International Policy Center Home Page
Type: Public event

Reflections on No Child Left Behind

Date & time

Oct 24, 2007, 4:00-5:30 pm EDT


Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
1110 Weill Hall Ann Arbor, MI


Accountability programs, including the one implemented by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, operate under the assumption that schools are inefficient -- that is, that schools can provide higher quality education without investing additional resources. These programs seek to make schools more efficient by using incentives. The state of North Carolina currently operates two independent incentive systems for public schools. The first, introduced in 1996/97, offers salary bonuses to teachers in schools that achieve a targeted level of improvement in student test scores between one year and the next. The second, mandated by No Child Left Behind, imposes a series of negative sanctions on schools with small proportions of students who test at the 'proficient' level. Foremost among these sanctions was a provision allowing parents the right to transfer out of schools that failed to meet standards. In 2005/06, almost 40% of North Carolina public schools attained positive sanctions through one program but not the other.

This presentation will use data from North Carolina's public schools to show the following:



  • Relative to the North Carolina incentives, the No Child Left Behind incentives are biased against larger schools and schools serving a higher proportion of African-American and Hispanic students.
  • Despite concerns that incentives for test score improvements will disproportionately reward luck rather than effort, the North Carolina incentives are more stable and more predictive of future success.
  • There is no evidence to suggest that failure to make AYP leads schools to implement reforms that improve students' test scores.
  • There is evidence, however, to suggest that failure to earn a salary bonus leads schools to implement reforms that improve students' test scores.

In all, the evidence suggests that No Child Left Behind accomplished little or nothing in North Carolina. The evidence also suggests, however, that incentives for better performance can improve public education. There are several potential explanations for the greater impact of the state incentive program. 'Carrots,' in the form of salary bonuses, may be more effective than 'sticks.' Teachers may recognize, rationally, that their effort has a stronger impact on year-over-year improvements in test scores than absolute levels. Finally, relying on consumer choice to root out inefficiency in the market may be a poor strategy when consumers are provided confusing, misleading, or self-contradictory information regarding the quality of their choice alternatives.

Bio Statement:

Jacob Vigdor is Associate Professor of Public Policy Studies and Economics at Duke University, and a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He received a B.S. in Policy Analysis from Cornell University in 1994 and a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University in 1999.

His research interests are in the broad areas of education policy, housing policy, and political economy. Within those areas, he has published numerous scholarly articles on the topics of residential segregation, immigration, housing affordability, the consequences of gentrification, the determinants of student achievement in elementary school, the causes and consequences of delinquent behavior among adolescents, teacher turnover, civic participation and voting patterns, and racial inequality in the labor market. These articles have been published in outlets such as the Journal of Political Economy, the Review of Economics and Statistics, the Journal of Public Economics, the Journal of Human Resources, and the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

Professor Vigdor's scholarly activities have been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Spencer Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, and the Russell Sage Foundation. Professor Vigdor has taught at Duke since 1999.