The Impact of No Child Left Behind on Students, Teachers, and Schools

October 2010
Brian Jacob, Thomas Dee

The controversial No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) brought test-based school accountability to scale across the United States. This study draws together results from multiple data sources to identify how the new accountability systems developed in response to NCLB have influenced student achievement, school-district finances, and measures of school and teacher practices. Our results indicate that NCLB brought about targeted gains in the mathematics achievement of younger students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, we find no evidence that NCLB improved student achievement in reading. School-district expenditure increased significantly in response to NCLB, and these increases were not matched by federal revenue. Our results suggest that NCLB led to increases in teacher compensation and the share of teachers with graduate degrees. We find evidence that NCLB shifted the allocation of instructional time toward math and reading, the subjects targeted by the new accountability systems.

We would like to thank Rob Garlick, Elias Walsh, Nathaniel Schwartz, and Erica Johnson for their research assistance. We would also like to thank Kerwin Charles, Robert Kaestner, Ioana Marinescu, and seminar participants at the Brookings Panel conference, a conference at the Harris School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago, and at the NCLB: Emerging Findings Research Conference at the CALDER Center of the Urban Institute for helpful comments. An earlier version of this work was presented by Brian Jacob as the David N. Kershaw Lecture at the annual meeting of the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management, November 2008. All errors are our own. The authors report no relevant conflicts of interest.