De-essentializing No Child Left Behind


  • Christopher Riley



research strategy, No Child Left Behind, critical approach, non-essentialist perspective, federal, state, school district, ethnographic research, policy, effect


This article articulates a research strategy to examine the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), embracing a critical, non-essentialist perspective. To date, critical approaches to NCLB have been unilaterally negative, based on aggregated analyses that homogenize local responses to the federal policy. I argue that such analyses implicitly essentialize both NCLB and local adaptions, and in the process obscure important variation across scales. My multiscalar strategy included two phases: analysis of policy documents at the federal, state, and school district scales to detect translations that open possibilities for interpretation and latitude for decision making, and ethnographic research in a school district to uncover diverse pedagogical reactions to NCLB. More generally, I suggest that policies or programs conceived at the federal scale undergo translation across scales and among various actors locally. The complexity of actions belies essentialist imaginaries of both policies and their effects.


How to Cite

Riley, C. (2015). De-essentializing No Child Left Behind. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 13(4), 622–629.