Free No Child Left Behind Research Paper

The Impact of No Child Left Behind on Student Achievement

Thomas Dee, Brian Jacob

NBER Working Paper No. 15531
Issued in November 2009
NBER Program(s):Children, Economics of Education, Labor Studies, Public Economics

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act compelled states to design school-accountability systems based on annual student assessments. The effect of this Federal legislation on the distribution of student achievement is a highly controversial but centrally important question. This study presents evidence on whether NCLB has influenced student achievement based on an analysis of state-level panel data on student test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The impact of NCLB is identified using a comparative interrupted time series analysis that relies on comparisons of the test-score changes across states that already had school-accountability policies in place prior to NCLB and those that did not. Our results indicate that NCLB generated statistically significant increases in the average math performance of 4th graders (effect size = 0.22 by 2007) as well as improvements at the lower and top percentiles. There is also evidence of improvements in 8th grade math achievement, particularly among traditionally low-achieving groups and at the lower percentiles. However, we find no evidence that NCLB increased reading achievement in either 4th or 8th grade.


Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15531

Published: Thomas S. Dee & Brian Jacob, 2011. "The impact of no Child Left Behind on student achievement," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 30(3), pages 418-446, Summer. citation courtesy of

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George W. Bush in 2002, euphemistically called No Child Left Behind, establishes provisions intended to service public education and increase the overall quality of schools in the United States. According to the US Department of Education website, NCLB establishes four primary facets of public school improvement: Stronger accountability for results, more freedom for states and communities, encouragement of proven education methods, and more choices for parents. The primary problem addressed by these individual innovations, it is said, is the issue of an achievement gap between individual students. Unfortunately, many of the critics of NCLB assert that this goal is unrealistic and the proposed solution does more to weaken education at large and less to bring lower-performing students up to the ranks of their peers. Many also assert that by punishing schools that do not perform as expected on standardized testing by removing federal funding will only make the problem worse and forces schools to teach their students to pass the tests for the much needed funds rather than actually provide a specific education. It is a major problem, these critics say, that the solutions are proposed in the form of broad-sweeping, generalized reform rather than focusing on individual students. Teachers forced to teach under the new system also provide the same concerns, saying that they simply do not have the resources to provide some of the services demanded by the act and instead have to lessen their individual attention to start incorporating the standardized lessons. As a response, many of the critics argue that the NCLB bill should never have been passed to affect public education and that it is a blight on an already faltering system. Others, however, take a less dramatic stance, instead offering solutions to help the system provide more individual attention rather than generalizations.

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