April 8, 2009

Research predicts failure for NCLB’s ultimate sanctions, concludes new report

Contact: Teri Battaglieri – (248) 444-7071;
William J. Mathis – (802) 247-5757;

EAST LANSING, MI, (April 8, 2009)—A new policy brief finds little evidence that sweeping school restructuring—mandated by the federal government for so-called failing schools—will raise student achievement.

The report is titled NCLB’s Ultimate Restructuring Alternatives: Do They Improve the Quality of Education? It was written by William J. Mathis, adjunct associate professor of school finance at the University of Vermont and a superintendent of schools. The report was released today by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Mathis’s brief examines the impact of the specific school restructuring approaches required under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Under the law, enacted in 2001, schools are required to be restructured if they fail to make “adequate yearly progress” (measured by meeting test score targets) for six consecutive years.

NCLB school restructuring can take one of the following forms: takeover of the school by the state; turning management of the school over to a private firm; shutting down and reopening as a charter school; or reconstitution of the school by replacing some or all administrators, staff, or faculty. A fifth option provided under the law endorses “any other major restructuring of a school’s governance arrangement.”

The brief reviews the existing body of research on each of the five restructuring options and finds that “there is little or no evidence to suggest that any of these options delivers the promised improvements in academic achievement” but notes that “negative side effects are frequently recorded including increased segregation, substantial, short-term drops in achievement scores and organizational instability.”

Mathis concludes: “Given that these approaches are being proposed for the nation’s most troubled schools, the solutions [currently set forth by NCLB] are likely to be woefully inadequate” and that “reliance on these restructuring options could actually deter schools from exploring more promising approaches of achieving the goal of a sound basic education for every child.”

In light of such findings, Mathis recommends against relying on restructuring sanctions to promote school improvement and encourages the support of research on the effectiveness of other school improvement strategies. He also recommends support for strategies that have been shown to increase school improvement including early education, small school communities, and strong counseling and social support systems for students.

Find William Mathis’s report, NCLB’s Ultimate Restructuring Alternatives: Do They Improve the Quality of Education? on the web at:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.

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