Unsurprisingly, NCLB reauthorization hasn’t garnered much press recently. As this recent Education Week column points out, the stimulus package took the heat off of Congress, leading to speculation that any proposed reauthorization bill won’t gain much traction this year. Legislation aside, the NCLB debate is ongoing. Case in point: the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, or CALDER, recently organized a conference inviting researchers to consider differences in educational outcomes and delivery since the passage of NCLB. Presentations from the conference, co-hosted by the National Center on Performance Incentives, were recently posted here.
Findings presented at the conference touch upon a range of subjects, worthy of at least a few minutes’ perusal (if not a few hours’). Dale Ballou and Jeffrey Springer, both of Vanderbilt, contributed a representative presentation on science and social studies instruction in high-risk schools. Conventional wisdom suggests that schools struggling to meet AYP goals would be tempted to neglect instruction in subjects which do not impact accountability outcomes – social studies, and until recently, science. Using data from South Carolina, which adopted a no-stakes science and social studies test in 2003, and Virginia, which incorporated science and social studies test results in accreditation requirements beginning in 1998, the authors present conclusive evidence to the contrary.
Essentially, post-NCLB science and social studies scores improved at pace with math and reading scores in each state. In Virginia, the scores for these subjects improved at a faster rate in high-risk than in low-risk schools, except among scores designated as ‘advanced’, where the gap widened slightly. While scores improved in South Carolina, the gap remained relatively constant between low- and high-risk schools. The only evidence of trade-off: high-risk South Carolina elementary schools, where the authors found that reading instruction displaced non-core subjects. On average, South Carolina schools studied managed to close this gap by high school, which may suggest that the extra reading instruction paid off. While the authors caution that their results can’t be generalized to all states, their study lends weight to the argument that accountability requirements which reward improvement in math and reading don’t always come at the expense of science and social studies.