NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Critics Call Congress's Education Legislation Too Rigid

August 14, 2001

A conference committee is in the process of trying to reconcile differing House and Senate versions of the bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But some education specialists warn that both versions place too much emphasis on year-to-year changes on test scores. That, they warn, could disrupt successful reforms already underway in many schools around the country.

Scholars at the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at test scores in two states that have done well -- then assessed how their schools would have fared under the legislation.

  • Between 1994 and 1999, North Carolina and Texas achieved increases of 2 to 5 percentage points every year in the proportion of students who were proficient in reading and math.
  • However, the steady progress at the state level masked an uneven, zigzag pattern of improvement at the typical school.
  • The researchers estimated that more than 98 percent of the schools in North Carolina and Texas would have failed to live up to the proposed federal expectations in at least one year between 1994 and 1999.
  • More than three-quarters of the schools in the two states would have been required to offer public school options to their students if either version of the education bills had been in effect.

Under the Senate bill, one-quarter of schools in both states would have been required to restructure themselves some time in those five years -- by laying off most of their staffs, becoming charter schools or turning themselves over to private operators. Under the more stringent House bill, roughly three-quarters of the schools would have been required to restructure themselves.

Each bill would be particularly harsh on racially diverse schools, the researchers found.

Source: Thomas J. Kane and Douglas O. Staiger (both at the National Bureau of Economic Research), "Rigid Rules Will Damage Schools," New York Times, August 13, 2001; see Thomas J. Kane, Douglas O. Staiger and Jeffrey Geppert, "Assessing the Definition of 'Adequate Yearly Progress' in the House and Senate Education Bills," July 15, 2001.


Browse more articles on Education Issues