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Study by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project: NCLB Ignores What We Know about School Change and Is Motivated by Politics

Date Published: April 22, 2009
In "Why High Stakes Accountability Sounds Good but Doesn’t Work — And Why We Keep on Doing It Anyway," Researchers Gail Sunderman and Heinrich Mintrop address the failure of NCLB to meaningfully address the problems facing the nations schools.
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For Immediate Release

Contact: CRP office at (310) 267-5562;
Los Angeles, CA — A new report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, a non-partisan research center which has been systematically studying the implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) since its inception, finds that some of the basic assumptions of the law are not working and may well be mistaken.  In this study, Why High Stakes Accountability Sounds Good but Doesn’t Work-- And Why We Keep on Doing It Anyway, commissioned by the Civil Rights Project, Researchers Gail Sunderman and Heinrich Mintrop evaluate whether the accountability system endorsed by NCLB is likely to succeed or fail, and whether it is compatible with what researchers across the country have learned about the conditions needed for lasting school reforms. 
The report finds that NCLB is failing on three fronts.  First, there is little evidence that high stakes accountability under NCLB works.  It has not improved student achievement and the sanctions have had limited effects in producing real improvement.  The law also results in high numbers of schools being mislabeled as “failing” and far outstrips the ability of states to intervene effectively in the schools it sanctions.  Third, the law has failed to connect in a meaningful way to the educators who must implement it -- they do not see the accountability goals as realistic and consider the sanctions to be misguided and counterproductive for improving schools.
The most important finding is the damage the NCLB is doing to our educational system.  Under NCLB, the system “works” when education systems operate within only a basic skills framework and with low test rigor.  The cost to our nation is revealed in an educational system stuck in low-level intellectual work.
Civil Rights Project Co-Director, Gary Orfield, concludes, “The new administration has a unique opportunity to address the serious structural problems of NCLB and to forge a more constructive and effective federal role.  To persist in sound-bite educational politics that sound tough but have failed for a generation would be a tragic mistake. To claim that it would further the civil rights of children increasingly segregated in schools that have been officially branded and sanctioned as failures -- but not provided help that makes a real difference -- would be a blunder.”
Even though the law is failing in some critical respects, the authors argue that we may maintain NCLB anyway because many derive secondary benefits from the system, specifically those who are politically and ideologically committed to NCLB and those deriving economic or political benefits from the law.
The authors contend that after fifteen years of state and federal sanctions-driven accountability that has yielded relatively little, it is time to try a new approach.  A system based on mandates and legal administrative enforcement should be replaced with one that emphasizes respect for the professionalism of educators and active involvement of communities in developing the capacity to implement lasting changes.  
The full report can be found here.  
A copy of the Executive Summary and Foreword can be found at the end of the attached press release. Copies of CRP’s previously released NCLB reports may also be found in our NCLB Research Section.  Funding for this research was generously provided by a grant from The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

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