NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Cost of Accountability

Caroline M. Hoxby

NBER Working Paper No. 8855
Issued in March 2002
NBER Program(s):   CH   LE   PE   ED

Discussions of school accountability focus on two issues: poor test administration and the expense of accountability. Up to this point, researchers have focused on test quality and simply assumed that the programs are expensive enough to crowd out other policies, such as class size reduction or higher teacher salaries. Researchers have also assumed that it is so expensive to have a good accountability program (which includes good comprehensive tests, well-defined standards, an effective report card system, and safeguards that prevent cheating and teaching the test) that only poor accountability systems will be affordable. In this paper, I present the facts about how much accountability costs. The facts are, fortunately, highly knowable because costs show up both as expenditures on government budgets and as revenues on companies' (mainly test makers') accounts. Moreover, it turns out that worrying about measurement error in the cost data is pointless. The costs of accountability programs are so tiny that even the most generous accounting could not make them appear large, relative to the cost of other education programs. The 'most expensive' programs in the United States generally cost less than one quarter of 1 percent of per pupil spending, and most of these are only as costly as they are because a state is in the 'expensive' and temporary phase of developing its own comprehensive tests.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w8855

Published: Evers, Williamson M. and Herbert J. Walberg (eds.) School Accountability. Stanford University, Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2002.

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