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Teachers Give Law Failing Grade

No Child Left Behind Receives Failing Grade from Teachers in UCR Study

As act approaches reauthorization in 2007, educators speak out on how law stifles creativity in classroom and obstructs professionalism

(April 2, 2007)

Steven Brint

Steven Brint

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — A recent University of California, Riverside study conducted by Professor of Sociology Steven G. Brint and Susan Teele, director, UCR Extension, shows that nearly 80 percent of teachers polled see the No Child Left Behind Act in an unfavorable light. Nearly 40 percent held a very unfavorable view of the bill, which passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress and was signed into law in 2002.

“Only one out of every five respondents in our sample had an overall favorable assessment of the act,” said Brint. “Teachers polled who held favorable views of the act worked in low-performing schools with high minority populations.”

The study, based on survey responses from 300 randomly selected teachers from five school districts in Southern California, included in-depth interviews conducted with 28 participants.

“Criticism of the act centers around the opinion that it de-professionalizes teaching and stifles creativity in the classroom,” said Brint. He said the study indicates that teachers believe the act sets unrealistic goals, fails to use the skills and experiences of teachers, and causes students to lose interest in learning. More than 70 percent of survey respondents reported that instruction time in their schools had been reduced in subjects such as science, music or art to add time for reading and mathematics — the two core subjects tested for No Child Left Behind.

Ironically, the law requires teachers to adhere to strict standards of professionalism, but teachers say that following a script mandated by someone else actually makes them feel less like professionals.

Under NCLB, teachers must hold a bachelor’s degree and have full state certification without any certification requirements being waived on an emergency or temporary basis. The law also calls for teachers to adhere strictly to state curriculum standards. Experienced elementary teachers must still pass a state test demonstrating subject knowledge and teaching skills in reading/language arts, writing, mathematics and other areas of basic grade school curriculum. Middle and high school teachers must pass a state test in each academic subject they teach.

“Since teachers are on the front lines, they are in a good position to see the impacts of the law,” Brint said. They can tell lawmakers about the unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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