The Impact of NCLB Sanctions on School Performance
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
In an effort to increase and standardize accountability practices, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) implemented a combination of high-stakes testing and sanctions for low-performing schools. While the Nation at Risk report had effectively convinced Americans that their schools were failing, there was nevertheless no consensus as to the most effective ways to hold schools accountable for student learning (U.S. Department of Education, 2013; Darling-Hammond, 2007; Dee & Jacob, 2011; Mathis, 2003; McDermott, 2007). NCLB mandated sanctions ranging from simply requiring an Improvement Plan in Year 1, being labeled as a “needs improvement” school in Year 2, to the much more severe sanctions of requiring the restructuring of the school in Year 6.
More than a decade after the passage of NCLB, serious disagreement still exists as to the efficacy and appropriateness of NCLB’s sanctions. The recent U.S. Department of Education report, “For Each and Every Child”, brought the evaluation of these sanctioning processes once again to the forefront. This report to the Secretary of Education encourages a “rethinking and redesigning” of accountability, renewing the importance of examining whether or not the current systems work.
Scholars have identified numerous problems with the accountability system established by NCLB. Some scholars argue that states inflate scores to demonstrate superficial success of accountability, citing significantly greater gains on state assessments than on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test (Fuller et al, 2007; Jacob, 2007; Lee, 2006). Yet while problems persist, other researchers support the existence of improvements to student achievement, citing modest but statistically significant gains on the NAEP since the beginning of NCLB (Carnoy & Loeb, 2002; Chudowsky & Chudowsky, 2010; Dee & Jacob, 2011; Grissmer, 2000).
Limited research exists surrounding the effectiveness of sanctions specifically, due to the difficulty in isolating a singular implementation strategy within accountability policies. However, many studies simplify this by examining individual state or city sanction systems. Researchers have found higher student achievement after the implementation of sanctions in North Carolina (Grissmer, 2000; Grissmer & Flanagan, 1998; Lauen & Gaddis, 2012), Chicago (Jacob, 2003), New York City (Strunk, McEachin, & Westover, 2013), and Texas (Grissmer, 2000).
In this paper, we examine California school data from 2012 and find that a) NCLB sanctions were more likely to be imposed on disproportionately poor, minority schools, yet b) schools facing NCLB sanctions improved more rapidly on standardized tests than did schools that did not face sanctions. We conclude by discussing the political significance of both of these trends on American educational policy.