OLR Research Report

June 4, 2010




By: Judith Lohman, Assistant Director

You asked for a comparison of two major education laws, the Race to the Top grant program and No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.


The Race to the Top (RTTT) program and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act deal with many of the same issues and have many of the same goals, but their approaches are different. One provides incentives for schools to change, the other mandates it.

The RTTT, enacted as part of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), is a competitive grant program that seeks to give states monetary incentives to reform their education systems in certain ways. The NCLB law, enacted in 2001, mandated various changes in state and local education systems as a condition of receiving Title I funds. Title I is the largest federal education grant to states and local school districts. It pays for educational programs for disadvantaged children and is distributed according to a federal formula.

States and local school districts that receive RTTT grants will receive additional federal funding. The NCLB requires states to make reforms in order to continue receiving federal funds they are already getting. But the two programs address many of the same issues. The NCLB provides a foundation for RTTT but, because RTTT is voluntary, it can encourage more sophisticated ways of measuring student, teacher, and school performance. It appears that the RTTT competition will, in turn, change the NCLB because its requirements are likely to be incorporated into a new version of that law when it is reauthorized by Congress. Meanwhile, the NCLB and RTTT exist side by side, with both laws currently in effect.

This report focuses on the four main parts of the NCLB Act and the RTTT grant: (1) standards and assessments, (2) data and accountability, (3) effective teachers and principals, and (4) ways of turning around low-performing schools.


No Child Left Behind Act

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (P.L.107-110) established an accountability system for states, school districts, and schools receiving federal education funds. It requires states and local districts to (1) have academic standards, (2) make annual progress towards having every student achieve the standards and closing gaps between all students and certain subgroups of students, (3) test students to see if they are learning, and (4) collect data on how they are doing. The law also requires states to identify schools and school districts that are not making enough progress and follow a step-by-step process for either turning those schools around or closing them.

The law makes its academic standards and assessment requirements a condition of receiving a federal Title I grant. Title I grants go through states to local school districts to help educate disadvantaged children. Title I is the largest federal education grant to states and local school districts. According to the State Department of Education (SDE), Connecticut school districts received approximately $123.74 million in Title I grants in FY 09.

Race to the Top Grant

As part of ARRA, also known as the “federal stimulus” act, Congress provided $4.35 billion for competitive grants to states to encourage education innovation and reform in four areas: (1) enhancing standards and assessments, (2) improving collection and use of data, (3) increasing teacher effectiveness and achieving equity in teacher distribution, and (4) turning around low-achieving schools. The RTTT scoring rubric awards states that apply for a grant a maximum of 500 points based on how well they meet the grant's various criteria.  Points are awarded in six areas with many subareas. Winning states must use the grant money to implement the programs and plans detailed in their grant applications.

The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) is awarding Race to the Top grants in two phases. Phase 1 applications were due January 19, 2010 and awards were issued on March 29, 2010. Forty-one states applied for grants in the first round. There were 15 finalists and two winners, Delaware and Tennessee, which received grants of $100 million and $500 million, respectively. Connecticut finished 25th and was not a finalist. Phase 2 applications were due June 1, 2010, with awards expected in September 2010. Thirty-five states, including Connecticut, and the District of Columbia have applied for Phase 2 grants. There is no set number of state awards and no set grant amounts. The USDOE has issued nonbinding guidance for grant ranges by dividing states into five categories based on student population. The range for Connecticut is $60 million to $175 million. Grants must be expended over four years starting from the award date.



One of the key features of the NCLB law is the requirement that each state adopt challenging content and achievement standards in math, reading or language arts, and science to be used to carry out the law's assessment and school improvement requirements. States must apply the same standards to all schools and children in the state. Content standards must (1) specify what children are expected to know and be able to do, (2) have rigorous and coherent content, and (3) encourage teaching of advanced skills. Achievement standards must be aligned with state content standards and have three levels of achievement – basic, proficient, and advanced.


The NCLB allows each state to develop its own standards and assessments and to set its own definitions for the three achievement levels. It sets standards for tests but does not measure states against one another on either standards or student achievement. The Race to the Top grant, on the other hand, requires a state that receives a grant to promise to adopt and use common K-12 standards for what students know and are able to do. These standards must be developed in a consortium with several other states and be internationally benchmarked. States must also commit to increasing the quality of their assessments and, with other states, implement common assessments. States receive higher scores for being part of a consortium with a significant number of other states.



The NCLB requires states to have a single statewide accountability system to ensure that all school districts and all public schools make “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) toward having all students meet academic achievement standards while narrowing achievement gaps in the state, among districts, and among schools. The accountability system must (1) be based on the academic standards, state tests, and other academic indicators; (2) be the same for all public schools and school districts; and (3) include both sanctions and rewards for school districts and schools.

States must test each student in grades three through eight and grade 10 in specified subjects. Test scores must be reported by district, school, and by subgroups within a school. States must define AYP towards meeting the standard. The definition must:

1. apply the same achievement standards statewide;

2. be statistically valid and reliable;

3. result in continuous and substantial academic improvement for all students;

4. measure student progress primarily by test results; and

5. have separate, measurable annual objectives for substantial improvement of all students and students in each of the following subgroups: (a) economically disadvantaged students, (b) students from major racial and ethnic groups, (c) students with disabilities, and (d) students with limited English proficiency.

For secondary schools, the AYP definition must incorporate graduation rates. For elementary schools, it must incorporate at least one academic indicator specified by the state other than tests.

A state may also designate other indicators of progress that are valid, reliable, and consistent with nationally recognized technical and professional standards. States cannot use the optional indicators to reduce the number of schools, or to change the identity of the schools subject to the law's special requirements for failing schools.

Each state establishes its own AYP starting point based on the percentage of students that meet or exceed the proficient level on the state tests. States must ensure that, by the end of the 2013-2014 school year, all students in the state and in each of the four subgroups meet or exceed the proficient level on the state tests.

States must establish intermediate AYP goals for meeting the required achievement levels that (1) increase in equal increments over the state's timeline, (2) provide for the first increase within the first two years, and (3) provide for each subsequent increase to occur at least every three years. In order for a school or a school district to make AYP, both of the following must happen each year:

1. All students and the students in each subgroup must meet or exceed the state's measurable objectives.

2. At least 95% of both the school's total enrollment and the students in each subgroup must take the test (with allowable accommodations and alternative assessments for certain LEP and disabled students).


The NCLB measures progress by comparing the year-to-year performance of groups of students at the same grade level. For example, under the NCLB, schools compare the performance of the last year's third grade class with this year's to determine if the school made adequate progress in improving achievement of third graders. Though the law requires performance data to be disaggregated for particular groups, it does not require a school to use the individual students' progress to determine whether a school or district is improving student achievement.

The RTTT grant program builds on the data collected under NCLB, but requires that, to achieve a winning score, states use data in a more sophisticated way to follow individual students and determine the growth in each individual student's academic achievement as he or she moves through school. It also extends this so-called “longitudinal” data system to cover pre-kindergarten through up to four years of post-secondary education (P-16).

A state receives a total of 24 points on its RTTT application if its longitudinal data system meets all elements specified in the American COMPETES Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-69).  This law awards competitive grants to states to enhance their statewide P-16 education longitudinal data systems to include 12 elements:

1. a unique statewide student identifier that does not permit a student to be individually identified by system users;

2. student-level enrollment, demographic, and program participation information;

3. student-level information about the points at which students exit, transfer in and out, drop out, or complete P-16 education programs;

4. the capacity to communicate with higher education data systems;

5. a state data audit system that assesses data quality, validity, and reliability;

6. yearly test records of individual students' performance on NCLB-required tests;

7. information on students not tested by grade and subject;

8. a teacher identifier system with the ability to match teachers to students;

9. student-level transcript information, including information on courses completed and grades earned;

10. student-level college readiness test scores;

11. information on the extent to which students transition successfully from secondary school to postsecondary education, including whether students enroll in remedial coursework; and

12. all other information necessary to address alignment and adequate preparation for success in postsecondary education.



The NCLB requires teachers working in Title I-supported programs to be “highly qualified.” To meet this standard, the law requires teachers to (1) have full state certification or pass the state teacher licensing exam or, if a charter school teacher, meet the state requirements for such teachers and (2) not be teaching under temporary, emergency, or provisional credentials or any other kind of certification waiver. For elementary level teachers, to be highly qualified means the teacher (1) holds at least a bachelor's degree and (2) has passed a rigorous state subject knowledge and teaching skills exam in reading, writing, math, and other areas of the state's basic elementary curriculum. For a middle or secondary school teacher, it means (1) having at least a bachelor's degree and (2) either passing a rigorous state exam in each of the subjects taught or successfully completing an academic major, having a graduate degree, or completing coursework equal to an undergraduate major in the subject taught.

For a teacher who is not new to the profession, highly qualified means having at least a bachelor's degree and either meeting the appropriate testing requirements described above or demonstrating competence in all subjects taught based on a uniform state evaluation standard. The uniform state evaluation standard must:

1. include both grade-appropriate subject matter and teaching skills;

2. be aligned with state academic standards and developed in consultation with core content specialists, teachers, principals, and school administrators;

3. provide objective, coherent information about the teacher's subject knowledge;

4. be applied uniformly to all teachers in the same grade and subject statewide;

5. take into consideration, but not be primarily based on, the time the teacher has been teaching the subject; and

6. be available to the public on request.

The evaluation may involve many objective measures of teacher competency.


The RTTT grant moves beyond the NCLB to focus on teacher effectiveness as well as qualifications. It does this by giving higher scores to states that link teacher evaluations and student performance. In addition, the RTTT grant scoring addresses principals as well as teachers. It emphasizes teacher and principal evaluations and requires winning states to ensure that effective and highly effective teachers and principals are equitably distributed to high-poverty and high-minority schools and districts. Finally, it gives states points for providing high-quality teacher and administrator preparation programs, including programs that provide alternative routes to teacher and administrator certification. The latter programs seek to attract qualified candidates who did not graduate from traditional college teacher preparation programs.

As a condition of applying for the RTTT grant, the USDOE requires that, at the time the state submits its grant application, it have no legal, statutory, or regulatory barriers at the state level to linking data on student achievement or growth in student achievement to individual teachers and principals for the purposes of evaluation.


States also receive points towards a grant award under a criterion called "improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance."  This criterion is worth a total of 58 points out of the maximum 500. These points are awarded based on the extent to which a state, with its participating districts, has a high-quality plan and ambitious but credible targets for assuring that those districts:

1. establish clear approaches to measuring student growth, and measuring it for each student;

2. design and implement rigorous, transparent, and fair evaluation systems for teachers and principals that (a) judge effectiveness using multiple rating categories with data on student growth being a significant factor and (b) are designed and developed with involvement by teachers and principals;

3. conduct annual evaluations that include timely and constructive feedback and, as part of the evaluations, provide teachers and principals with data on student growth for their students, classes, and schools; and

4. use these evaluations to, at a minimum, inform decisions regarding:

developing teachers and principals, including by providing relevant coaching, support for new teachers and principals, or professional development;

compensating, promoting, and retaining teachers and principals, including by providing opportunities for those who are highly effective to receive additional compensation and responsibility;

whether to grant tenure or full certification; and

removing ineffective and untenured teachers and principals who have had ample time to improve.

For purposes of RTTT, “student growth” is the change in a particular student's achievement (on tests and other learning measures) between two or more points in time. States can also include other measures that are rigorous and comparable across classrooms.  A “highly effective teacher” is one whose students achieve high rates of student growth (such as 1.5 grade levels in an academic year) and meet other supplemental measures.  A “highly effective” principal is one whose students, both overall and for each subgroup, achieve high rates of student growth (such as 1.5 grade levels in an academic year) and meet other supplemental measures. 



The NCLB requires states to identify any elementary or secondary school served by Title I that fails to make AYP for two consecutive years. Identification as low-achieving school triggers a series of actions summarized in Table 1 below. For purposes of the table, Year 2 is the second year the school fails to make AYP. The process continues into subsequent consecutive years as long as the school fails to make AYP.

Table 1: Improvement Timetable for Failing Schools

End of Year 2

State must identify any school that has failed to make AYP for two consecutive years.

Three months after identification, the school must develop or revise a two-year school improvement plan that:

n incorporates strategies based on scientifically based research to strengthen core academic subjects,

n adopts polices with the greatest likelihood of helping children in each subgroup reach the goals by 2014,

n spends at least 10% of its Title I funds annually on professional development for its teachers, and

n establishes specific annual measurable objectives for continuous and substantial progress by all subgroups.

The school must implement the improvement plan as soon as possible but at least by the beginning of the school year following identification (year 3).

The school must give parents notice explaining the identification and what it means.

Year 3 (Improvement)

Implement school improvement plan.

As of the first day of school, give the school's students a choice to enroll in another public school in the district that has not been identified as low-achieving or in a charter school, with the district paying for transportation to the new school.

Provide the school with technical assistance including help in analyzing test data, identifying and implementing professional development strategies, and analyzing its budget.

Notify parents.

Year 4 (Improvement)

Continue choice and technical assistance.

Notify parents.

Arrange for supplemental educational services (tutoring and other academic enrichment activities in addition to regular instruction) for the school's low-income students from a provider with a demonstrated record of effectiveness selected by the parent and approved by the state education agency.

Provide money from district's Title I grant available to pay for the supplemental services.

Year 5 (Corrective Action)

Continue choice and technical assistance.

Notify parents.

Continue supplemental services.

Institute corrective actions, including at least one of the following:

n replacing staff relevant to school failure;

n implementing a new curriculum, with appropriate professional development;

n significantly decreasing management authority at the school level;

n appointing an outside expert to advise the school;

n extending the school day or year; or

n restructuring the school's internal organization.

Year 6 (Restructuring)

Continue choice.

Continue supplemental services.

Institute one of the following types of alternative governance (i.e., intervention models):

n reopen the school as a charter or other type of innovative school,

n replace most or all school staff (which may include the principal),

n bring in private management,

n let the state run the school, or

n institute any other major restructuring that makes fundamental reforms.

The NCLB also requires a state to identify a school district for improvement if it fails to make AYP for two consecutive years. The improvement timetable and actions for failing districts are the same as those that apply to failing schools. The state must choose from among the following required corrective actions if a district is still failing in Year 4:

1. deferring programmatic funds or reducing administrative funds,

2. instituting new curricula,

3. replacing district personnel,

4. removing particular schools from the district's jurisdiction,

5. appointing a state receiver or trustee or establishing other alternative governance,

6. abolishing or restructuring the district, or

7. allowing the district's students to transfer to schools in other districts.


Like the NCLB, the RTTT grant requires winning states to intervene to turn around low- achieving schools and districts but it specifically targets the lowest and most persistent failures instead of every school or district that fails to make AYP. The program gives states points based on the extent to which the state has:

1. the legal, statutory, or regulatory authority to intervene in its persistently lowest achieving schools and districts and

2. a high-quality plan to identify such schools and districts and turn them around by implementing one of the four school intervention models the NCLB specifies.

The program defines a persistently low-achieving school or district as a Title I school (or high school eligible for but not receiving such funds) in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring and that is:

1. among the lowest-achieving 5% or the lowest five of all such schools, whichever is greater, or

2. a high school with a graduation rate of under 60% over a number of years.

The four restructuring models the RTTT program requires states to use in such situations are detailed in the NCLB law. One option is to permanently close the school. The other three are:

1. The “turnaround” model, which includes, among other actions, replacing the principal and at least 50% of the school's staff, adopting a new governance structure, and implementing a new or revised instructional program with increased learning time. It includes continuous use of data to inform and differentiate instruction.

2. The “restart” model, in which a school district converts a school or closes a school and reopens it under the management of a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an educational management organization that has been selected through a rigorous review process. In this model, it is anticipated that much of the school staff will not return under the new management, although that is not explicitly stated.

3. The “transformation” model, which includes, among other things, replacing the principal, implementing a new evaluation system that uses student growth as a significant factor, and identifying and rewarding staff who are increasing student outcomes and supporting and then removing staff who are not. It includes continuous use of data to inform and differentiate instruction.

RTTT grant requirements specify that a district with more than nine persistently lowest-achieving schools may not use the transformation model for more than 50% of its schools.

Separately from the RTTT grant competition, federal school improvement grants have been awarded to states to help turn around these schools. Connecticut recently received $26 million over three years for this purpose.


Additional information is available in the following OLR reports:

No Child Left Behind Act

New Federal Testing Requirements (2002-R-0081)

Timeline of Requirements in the New Federal Education Act (2002-R-0168)

Race to the Top Grants

Race to the Top Grants and Charter Schools (2010-R-0002)

Online Courses in CT Secondary and Adult Education (2010-R-0070)