Study: Little Evidence That No Child Left Behind Has Hurt Teacher Job Satisfaction
Study: Little Evidence That No Child Left Behind Has Hurt Teacher Job Satisfaction
For Immediate Release
June 10, 2014

Tony Pals,
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Bridget Jameson,
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Study: Little Evidence That No Child Left Behind Has Hurt Teacher Job Satisfaction

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 10, 2014 ─ The conventional wisdom that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has eroded teacher job satisfaction and commitment is off the mark, according to new research published online today in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association. 

“Estimating the Effects of No Child Left Behind on Teachers and Their Work Environment,” by Jason A. Grissom of Vanderbilt University, Sean Nicholson-Crotty of Indiana University, and James R. Harrington of the University of Texas at Dallas, finds that while there is some evidence that NCLB’s accountability pressures reduced feelings of cooperation among teachers, its implementation may also have improved their sense of classroom autonomy and administrator support. Overall, NCLB was found not to have much of an impact on job satisfaction and commitment to the profession – let alone the large negative effect sometimes attributed to the law. 

To examine the impact of NCLB on teachers’ job demands, perceived autonomy, and workplace support, as well as on satisfaction and commitment, the researchers 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. Two of the waves collected data during the 1993-94 and 1999-2000 academic years – prior to NCLB’s implementation in 2002-03 – while the other two did so during the 2003-04 and 2007-08 academic years. 

“Public perception is that NCLB has increased teacher stress due to accountability pressures, negatively impacting job satisfaction,” said Grissom. “This narrative, which has been driven mostly by anecdotes and studies with limited or non-representative findings, turns out not to be supported by our results.” 

“Surprisingly, we found positive trends in many work environment measures, and in job satisfaction and commitment during the time coinciding with NCLB’s implementation, with only modest evidence that NCLB itself had an impact,” said Grissom. 

Among other findings: 

  • In 2008, 77 percent of teachers intended to remain in the profession until retirement or as long as possible, compared to approximately 65 percent in 1994. 
  • Compared to pre-NCLB, teachers after NCLB’s implementation are working longer hours. However, there’s little evidence to suggest NCLB is the cause. 
  • There is no evidence of different effects of NCLB on teachers at high-poverty and low-poverty schools, or on teachers in states with and without prior accountability systems. 

“Simply put, our results do not support media accounts or policy rhetoric that portray NCLB as undermining teacher morale and intent to stay in the profession,” said Grissom. 

The researchers note that NCLB’s accountability standards may have given districts and schools more incentive to provide teachers greater classroom autonomy and administrator support. However, since 2012, the federal government has granted NCLB waivers to dozens of states, potentially weakening that incentive. 

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

About the Authors

Jason A. Grissom is an assistant professor of public policy and education at the Peabody College of Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University. 

Sean Nicholson-Crotty is an associate professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University. 

James R. Harrington is an assistant professor of public affairs at the School of Economic, Political, and Policy Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas. 

About AERA

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national professional organization devoted to the scientific study of education. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on Facebook and Twitter.


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