Estimating the Effects of No Child Left Behind on Teachers’ Work Environments and Job Attitudes

Mainstream media and advocacy groups often portray teachers as an embattled, even embittered, ensemble. Tougher policies are sometimes accused of contributing to their stress. But has accountability actually led to deteriorating work conditions and lower morale among teachers? This new study shatters that popular conception. A team of researchers discovered that teachers have been reporting increasingly positive attitudes about their job since the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001. The study examined the responses of nearly 140,000 public school teachers from four rounds of the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS): two waves occurred prior to NCLB, and two occurred after the law took effect (most recently in 2008). Happily, the researchers found that, post-NCLB, teachers are more likely to perceive support from their colleagues, administrators, and parents than prior to the law. The study also found that teachers report a greater sense of “classroom control” (e.g., autonomy over curricula, textbooks, discipline, etc.), greater job satisfaction, and a stronger commitment to the profession. In addition, the researchers attempt to tease out the causal effects of NCLB on teachers’ attitudes. (One cannot necessarily attribute the positive trends to NCLB per se.) To do this, they compared teachers’ responses in states with accountability regimes prior to NCLB to teachers in states that implemented systems as a result of NCLB. The researchers discovered that the onset of accountability positively impacted teachers’ feelings of classroom control and administrator support. The researchers, however, did not discern a similar effect on job satisfaction or commitment, though there were no significant negative effects either. The most recent survey from Met Life portrays a less-satisfied teaching profession, but this study refutes the notion that increased accountability measures—at least those contained in NCLB—suck the joy out of teaching. Debbie Downers beware!

SOURCE: Jason Grissom, Sean Nicholson-Crotty, and James Harrington, “Estimating the Effects of No Child Left Behind on Teachers’ Work Environments and Job Attitudes,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (2014): 1–20.

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