“No child left behind” meets Dukenfield’s law

The central theme of the “No Child Left Behind Act” is that the public schools can perform if given measurable goals and strong organizational incentives to meet those goals. Part of the evidence offered for that proposition was the “Texas miracle,” and in particualr the improvement of the performance of the Houston schools under Superintendent Rod Paige, now Secretary of Education.

Now it turns out that the Houston schools were systematically cooking the books, with at least one large inner-city high school reporting zero dropouts. It turns out that an incentive to meet a target is also an incentive to pretend to meet that target.

In the wise words of W.C. Fields (whose birth certificate read William Claude Dukenfield): “Anything worth winning is worth cheating for.”

More about this at Open Source Politics.

Update:

Note to Derbyshire fans:

Of course, the fact that the man President Bush later made Secretary of Education resorted to cheating in an attempt to show progress for minority youths does not mean that real progress can’t be made. It just means that making real progress will cost money, demand sustained, concentrated management attention, and not come overnight.

If you’re considering voting to re-elect the current administration, ask yourself a question: Why does Rod Paige still have his job? A President who actually cared about education would have fired him on the spot after learning that his primary management strategy was rigging the numbers.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com