I think you're sort of on the right track. The problem is how much do we respect the students' ability and right to informed consent? Do the students' have a voice at all, do they deserve one, and for that matter, how informed are the parents going into these experiments? This is true of both large and small project, and solutions are hard to come by, which is part of the issue with the snails pace of educational reform.
NCLB isn't a new idea, in fact, that isn't even the real name. It is actually a set of additional rules for Title 1 funding from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act from 1965. Title 1 federal funds have had various stipulations through the years, and the current AYP goals on annual tests are just the latest. There are other sections, also, like Title 3, which deals with funds for language learners. The federal government can't influence educational policy directly, so they gather up as much money as they can, and then attach as many strings as they can, so that eventually federal policy becomes mandated at the local level. Who does this affect the most? The least funded schools in low socioeconomic areas. Wealthy school districts don't need Title 1 money, and have always been able to just tell the feds to screw off.
But since not all schools are funded the same way (in California, look at the "Basic aid" vs. "Revenue Limited" issue which ensures the disparity) the federal money is very, very important to some districts. In fact, my current position is funded entirely through federal funding sources. Some here (actually many, having read through the comments) would say I'm exactly the kind of person who is part of the problem with public education and spending. I work out of the district office as a technology coach for integration with curriculum and teacher training, as well as a bulk of the data collection and analysis for student performance. Here's a quick hint: if you make test scores and data more and more important to schools, they will hire more and more statisticians and administrative analysts.
Anyway, sorry for the rant. I get that people all over aren't happy with what schools are doing and how much they cost, but I also don't think people understand how complicated it all is, and how impossible it is to deliver on all the expectations with a fraction of the money. It wears me out a bit.