NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 27, 2005

With the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), now three years old, the amount of information about schools presented to the general public is at an all-time high. However, the average kid in a failing institution is no closer to escaping now than before the law was passed, says Lisa Snell, director of the Reason Foundation's education program.

Federal and state legislators have a newfound focus on school accountability, but scant attention is being paid to the quality of data they are using, whether the topic is violence, test scores or dropout rates. Consider:

  • In the 2003-04 school year, 47 states and the District of Columbia reported they were home to not a single unsafe school, yet, in D.C. alone, the D.C. Office of the Inspector General reported more than 1,700 "serious security incidents" in city schools, including 464 weapons offenses.
  • Economists from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government explored the prevalence of cheating in public schools and found that on any given test, the scores of students in 3 to 6 percent of classrooms are doctored by teachers or administrators.
  • Administrators often misrepresent the dropout rate by counting students who leave as transfers and not dropouts, like in the 2003 state audit of the Houston district where more than half of the 5,500 students who left in the 2002 school year should have been declared dropouts but were not.

These distortions hide the extent of schools' failures, deceive taxpayers about what our ever-increasing education budgets are buying and keep kids locked in failing institutions, says Snell. And experts believe the incentives for teachers and administrators to manipulate data will only increase as schools begin to feel the consequences of low scores.

Source: Lisa Snell, "How Schools Cheat," Reason, Volume 37, Number 2, June 2005.


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