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Adequate (or Adipose?) Yearly Progress: Assessing the Effect of “No Child Left Behind” on Children’s Obesity (WP-12-04)

Patricia Anderson, Kristin Butcher, and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

This working paper investigates how accountability pressures under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) may affect children’s rate of obesity. Schools facing increased pressures to produce academic outcomes may reallocate their efforts in ways that have unintended consequences for children’s health. For example, schools may cut back on recess and physical education in favor of increasing time on tested subjects. To examine the impact of school accountability programs, the researchers create a unique panel data set of schools in Arkansas that allows them to test the impact of NCLB rules on students’ weight outcomes. Their main approach is to consider schools to be facing increased pressures if they are on the margin of passing—that is, if any subgroup at the school has a passing rate that is close to the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) passing threshold, where they define close as being 5 percentage points above or below the threshold. They find evidence of small effects of accountability pressures on the percent of students at a school that are overweight. A follow-up survey of school principals points to reductions in physical activity and worsening of the food environment as potential mechanisms.

Patricia Anderson, Professor of Economics, Dartmouth College

Kristin Butcher, Professor of Economics, Wellesley College

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Associate Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

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