What is No Child Left Behind (NCLB)?

A student in a classroom writes in a notebook.

At a glance

  • No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was the main law for K–12 general education in the United States from 2002–2015.

  • The law held schools accountable for how kids learned and achieved.

  • The law was controversial in part because it penalized schools that didn’t show improvement.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was in effect from 2002–2015. It updated the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The law applied to all K–12 public schools in the United States.

Before NCLB, many schools didn’t focus on the progress of disadvantaged students. For example, kids who got services were often shut out of general education. They were also left out of state tests.

The goal of NCLB was to provide more education opportunities for students. It focused on four key groups:

  • Students in poverty

  • Students of color

  • Students receiving special education services

  • Those who speak and understand limited or no English

Unlike previous versions of ESEA, NCLB held schools accountable for how kids learn and achieve. It did this through annual testing, reporting, improvement targets, and penalties for schools. These changes made NCLB controversial, but they also forced schools to focus on disadvantaged kids.

NCLB is no longer the law. In 2015, NCLB was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which tried to address some of the criticisms of the law.

Dive deeper


Read next