Congressional Newsletter
A series of periodic updates to Congress on RAND's work in education

NCLB Ten Years Out: A Continuing Policy Debate

students with a teacher

More than four years have passed since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001--more popularly known as The No Child Left Behind Act (or NCLB)--expired. Despite near universal consensus that the law needs amending, Congress is still struggling to develop that consensus, allowing the original law to continue unchanged until reauthorization is passed. This past year has seen a renewed push for reauthorization, with the Senate HELP Committee introducing a bipartisan reauthorization bill and the House Education & Workforce Committee holding several hearings.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the signing of NCLB. As Congress considers the future direction of federal education policy, the RAND Corporation continues to further the policy debate in this area through its extensive research on the Act's effects.


Expanded Measures of School Performance--Examines expanded measures of school quality that broaden the measures used to rate schools beyond solely math and reading achievement.
Research Brief | Technical Report

Reauthorizing No Child Left Behind: Facts and Recommendations--Recommends more uniform state academic standards and teacher requirements and broader measures of student learning.
Research Brief | Full Document

Pain and Gain: Implementing No Child Left Behind in Three States, 2004-2006--Presents information regarding the implementation of NCLB in California, Georgia, and Pennsylvania over two school years.
Research Brief | Full Document

Federal and State Roles and Capacity for Improving Schools--Recommends that federal policymakers support more experimentation, evaluation, and dissemination of new knowledge, while avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach.
Research Brief | Technical Report

Increasing Participation in No Child Left Behind School Choice--Recommends policy actions and investments to increase the percentage of families who exercise the school choice option under NCLB.
Policy Brief

Improving Accountability in Public Education--Recommends five policy actions to improve the accountability system established under NCLB.
Policy Brief


No Child Left Behind: Ten Years Later--Discusses what has been learned in the ten years since NCLB was signed into law, including recommendations for addressing key limitations as Congress considers reauthorization.

What We Know About Measuring School Performance--Analyzes how recent education policy trends offer an opportunity to reconsider what factors school performance reporting systems should include.

No Child Left Behind Panel Discussion--Offers observations on the implementation and effectiveness of NCLB and highlights RAND's research on the subject.


Moving Forward: Lessons Learned from NCLB

Laura Hamilton

Laura Hamilton is a senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation and an adjunct associate professor in the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Sciences and Policy program. Her research focuses on educational assessment, accountability, instructional practices, and school reform. She has directed several large studies, including an investigation of the implementation of standards-based accountability in response to No Child Left Behind, an investigation of relationships between student achievement and teachers instructional practices in mathematics and science, and an evaluation of a leadership development program for principals in urban school districts. Hamilton received her Ph.D. from Stanford University. Read more about Laura Hamilton »

How has NCLB affected schools and students?

Our research indicates NCLB has had both desirable and undesirable effects on teachers and administrators' practices. For example, teachers and principals report focusing more on student learning and on traditionally underserved groups such as low-income students. Then again, they report reducing time on untested subjects and on untested content within the tested subjects. And the multiple-choice format most state tests use has tended to encourage a focus on low-level skills rather than on more sophisticated problem-solving and reasoning skills students will need for later success.

What are some key limitations of NCLB that should be addressed moving forward?

First, there is a great deal of variability in the meaning of "proficient" across states and in the content of the test and the standards set out. Thus, it is impossible to compare progress across states. And the use of the percent proficient metric has led some teachers and administrators to maximize gains by focusing on "bubble students" who are below but near the threshold--at the expense of those who are far above or below the threshold.

Any other limitations?

Yes, because NCLB does not measure individual students' growth, schools do not get credit for learning gains that occur among the lowest- and highest-scoring students, and teachers report feeling that their efforts are not recognized. Also, the heavy emphasis on math and reading tests has led some schools to shortchange other subjects and other important student outcomes and provides limited information to the public about how schools are performing.

How could new legislation address some of these problems?

One of the most important changes would be providing a better set of achievement tests that measure a broader range of content and skills than most existing tests do. The content and format of the test shapes instruction, so it's important not to measure achievement only in narrow ways. But previous experiments with "tests worth teaching to" have met with limited success, so any new system should consider adopting additional non-test measures to balance out the incentives created by tests. It is also important for accountability systems to measure achievement growth rather than just indicating whether students perform above or below a cut score.

What role might technology play in accountability systems in the future?

Technology can enable test developers to move away from heavy reliance on multiple-choice items through such advances as automated scoring of open-ended items and simulations that allow students to carry out experiments. It has also fostered the development of high-quality data systems that provide an opportunity to monitor student progress from pre-kindergarten through college. These advances could improve accountability systems, but they also have risks that need to be examined.

Under NCLB, schools have been the main units of accountability. How might that change?

New data systems may make it easier to link student and teacher records, so accountability may move down to the teacher level. There are some good reasons for doing this, including that teachers' effectiveness tends to differ dramatically within a single school, but there are also drawbacks. For example, teaching tends to involve collaboration, so it is almost impossible to attribute a student's achievement gains to a single teacher. Also, recent RAND studies have shown that teacher-level accountability in the form of pay for performance has not significantly affected student achievement. Much of our current research is intended to inform the development of better measures of teaching quality and more effective approaches to accountability.


Lindsey Kozberg
Vice President, Office of External Affairs

Winfield Boerckel
Director, Office of Congressional Relations

Matthew Dicker
Education Legislative Analyst

RAND Office of Congressional Relations
(703) 413-1100, ext. 5395


More Congressional Resources on Education

Education and the Arts Research Area

RAND Education

RAND Congressional Website

RAND Website


To unsubscribe, please write to or call (703) 413-1100, ext. 5395.

Members of Congress and staff may receive a free copy by writing to, or calling (703) 413-1100, ext. 5395.

RAND can also provide briefings, research assistance, testimony, and other services to Congressional offices.

Sign Up Sign up for other RAND Congressional Newsletters.

RAND Education conducts research on a wide range of topics in education. Our mission is to bring accurate data and careful, objective analysis to the national debate on education policy. To access all of our research, please visit our website at

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND focuses on the issues that matter most such as health, education, national security, international affairs, law and business, the environment, and more. As a nonpartisan organization, RAND operates independent of political and commercial pressures. We serve the public interest by helping lawmakers reach informed decisions on the nation's pressing challenges. Learn More »

Mission &


Reports &




News Media

Facebook Twitter YouTube RSS

Copyright © 2012 RAND Corporation. 1776 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401-3208. RAND® is a registered trademark.

We respect your privacy. If you do not wish to receive this periodic newsletter, please email or call (703) 413-1100, ext. 5395.