An Overview of the U.S. Education System Reforms

The quality of the education in the United States has been long a subject of discussion. Reform movements in the U.S. have existed for as long as the public education system itself. From No Child Left Behind to Race to the Top and Common Core programs, these reforms required significant financial investments, knowledge, training, and time. While some reforms have had positive impacts on education, other are not considered to be as successful as they might have been.

 No Child Left Behind- NCLB

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became active in 2001 under President Bush’s administration. It is considered the most important education reform effort that aimed to transform the school system in the United States. NCLB set high-standard measurable goals in an attempt to address substandard student academic achievements. This education act encourages schools to maintain high student performance levels by giving more federal funding to schools that score better on standardized evaluation tests. NCLB reform was able to improve school performance. For example, in Florida’s Charlotte County Public School successful graduation performance rose from 68% to 85%. Even though this act focuses on vulnerable student groups, putting great importance on annual multi-choice reading and math standardized testing scores can tempt education officials to manipulate the system and falsify the student results.

Race to the Top

The Race to the Top grant program came in 2009 under President Obama’s administration. Unlike NCLB which provided financial incentives to schools, Race to the Top demands that all schools meet strict standards and improve student performance as part of their duties. It is speculated that Race to the Top has been created with an assumption that using standardized testing is the best way to improve public schools. There are also concerns this act has increased the influence that the Federal Government has in schools. All measures and suggestions proposed by Race to the Top education reform gave encouraging results because schools that fail to deliver can face sanctions or closure. However, there are concerns that simply preparing students for standardized tests can undermine the importance of having a broader education. Race to the Top reform and its focus on preparing students for standardized tests also significantly reduced or eliminated the number of art classes throughout the country.

 Common Core State Standards- CCSS

After NCLB reforms, the State decided to revise education curriculum by introducing a new set of recommendations for K-12 teachers called Common Core State Standards (CCSS). CCSS focuses on ensuring the increase of student standardized test scores by holding teachers accountable for their work. CCSS encourages teachers to focus on providing quality lessons and inspiring education environments. However, CCSS focuses on standardized tests alone so there are concerns that students will have to mainly focus on mastering literacy and mathematics skills failing to acquire wider education.

Needed Changes or Corrections for the Future

All of the above-stated reforms aimed to improve the education system.\There are, however, countries that manage to do a better job with fewer means. Some of the best examples come from Finland and Canada, which are countries that also use standardized testing as a measure of academic achievement. In Finland, the government only steers the course of change and lets the teachers develop and adapt curricula to meet the needs of students in local communities. The U.S. education system could use this model to encourage that the same learning objectives are met with respect to the needs of local communities. The existing reforms also need to change the attitude towards teachers whose job needs to be respected. As in Finland, new reforms should mandate that the school principals are recruited from teaching staff. This approach would give principles credibility to advocate for the school needs thus providing their students with equal opportunities for academic success. School reforms need to ensure diversity among students and encourage each one of them to achieve his or her personal best. By raising awareness on the benefits of education throughout the studies, the state could initiate a change in the minds of its students who would, in turn, decide to study more and score better on their tests.


Aronson, B., Elliso, S., Fairchild-Keyes, S. (2012). Pushing up against the limit-horizon of educational change: A critical discourse analysis of reform movements since a Nation at Risk. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 12 (3), 338-369.

Cohen, G. H. (2012). Advancing student achievement in the united states public schools through labor-management collaboration: The FMCS's evolving role in education reform. St. John's Law Review, 86(2/3), 465-484.

Croft, S. J., Roberts, M., & Stenhouse, V. L. (2016). The Perfect Storm of Education Reform: High-Stakes Testing and Teacher Evaluation. Social Justice, 42(1), 70-92.

Pennycook, J. (2011). Education reforms and cautionary tales. Our Schools / Our Selves, 20(2), 125-139.

Rose, M. (2015). School Reform Fails the Test. American Scholar, 84 (1), 18-30.

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