In the ten years since its implementation, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) has been blamed for causing a decade-long decline in teacher job satisfaction and eroding teacher autonomy by taking control of curricula out of their hands. But a new study published online in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, “Estimating the Effects of No Child Left Behind on Teachers and Their Work Environment,” suggests that NCLB has not actually affected teacher happiness in these ways—on the contrary, some measures of job satisfaction, including classroom control and teachers’ perceptions of administrator support, have increased on average since the implementation of the legislation.
As the lead author, Vanderbilt professor Jason A. Grissom, explains in a video, “We were expecting, based on the conventional wisdom, to see these big negative impacts of No Child Left Behind on teacher job satisfaction or intent to remain in the profession, and we just didn’t see that.” He goes on:
The conventional wisdom about teacher job attitudes is that teachers’ perceptions of their jobs have actually been getting worse over this time period, and the survey data say that just isn’t true. Over the time spanning the implementation of No Child Left Behind, the teachers’ job satisfaction was actually going up; teachers’ intent to remain in the profession was going up.
This is not to say that the public’s generally negative perception of the policy is completely misguided. Other studies have attempted to quantify and describe teacher job satisfaction following the implementation of NCLB, and these projects initially suggested that the legislation had negative effects. But the authors of this new report argue that previous studies and surveys were flawed. Some used insufficient sample sizes; others attempted to draw conclusions from non-representative groups. Certain surveys that asked teachers "whether their morale or satisfaction has declined since NCLB" were susceptible to recall bias—retrospective surveys that rely on memory and recreated experiences are less reliable than real-time assessments. Given these shortcomings in the scholarly work done in the past decade, researchers hadn’t previously been able to make definitive conclusions about NCLB’s impact.