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The Effects of School Reform Under NCLB Waivers: Evidence from Focus Schools in Kentucky

Sade Bonilla, Thomas Dee

NBER Working Paper No. 23462
Issued in June 2017
NBER Program(s):The Education Program

Under waivers to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the federal government required states to identify schools where targeted subgroups of students have the lowest achievement and to implement reforms in these “Focus Schools.” In this study, we examine the Focus School reforms in the state of Kentucky. The reforms in this state are uniquely interesting for several reasons. One is that the state developed unusually explicit guidance for Focus Schools centered on a comprehensive school-planning process. Second, the state identified Focus Schools using a “super subgroup” measure that combined traditionally low-performing subgroups into an umbrella group. This design feature may have catalyzed broader whole-school reforms and attenuated the incentives to target reform efforts narrowly. Using regression discontinuity designs, we find that these reforms led to substantial improvements in school performance, raising math achievement by 17 percent and reading achievement by 9 percent.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23462

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