Leaving No Child Behind: Two Paths to School Accountability

The relatively poor academic achievement of black and Hispanic students has been a national concern since the passage of the Elementary Secondary and Education Act in 1963. Frustrated with relatively slow progress in closing these educational gaps, the most recent reauthorization of the ESEA, the No Children Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) attempts to employ rigorous accountability standards to speed progress. At about the same time, Florida implemented a change in its A+ Plan for Education that focused on the educational gains of “low-performing” students. These two systems provide incentives for schools to concentrate differently on students even though they both ostensibly focus attention on similar sets of students – those most likely to be marginalized in public education. In this paper the authors study whether either of these accountability systems improved the academic outcomes of black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students in Florida. The authors find evidence that schools that are labeled as failing or near-failing in Florida’s system tend to boost performance of students in these subgroups, while schools presented with incentives under NCLB to improve subgroup performance appear to be much less likely to do so. However, Hispanics appear to benefit from the NCLB sub-grouping requirements if they attend schools with low accountability pressure under Florida’s grading system.

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