‘No Child Left Behind’ Getting a Bad Rap

No Child Left Behind illustration


The commonly held notion that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has eroded teacher job satisfaction and undermined job retention is off the mark, according to new Vanderbilt research. A survey of 140,000 public school teachers yielded surprising results that may change public perception about this controversial reform, says lead investigator Jason Grissom.

“The results of the study just don’t support the idea that No Child Left Behind has made teachers less satisfied with their jobs or less committed to staying in the teaching profession,” says Grissom, assistant professor of public policy and education at Peabody College of education and human development. “This may be because, as our findings suggest, NCLB has had some negative impacts on teachers’ work lives, but also some positive ones—which we don’t always think about—to balance them out.”

Overall, the data showed that the implementation of NCLB did not undermine job satisfaction and commitment to the profession. In fact, the percentage of teachers who said they intended to remain in the profession until retirement actually increased by 12 percent.

The results of the study were published online June 10 in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Grissom analyzed a nationally representative sample of 140,000 regular, full-time public school teachers from four waves of the National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey. He measured the impact of NCLB on teachers’ job demands, perceived autonomy, workplace support and job satisfaction. Two of the waves collected data during the 1993–94 and 1999–2000 academic years—before NCLB’s implementation in 2002–03—while the other two did so during the 2003–04 and 2007–08 academic years.

Grissom, who partnered with researchers at Indiana University and University of Texas at Dallas to conduct the study, found that while some evidence suggests that NCLB’s accountability pressures reduced feelings of cooperation among teachers, its implementation also may have improved their sense of classroom autonomy and administrator support.

“I don’t think you can discount the fact that teachers are resilient,” Grissom explains. “They have come to expect policy change. Most of them got into teaching because they enjoy working with young people and want to make a difference in their lives. While for some teachers the mandates of NCLB were a distraction, the law didn’t fundamentally change that desire and ability to make a difference.”

As NCLB implementation continues to undergo changes and Congress works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, “our research makes clear that administrators and policymakers can’t rely solely on conventional wisdom to evaluate a policy’s effect on teachers,” Grissom says.

Read the full abstract of this study.