By John Fitzgerald, Minnesota 2020 Fellow, April guest blogger
Last fall, the prestigious publication Education Week hosted an online chat about the federal No Child Left Behind law. One of the panelists was David Figlio, a professor at Northwestern University and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Ellen Solek of East Haddam, Conn., asked if Figlio was aware “of any current research that has, or is being conducted that determines correlation (if any) between K-12 student test scores, accountability, and future success in the workplace?”
This is a magnificent question because it goes to the heart of NCLB and how it relates to every Minnesotan. The question is simple: What difference does NCLB make?
Figlio doesn’t really have an answer. First, he says this: “It's too early to know about the effects of accountability on workplace success.” Then he says “there have been a number of studies that have linked K-12 test scores to labor market outcomes as adults,” but then adds “these papers use data that are decades old, however.”
He also says there is evidence that college selectivity, which is associated with higher K-12 test scores, has important effects on wages in early adulthood. But then he says “it will take another decade before we know the degree to which school accountability directly plays into this mix.”
So what did Figlio really say? He said we don’t know if high-stakes testing a la NCLB actually improves our workforce.
It’s safe to say that improving the workforce is one of two ultimate educational goals; the other being to prepare children to become participating, law-abiding citizens. If NCLB — or any other program — can produce good workers who can stay out of prison, then we should be happy.
But the fact is we don’t know if NCLB is working or not. We have anecdotal evidence that NCLB’s high stakes test bumps up results, but we have more anecdotal evidence that shows the bumps don’t last through the next year, and they come at the expense of other subjects such as science and art because schools take time away from other subjects to “teach to the test.”
In Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, Gus describes Jake as “a mighty leaky vessel to be putting one’s hope into.” For the reasons listed above and for many others, NCLB is a mighty leaky vessel for us to put our hopes of a better education.