No Child Left Behind
It’s hard to determine what combination of goals, evaluations, and consequences will get public school districts to improve. But No Child Left Behind seems to have changed Parkway’s attitude for the better:
"This is indicative of the bigger picture and demonstrates why everyone in public education has to drill deeper to find students who are not successful and to find out why they are not successful," Parkway district spokesman Paul Tandy told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
My observation as a student in Parkway was that the district threw around labels like "disabled," "gifted," and "English second language" in order to avoid teaching everyone. I’m glad they now have an incentive to pay attention to each individual student.
At the same time, we don’t want a system in which districts follow directives from the top against the wishes of district residents. To see what could happen if we go too far, here’s an article in the New York Times extolling the virtues of Britain’s top-down education establishment, which imposes all kinds of rigid requirements on schools. As noted in the article, that wouldn’t work in the U.S. for political reasons we wouldn’t agree on one comprehensive national education program. (Although some people are trying.)