The No Child Left Behind Act (the Act or NCLB) was enacted with the laudable aim of improving education through a system of accountability for schools and school districts. The Act provides for a system of escalating punishments for schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress toward the goal of full student proficiency in core subjects. One of the options that districts have for dealing with repeatedly failing schools is reconstitution, in which most or all of a school’s staff are replaced. This Comment argues that significant legal liability may fall on those districts that choose reconstitution over NCLB’s less harsh provisions. The prospect of arbitrariness or perceived inequity in deciding which schools will face reconstitution, the inherent problems in using existing standardized tests to determine which teachers are retained at struggling schools, and potential conflicts with contracts and collective bargaining agreements all suggest potential legal challenges that school staff and other parties affected by reconstitution could pursue to stop the implementation of reconstitution.
Furthermore, this Comment contends that a number of practical consid¬erations counsel against choosing reconstitution over NCLB’s less harsh penalty provisions. In particular, the negative effect that reconstitution is likely to have on the quality of teachers and instruction at failing schools—those that most desperately need high-quality teachers and instructional methods—should give school officials pause before choosing this option. And the choice, in many states, to demand increasing levels of improvement in later years of NCLB reform threatens to expose more and more schools to this negative effect. The loss of legitimacy and morale that would attend the labeling of a large number of schools as failing, and the upheaval caused by reconstitution in so many schools counsel further against reconstitution. While NCLB and the concept of account¬ability are valid, school officials need to take care that the methods used to hold schools accountable do not end up punishing the children that the Act is intended to help. This Comment warns that reconstitution threatens to do just that.