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In accountability frameworks for public education, the focus on the performance of individual schools is increasing. The introduction of parental choice is designed to help low performing schools improve or close. Relatively little attention has been paid, however, to the underlying assumptions of these mechanisms. This dissertation examines the responses to failing schools by discussing the theory of such responses and motivating the need for government intervention in failing schools. After the existing literature on interventions is examined, a case study of New Zealand’s experience with failing schools offers some evidence of the limited ability of market forces to deal with school failure. Contrary to the assumptions that guided the initial reforms, school failure persisted and spurred the Ministry of Education into developing a strategy for intervening in the failed schools. To estimate the impact of interventions on school performance, this study examines the strategy of interventions in underperforming schools in California. Using publicly available data on school level test scores, models are estimated that take the selection procedure into account explicitly. An impact of 6 points in API growth in the planning year can be detected with no significant effect during the actual implementation. The findings suggest that a priori assumptions about school failure are not useful. An application to the education reform in the Emirate of Qatar further illustrates the practical implications of the recommendations.

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This document was submitted as a dissertation in February 2005 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in public policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation dissertation series. Pardee RAND dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a Pardee RAND faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

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