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Aiming for Efficiency Rather Than Proficiency

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  • Derek Neal

Abstract

The No Child Left Behind law is flawed for many reasons, but the most important is that it is built around proficiency targets. Proficiency rates are not useful metrics of school performance because universal proficiency is not a socially efficient goal for principals and teachers. Further, the variation in proficiency rates among schools reflects, in large part, interschool differences in student background characteristics. The designers of accountability systems must move away from systems designed around a one-size-fits-all standard and begin designing systems that organize and promote competition among schools. Well-organized competition among schools is the best vehicle for making sure that schools use public funds efficiently. If education officials pursue this paradigm, they must develop relative performance measures that assess the outcomes of these contests while making reasonable allowance for differences in student populations served by public schools. I will discuss a method for deriving context-specific measures of school performance. A percentile performance index tells public officials how often the students in a particular school or classroom perform better than students in other schools who began the year in similar circumstances with respect to their prior achievements, the compositions of their classmates, and their family backgrounds. This index of relative performance provides the information policymakers need to make preliminary judgments concerning when to reorganize a given school and give a new staff the opportunity to prove they can do better.

Suggested Citation

  • Derek Neal, 2010. "Aiming for Efficiency Rather Than Proficiency," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(3), pages 119-132, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:24:y:2010:i:3:p:119-32
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.24.3.119
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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.24.3.119
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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/jep/app/2403_neal_app.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. MacLeod, Bentley, 2009. "Anti-Lemons: School Reputation and Educational Quality," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt3rc708kd, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
    2. Derek Neal & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, 2010. "Left Behind by Design: Proficiency Counts and Test-Based Accountability," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 92(2), pages 263-283, May.
    3. Flavio Cunha & James J. Heckman, 2008. "Formulating, Identifying and Estimating the Technology of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skill Formation," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(4).
    4. Reback, Randall, 2008. "Teaching to the rating: School accountability and the distribution of student achievement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(5-6), pages 1394-1415, June.
    5. Thomas Dee & Brian Jacob, 2009. "The Impact of No Child Left Behind on Student Achievement," NBER Working Papers 15531, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren, 2014. "Handing Over the School Keys: The Impact of Privatisation on Education Quality," Economic Affairs, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 34(2), pages 196-210, June.
    2. Gadi Barlevy & Derek Neal, 2012. "Pay for Percentile," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(5), pages 1805-1831, August.
    3. Diego Azqueta Oyarzun & Guillermina Gavaldon, 2014. "The economic assessment of education: Social Efficiency or Social Reconstruction?," Investigaciones de Economía de la Educación volume 9,in: Adela García Aracil & Isabel Neira Gómez (ed.), Investigaciones de Economía de la Educación 9, edition 1, volume 9, chapter 51, pages 969-978 Asociación de Economía de la Educación.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H52 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Education
    • H75 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Government: Health, Education, and Welfare
    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy

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