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Event Summary

Were all those standardized tests for nothing? AEI adjunct scholars Thomas Ahn and Jacob Vigdor, along with a panel of notable education practitioners, sought to answer this question Wednesday evening at a lively AEI event. In presenting their just-released research on the No Child Left Behind Act’s (NCLB) effects on student achievement, Ahn and Vigdor explained how North Carolina public schools facing the most severe NCLB sanction — school restructuring — showed substantial gains in math and reading scores,  suggesting that leadership change is key to improving failing schools.

The authors said that while the act yielded modest improvements overall, its less severe sanctions appeared to have very little effect. Envisioning “school accountability 2.0,” Vigdor and Ahn encouraged policy that moves further toward local autonomy and proposed expanding the use of value-added systems, of school-level performance incentives, and of interventions with lower-performing teachers.

Celia Hartman Sims of the New American Foundation, a vocal proponent of NCLB in its beginning stages, expressed her disappointment with its shortcomings. She argued that NCLB’s micromanagement hindered its effectiveness. Expressing openness toward experimentation with local autonomy, Sims suggested that the federal government has limited ability to tailor policy to the needs of local districts.

Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools countered Sims, Ahn, and Vigdor, describing her skepticism of autonomy, which was in place before NCLB but suffered myriad shortcomings. She went on to challenge Vigdor and Ahn’s suggestions that underperforming teachers be intervened with rather than summarily fired, pointing to the high cost to educational quality that uderperforming teachers impose on students..
–Brad Wassink

Event Description

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was signed to set high educational standards and to establish measurable goals for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. More than a decade into implementation, the results appear mixed and the outcomes contentious. New analysis from Duke University’s Jacob Vigdor and the University of Kentucky’s Thomas Ahn helps shed empirical light on the debate, indicating that certain NCLB sanctions have proven more effective than others. Specifically, the threat of school restructuring significantly raised student achievement in underperforming schools.

In a new education environment shaped by NCLB waivers and President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, what role do sanctions play in improving student achievement? Which sanctions are effective and which are not? And how can future policy balance the carrot and stick to optimize achievement for students of all backgrounds? Join education scholars and practitioners for a discussion about the latest NCLB research and its implications for future education policy.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event life on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.


4:45 PM

5:00 PM
Opening Remarks
Micahel Q. McShane, AEI

5:05 PM
Thomas Ahn, University of Kentucky
Jacob Vigdor, Duke University

5:35 PM
Nina Rees, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
Celia Hartman Sims, New America Foundation

5:50 PM
Panel Discussion
Virginia Edwards, Education Week

6:05 PM
Audience Question-and-Answer Session
Virginia Edwards, Education Week

6:30 PM
Adjournment and Wine and Cheese Reception

Event Contact Information

Fore more information, please contact Brad Wassink at [email protected], 202.862.7197.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.832.5829.

Speaker Biographies

Thomas Ahn is an assistant professor in the department of economics at the University of Kentucky. After serving as an officer in the South Korean army for three years, he returned to Duke University for a two-year postdoctorate position. He has taught at the University of Kentucky since 2009. Ahn’s research interests include examining general equilibrium implications (intended and unintended) of legislation and social structures, especially in the field of education policy and low-wage labor markets. His methodological focus is structural econometrics that uses theoretical modeling to guide statistical analysis. Ahn’s articles have been published in scholarly journals such as the Journal of Econometrics, the Journal of Business and Economic Statistics, and the Journal of Urban Economics.

Virginia Edwards is president of Editorial Projects in Education (EPE), the 90-person, $14.5 million-a-year nonprofit corporation that publishes Education Week and She has held the post since 1997. Since 1989, Edwards has been the editor-in-chief of Education Week. For the past 16 years, she has also served as editor of Before joining EPE, Edwards worked for two years at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and, for nearly 10 years before that, was an editor and reporter at the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky.

Henry Olsen, a lawyer by training, is a vice president at AEI and directs AEI’s National Research Initiative. In that capacity, he identifies leading academics and public intellectuals who work in an aspect of domestic public policy and recruits them to visit or write for AEI. Olsen studies and writes about the policy and political implications of long-term trends in social, economic, and political thought.

Nina Rees is president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Previously, Rees spent six years as senior vice president for strategic initiatives for Knowledge Universe, a leading global education company with investments in early childhood education. Rees also served as the first assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the US Department of Education, where she oversaw the administration of 28 grant programs supporting 1,300 projects and helped coordinate the implementation of several provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Before joining the Department of Education, Rees served as a domestic policy adviser to former vice president Dick Cheney and as a senior education analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

Celia Hartman Sims
is director of the New America Foundation’s Postsecondary National Policy Institute (PNPI). Most recently, Sims served as senior policy adviser to Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) on issues related to education (preschool through higher education), financial services, and housing. Sims came to Senator Burr’s office after serving for four years during the George W. Bush Administration at the US Department of Education. At the Department of Education, Sims worked primarily on the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, with a focus on state standards, assessments, and accountability systems. Sims began her career as a high-school Latin teacher in North Carolina.

Jacob Vigdor is a professor of public policy and economics at Duke University, a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. His research interests are in the broad areas of education policy, housing policy, and political economy. Vigdor has published numerous scholarly articles on these topics 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. Vigdor’s scholarly activities have been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Spencer Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, and the Russell Sage Foundation. Vigdor has taught at Duke since 1999.

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