No Child Left Behind: Estimating the Impact on Choices and Student Outcomes
Several recent education reform measures, including the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), couple school choice with accountability measures to allow parents of children in under-performing schools the opportunity to choose higher-performing schools. We use the introduction of NCLB in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District to determine if the choice component had an impact on the schools parents chose and if those changed choices led to academic gains. We find that 16% of parents responded to NCLB notification by choosing schools that had on average 1 standard deviation higher average test scores than their current NCLB school. We then use the lottery assignment of students to chosen schools to test if changed choices led to improved academic outcomes. On average, lottery winners experience a significant decline in suspension rates relative to lottery losers. We also find that students winning lotteries to attend substantially better (above-median) schools experience significant gains in test scores. Because proximity to high-scoring schools drives both the probability of choosing an alternative school and the average test score at the school chosen, our results suggest that the availability of proximate and high-scoring schools is an important factor in determining the degree to which school choice and accountability programs can succeed at increasing choice and immediate academic outcomes for students at under-performing schools.