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William and Mary Law Review

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The “New Accountability” movement in American education purports to catalyze improvement in American education by setting clear state standards for academic performance, measuring performance against those standards, and disseminating information about results. This Article argues that the potential of state accountability programs lies not in their imposition of standards but in their imposition of a sanction - the disestablishment of school districts, which entails unseating the local superintendent and school board and replacing them with state officials or their designees - that is extremely painful for the targeted district but is also painful for states to impose. The first Part of the Article combines statutory and institutional analysis with elementary game-theoretic concepts to support that conclusion. A second Part deploys the same tools to conclude that neither state courts nor the federal Department of Education is likely to be able to use accountability policies with any success, notwithstanding their surface similarity to the state programs that are so promising.