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Policymakers emphasizing school accountability face questions about whether programs linking rewards and sanctions to performance outcomes induce schools to “game the system,” rather than make genuine improvements.
This study analyzes the responses of public schools to the Florida Opportunity Scholarship Program, an influential school accountability policy making students from low-performing schools eligible for vouchers to transfer to better ones.
Chakrabarti and Schwartz review the design of the Florida program, suggesting that it incentivizes threatened schools to classify students into categories excluded from the calculation of school accountability scores.
Using data from the Florida Department of Education and a regression discontinuity research design, the study compares classifications of students in schools that barely avoided the threat of vouchers with classifications in schools narrowly receiving the threat.
The authors find evidence that the schools receiving the threat engaged in differential classification of students into “excluded” categories to artificially boost accountability scores.
The findings offer lessons for the design of school accountability programs elsewhere, including New York City’s Progress Reports program and New York’s implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The authors conclude that policymakers must take care when designing exemptions, special allowances, or credits for certain groups of students since these accommodations can create adverse incentives and lead to unintended consequences.
About the Authors
RajashriChakrabarti is an economist at the FederalReserveBank of NewYork; NoahSchwartz is a former assistant economist at the Bank.
The views expressed in this summary are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System.