Congress and the broader public are debating whether to change No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Many concerns focus on the law's effects on students. But a new working paper from Seth Gershenson, assistant professor of public policy at American University and recipient of an Upjohn Institute Early Career Award, shows that NCLB's accountability provisions changed teacher behavior for the better. In North Carolina, public elementary (K-5) teachers reduced absences by about 10 percent. The effect was especially strong among more effective teachers, as measured by value-added scores.
Teacher absences can have real, negative effects on student learning. An average teacher missing 10 days of school has about the same effect on students’ math achievement as replacing an average teacher with one from the bottom 20 percent of the effectiveness distribution. Reducing effective teachers' absences should prompt student learning gains.
Gershenson examined longitudinal data on North Carolina teachers in public elementary schools that received federal Title 1 funds during 2003 and 2004, the first two years NCLB was in effect. Teachers in schools that failed to make AYP in 2003, and were thus at risk of triggering sanctions associated with failing in two consecutive years, missed fewer days of school in 2004—a decrease that can't be explained by changes in faculty or pre-existing school trends. Notably, the prevalence of teachers who missed 15 or more days of school declined by 27 percent from 2003 to 2004, again suggesting that the threat of performance-based sanctions drastically increased some teachers' level of effort.