No Child Left Behind and Arizona: Making State and Federal K-12 Accountability Systems Work

Krista Kafer
Goldwater Institute Policy Report #212
October 17, 2006

This report out of Arizona expresses some of the discontent that's brewing in many states over No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Kafer argues that the federal law frequently conflicts with Arizona's own accountability system, AZ Learns. Because of differences in the way the two systems measure progress (AZ Learns uses a growth model, while NCLB relies on annual snapshots), a number of schools that Arizona designates as "performing" (or better) are deemed not to have made AYP under NCLB.  But opting out of the federal program would "jeopardize some $582 million in federal funding"--about 7 percent of Arizona's K-12 budget. Kafer makes two recommendations. First, the state's education department should study "whether the cost of compliance is greater than the federal funds received." Second, Congress should enact the "charter state" (or "Straight A's) provision that was promoted by conservatives in the late 1990s but dropped from the final version of NCLB. This provision "would enable states to have discretion over their federal funding in exchange for results-based accountability." The idea has appeal--states and their schools could very well benefit from increased flexibility in day-to-day operations. But the trade-off should be greater accountability for results--a national test anyone?--not more leeway to evaluate schools any which way. All and all, this report offers a good picture of how states might go about addressing their NCLB complaints (a little more thoughtfulness, a little less screeching). Read it here.

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