Planning to Fail?

I’ve pointed out before [*] that one effect of laws such as No Child Left Behind is to encourage schools to fake results. But Kevin Drum points out [*] that NCLB in particular sets standards that can’t be met without faking. He wonders whether the long-term game plan of NCLB’s authors was to portray all public schools as failures in order to create a “crisis” of which school privatization would be the solution. Seems plausible to me. But he wonders what Ted Kennedy’s name was doing on the bill. So do I.

All of this is really too bad, because our schools do need fixing that can’t be accomplished by money alone, and assembling an assessment system to both tell us how we’re doing and create the right incentives for teachers, principals, central administrations, and school boards is an essential part of the solution. The stupid assessment systems now being put in place are likely to discredit not only the schools but assessment itself, leaving us to the tender mercies of “professionalism”: i.e., allowing teachers, no matter how incompetent, to do whatever they damn well please.

Update This turns out to be not quite right. The NCLB standards aren’t mathematically impossible to meet, because school systems can used “criterion-referenced” rather than “norm-refernece” tests: i.e., tests whose definition of “average” doesn’t change even as the actual average rises. More here.

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: