Differentiated Accountability and Education Production: Evidence from NCLB Waivers
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education granted states the opportunity to apply for waivers from the core requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). In exchange, states implemented systems of differentiated accountability in which they identified and intervened in their lowest-performing schools (“Priority” schools) and schools with the largest achievement gaps between subgroups of students (“Focus” schools). We use administrative data from Michigan in a series of regression-discontinuity analyses to study the effects of these reforms on schools and students. Overall, we find that neither reform had appreciable impacts on various measures of school staffing, student composition, or academic achievement. We find some evidence that the Focus designation led to small, short-run reductions in the within-school math achievement gap – but that these reductions were driven by stagnant performance of lower-achieving students alongside declines in the performance of their higher-achieving peers. These findings serve as a cautionary tale for the capacity of the accountability provisions embedded in the recent reauthorization of NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), to meaningfully improve student and school outcomes.