“No Child Left Behind” worked? At least for math

Here is the abstract by Thomas Dee and Brian Jacob via the NBER: (emphasis added)

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act compelled states to design school-accountability systems based on annual student assessments. The effect of this Federal legislation on the distribution of student achievement is a highly controversial but centrally important question. This study presents evidence on whether NCLB has influenced student achievement based on an analysis of state-level panel data on student test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The impact of NCLB is identified using a comparative interrupted time series analysis that relies on comparisons of the test-score changes across states that already had school-accountability policies in place prior to NCLB and those that did not. Our results indicate that NCLB generated statistically significant increases in the average math performance of 4th graders (effect size = 0.22 by 2007) as well as improvements at the lower and top percentiles. There is also evidence of improvements in 8th grade math achievement, particularly among traditionally low-achieving groups and at the lower percentiles. However, we find no evidence that NCLB increased reading achievement in either 4th or 8th grade.

HT to Tyler Cowen at MR who has made an interesting observation from this:

… To my skewed perspective, this is an intuitive result.  Math skills are more the result of drill, whereas you have to learn how to love to read and much of that happens within the family, not at school.  Math is therefore easier to “teach by central planning,” so to speak.

I do have to say though that reading comprehension skills is far different than just loving to read. Sitting down to read Harry Potter is certainly a lot different than having to read The Wealth of Nations.  How does one know that when a child is sitting at home they are practicing the same reading comprehension skills needed in order to disseminate critical reading for productive purposes? I assume that is the aim of NCLB; to create a more productive workforce for the future.

I want to point out that NCLB also has provided some misaligned incentives for students as well as teachers.  It is has forced students to focus on improving standardized test scores rather than actually improve a students productive capability.  Freakonomics certainly had weighed in on this.


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