No Remedy Left Behind
Lessons from a Half-Decade of NCLB

As the reauthorization of the nation’s seminal education law—the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)—rapidly approaches, a team of respected education scholars and analysts assess how NCLB’s interventions for poorly-performing schools are actually working.

Editors Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute and Chester E. Finn Jr. of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation pull no punches. In No Remedy Left Behind, seventeen education experts rigorously assess—across the nation’s states and school districts—the law’s public school choice requirement (which offers students enrolled in schools in need of improvement the opportunity to attend another school), its complex supplemental educational services provision (that is, free tutoring services offered to low-income students who attend failing schools), and its controversial “restructuring” mandate (which forces low-performing schools to plan and implement significant reforms).

Throughout the volume, contributors inform us whether big-city school districts are complying with the law, whether low-performing schools are informing parents of their options, and whether reported problems are due to flawed federal implementation or a fundamentally flawed statute.

Among the authors’ findings:

  • NCLB’s remedies (i.e., school choice and free tutoring services) for schools that fail to achieve “adequate yearly progress” on state tests are either not being used much or are being deployed in their mildest forms.
  • Little NCLB-inspired school choice is actually occurring.
  • Participation rates in free tutoring, though higher than before, remain laughably low in most places.
  • Nationwide, evaluation and quality control of the remedy provisions have received scant attention.
  • Outreach to parents has been half-hearted.
  • The free tutoring machinery has been difficult—a consequence, according to Hess and Finn, not just of the lackluster implementation of this program, but also of the mixed theories and compromises upon which this provision is based.

The editors and authors of No Remedy Left Behind recommend that:

  • Federal policymakers should be realistic about the NCLB goal of achieving “universal proficiency” by 2014.
  • Each school’s performance should be measured against a set of national standards.
  • Flexible interventions that span several years should be offered.
  • Remedies that are actually credible, enforceable, and fair should be adopted.
  • Parents should receive more information, in a timely way, about their schools’ status and their tutoring options.
  • The supplemental educational services provisions should be overhauled to promote more choice.
  • Incentives for success, and real penalties for failure, should be implemented.

As American public education continues to languish, policymakers continue to disagree and do nothing. Officials may not like what this book has to tell them, but the status quo is no longer acceptable. Both Hess and Finn encourage legislators to act and embrace some of the muscular, hardy recommendations offered in No Remedy Left Behind.

Frederick Hess is director of education policy studies at AEI.

Chester Finn is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

Praise for No Remedy Left Behind

"No Remedy Left Behind is a sobering and important look at the nation's basic federal education law governing K­-12 schools. No hysterics, no ranting, just a careful and objective examination of how the No Child Left Behind law is working--and not working."

--Diane Ravitch, research professor of education, New York University, and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Hoover Institution

"Rick Hess and Chester Finn succeed at the improbable--creating a lively analysis of No Child Left Behind. My favorite line: school transfers and tutoring are about as punitive as 'wet noodles dragged across the cheek.' This is a book for all those so caught up in debating the politics and rewriting of the law that they miss the bigger story of the law's limp remedies for failure and the impunity with which many schools are running out the NCLB accountability clock."

--Richard Whitmire, USA Today editorial writer, and president, Education Writers Association

"No Remedy Left Behind pulls no punches. Rick Hess and Chester Finn, with the help of a handful of researchers, live up to their reputations as gadflies willing to challenge conventional Washington thinking about NCLB with data, insight, and timely advice for the Congress and the administration."

--Marshall S. Smith, education program director, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and former undersecretary, U.S. Department of Education (1993­-1996)

"If you like your analysis hard-hitting and direct, there is much for you to enjoy and absorb in No Remedy Left Behind. Honest, ambitious, and useful, No Remedy slices and dices through the myriad of political, practical, and policy issues of the start-up years of NCLB. Rick Hess and Chester Finn are refreshingly opinionated while providing balanced, pointed analysis of how the NCLB remedies are working and how they are not."

--David Driscoll, Massachusetts Commissioner of Education

Click here to view No Remedy Left Behind as an Adobe Acrobat PDF

Click here to view the press release for No Remedy Left Behind

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About the Author


Frederick M.
  • An educator, political scientist and author, Frederick M. Hess studies K-12 and higher education issues. His books include "Cage-Busting Leadership," "Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age," "The Same Thing Over and Over," "Education Unbound," "Common Sense School Reform," "Revolution at the Margins," and "Spinning Wheels." He is also the author of the popular Education Week blog, "Rick Hess Straight Up." Hess's work has appeared in scholarly and popular outlets such as Teachers College Record, Harvard Education Review, Social Science Quarterly, Urban Affairs Review, American Politics Quarterly, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Phi Delta Kappan, Educational Leadership, U.S. News & World Report, National Affairs, the Washington Post, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic and National Review. He has edited widely cited volumes on the Common Core, the role of for-profits in education, education philanthropy, school costs and productivity, the impact of education research, and No Child Left Behind.  Hess serves as executive editor of Education Next, as lead faculty member for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program, and on the review boards for the Broad Prize in Urban Education and the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. He also serves on the boards of directors of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and 4.0 SCHOOLS. A former high school social studies teacher, he teaches or has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University and Harvard University. He holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Government, as well as an M.Ed. in Teaching and Curriculum, from Harvard University.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

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Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

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