Left behind: The effects of NCLB on urban educators of students with disabilities

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Joseph Shedd


NCLB, No Child Left Behind, Accountability, Urban education, Policy, School reform, Disabilities, Students w/ disabilities

Subject Categories

Special Education and Teaching


This qualitative study investigated the effects of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act on the education of students with disabilities in a large city school system, from the perspectives of general educators, special educators, and school administrators in that system. NCLB requires states to hold schools accountable for closing gaps in performance between students with disabilities and their peers. School systems that fail to meet targets for acceptable improvement several years in a row are required to adopt "comprehensive school reforms" and face sanctions if their students' performance continues to lag.

Sustainable large-scale reform is affected by those who carry it out. Past research on standards-based accountability strategies documents the complexities urban districts face in carrying out reforms like NCLB. Because little is known about NCLB's effects on the academic progress of students with disabilities (Center on Education Policy, 2009), or about educators' perceptions regarding current school reform for this subgroup (Vannest et al., 2009), addressing this gap is important. The study reported here acknowledges the "voices" of educators who are directly responsible for the education of students with disabilities in one urban district in upstate New York. McCracken's (1989) four-part model of inquiry was used to conduct structured interviews with educators (n=26) to gain insight into their perspectives about NCLB reform in their district.

This study revealed how convoluted NCLB reform agendas can be, and how critical the roles of educators can be, in successfully implementing NCLB's requirements (or perceived NCLB requirements). Although most participants believed that educators must be held accountable for the education of students with disabilities, they felt NCLB's current consequence-driven accountability initiatives hindered, rather than supported, best-practice teaching. Those who felt they had no voice in how NCLB mandates were implemented shared feelings of frustration, stress and angst associated with their instructional and/or collaborative roles. Finally, this study confirmed past research, which found that top-down reforms are only as successful as the individuals at the ground-level make them (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996). It also provides insight into why one urban district made limited progress in reducing achievement gaps for students with disabilities.


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