NCLB at 20: The Law Sparked a School Data Revolution

Mar 28, 2023 4:30:00 PM


Before the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the country’s view of school data was blurry, if available at all. Twenty years later, the picture is much clearer, and both supporters and critics of the law credit NCLB for making that happen.

That’s a key finding from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s  new research examining the impact of data-driven accountability in education policy over the last 20 years. It includes both a quantitative research review authored by Dan Goldhaber and Michael DeArmond of CALDER, at the American Institutes for Research, and a qualitative analysis authored by Chris Stewart and the team at brightbeam

The report asks: what can we learn from the last two decades of education policy, and what do we still not know?  Here’s what the researchers found:

  • Disaggregated data shifted the focus from the average kid to every kid—including Black, Hispanic, low-income students, English learners, and students with special needs. No longer were school districts able to hide the performance of some students behind an average. 

  • Student achievement increased due to NCLB-era assessment and accountability policies, especially in math and especially for Black, Hispanic, and low-income students, whom the system had not been serving well. 

  • There is now access to far more reliable, comparable education data than there would be available otherwise, although there has not been sufficient time devoted to its analysis.

  • Reforms in teacher evaluation and school turnaround initiatives did not consistently improve student outcomes at scale. In part, this was due to the widely varying quality of how such reforms were implemented.

At the same time, existing research doesn’t answer other key questions:

  • Did schools serving historically-underserved students get more money to improve than they otherwise would have?

  • What did schools do with any improvement funds they did receive?

  • How many schools identified as low-performing became successful?

  • Have states seen improvement in measures other than academic achievement, such as improvements in school climate or reductions in chronic absenteeism?

Watch the conversation among the researchers and folks on the ground here:

Future of Data in K-12 Education: Report Release Webinar

Read the full report here. To learn more about the U.S. Chamber Foundation's Future of Data in K-12 Education initiative and its esteemed working group members, visit: 

Photo by Gary Tou on Unsplash

Maureen Kelleher

Maureen Kelleher is Editorial Director at Future Ed. She was formerly Editorial Partner at Ed Post and is a veteran education reporter, a former high school English teacher, and also the proud mom of an elementary student in Chicago Public Schools. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an associate editor at Catalyst Chicago, the go-to magazine covering Chicago’s public schools. There, her reporting won awards from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the International Reading Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

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