No Child Left Behind “forced states to identify schools that were failing according to scores on standardized tests,” writes Libby Nelson on Vox. But we don’t know how to fix low-performing schools.
NCLB set in place restructuring options for schools that failed to show progress year after year.
Research in North Carolina by Thomas Ahn and Jacob Vigdor found that the most effective interventions were at opposite ends of the spectrum: Schools that had missed the progress goal for only one year and weren’t yet facing consequences improved. So did schools that faced the biggest consequence, a total restructuring.
But everything in between — transfers, tutoring, a new curriculum or hiring consultants, threatening to restructure — didn’t help much.
The next steps — the various “corrective actions” ranging from firing staff to hiring consultants — were equally ineffective, Ahn and Vigdor found. It wasn’t until schools had to hire new leadership that schools made meaningful change.
Research shows that “No Child Left Behind improved fourth-grade and eighth-grade math test scores, but didn’t do as much for reading abilities,” writes Nelson. Black and low-income students gained the most.
But achievement gaps remain large, according to Sean Reardon at Stanford. “Comparing the magnitude of these effects is akin to comparing the speed of different glaciers,” he wrote. “Some are retreating, some advancing, but none so fast that one would notice a meaningful difference except over a span of decades (or centuries).”