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The Perverse Incentives of the No Child Left Behind Act

James E. Ryan

Harvard University - Graduate School of Education

UVA School of Law, Public Law Working Paper No. 03-17

The No Child Left Behind Act, perhaps the most important federal education law in our nation's history, is designed to boost achievement levels of all students and to close the achievement gap among students from different backgrounds. This article explains how the Act creates perverse incentives that work against the achievement of the Act's laudable goals, and it argues that these perverse incentives are an unavoidable aspect of any test-based accountability system that focuses on absolute achievement levels. It goes on to suggest some possible responses to the flaws in the Act, and it concludes with some tentative observations about the proper role of the federal government in education law and policy.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 51

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Date posted: December 9, 2003  

Suggested Citation

Ryan, James E., The Perverse Incentives of the No Child Left Behind Act. New York University Law Review, Spring 2004. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=476463 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.476463

Contact Information

James E. Ryan (Contact Author)
Harvard University - Graduate School of Education ( email )
6 Appian Way
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
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