NCLB sanctions: Tests taken, lessons learned

Were all those standardized tests for nothing?

Sanford School of Public Policy Professor Jacob Vigdor, co-author Thomas Ahn and a panel of education practitioners explored this question Wednesday at an event in Washington, DC, sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute.

Vigdor and Ahn, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Kentucky, presented their research on the No Child Left Behind Act's (NCLB) effects on student achievement. North Carolina public schools faced the most severe NCLB sanction – school restructuring – and showed substantial gains in math and reading scores, suggesting that leadership change is key to improving failing schools, they said.

The authors said that while the act yielded modest improvements overall, its less severe sanctions appeared to have very little effect. Envisioning “school accountability 2.0,” Vigdor and Ahn encouraged policy that moves further toward local autonomy and proposed expanding the use of value-added systems, of school-level performance incentives, and of interventions with lower-performing teachers.

Find their research report here.

Celia Hartman Sims of the New American Foundation, a vocal proponent of NCLB in its beginning stages, expressed her disappointment with its shortcomings. She argued that NCLB's micromanagement hindered its effectiveness. Expressing openness toward experimentation with local autonomy, Sims suggested that the federal government has limited ability to tailor policy to the needs of local districts.

Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools countered Sims, Ahn, and Vigdor, describing her skepticism of autonomy, which was in place before NCLB but suffered myriad shortcomings. She went on to challenge Vigdor and Ahn's suggestions that underperforming teachers be assisted rather than summarily fired, pointing to the high cost to educational quality that underperforming teachers impose on students.

Watch a video of the panel here.