether the law gives the federal government too much influence over education policy. Nearly four-in-ten (37%) of those who have heard about the law say the federal government has too much influence over education policy, 31% say too little, and 22% believe that the law gives the federal government the right amount of influence.
What’s Right – and Wrong – With ‘No Child’
People who say No Child Left Behind has made schools better often cite the premise of the law — that no child will be left behind, or that struggling students will be brought up to the level of their peers — as the reasons they support it. Overall, 20% of those who say the law has changed schools for the better cite the law’s stated objective or say that under the law students get more individual attention.
Other supporters point to improvements in school performance, including test scores, as the reason they think the act has helped schools (12%). An additional 11% say the law makes schools more accountable. And 10% say it has improved teachers’ performance by giving them guidelines for performance or by establishing new requirements for teachers.
There is greater agreement about the negative effects of No Child Left Behind. Three-in-ten of those who believe the law has made things worse cite testing — specifically the excessive focus on testing, or the fact that teachers must “teach the test.” Nearly one-in-five (18%) of those who say the law has made things worse say that standards are being lowered. Another 10% say that the law does not work for all students, including special education students, and 9% say the law provides insufficient funding or, alternatively, costs too much.
Partisan Views of Education Policy
In general, Republicans express more favorable views of the No Child Left Behind Act than do Democrats or independents. About half of Republicans (48%) say that the law has made public schools better. This compares with about a third of independents (32%) and slightly fewer Democrats (28%). Twice as many Democrats as Republicans say No Child Left Behind has made schools worse.
Democrats and independents are more likely than Republicans to say that the education law overemphasizes testing. Nearly half of both Democrats (49%) and independents (47%) say that the law puts too much emphasis on standardized testing. By comparison, 38% of Republicans express this view.
Such partisan differences virtually disappear when it comes to opinions about the federal government’s role in education policy under the law. Four-in-ten independents, and slightly fewer Democrats (36%) and Republicans (35%), say there is too much federal influence over the schools under No Child Left Behind.
Blacks Favor Greater Federal Role
Overall, blacks assess the impact of No Child Left Behind in about the same way as whites. Nearly four-in-ten African Americans (37%) say it has made schools better; 22% say it has made schools worse; and 32% say it has had no impact. Among whites, 33% say better, 27% worse, and 32% no impact.
But there are substantial racial differences in views about the education law’s emphasis on standardized testing, and whether it gives the federal government too much influence over schools. Nearly a third of blacks (31%) say the law places too little emphasis on testing; among whites, just 16% express this view. In addition, a plurality of blacks (45%) say the federal government has too little influence over public schools under No Child Left Behind. The plurality view among whites (40%) is that the education law gives the federal government too much influence over the schools.
College Grads Skeptical of Testing
Americans who have different levels of education also have notably different views about No Child Left Behind. Many more college graduates than those with less education say the law places too much emphasis on standardized testing: 64% of college graduates express this view, compared with 44% of those who have some college, and 32% of those with a high school education or less. In addition, nearly half of college grads (48%) say there is too much federal influence over schools under No Child Left Behind, compared with 37% of those with some college, and 30% of those with a high school degree or less.