NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Time for School?

November 6, 2012

Researchers have found that it is increasingly necessary to keep students at school longer in order to get the necessary instruction to keep up with students from around the world, say Dave E. Marcotte, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Benjamin Hansen, a research associate at IMPAQ International, LLC.

One study looked at the impact that cancellations (due to weather conditions) had on test scores of students in different school districts in the United States. The findings show not only that more instructional time correlates with more achievement, but that instructional time has a bigger impact on a lot of other factors. For third grade students, simply adding 10 days of learning had an impact greater than repeating a grade, having a better teacher or having a smaller class size.

Current measurements of success don't take into account the amount of time a student spends at school, therefore making it difficult to look at how efficient a school is in teaching students. Ignoring the effect that time has on student achievement has many drawbacks.

  • Indeed, it allows districts to game accountability systems by changing school calendars so that students have more time in school prior to state assessments. Many schools, for instance, moved their testing dates from February to April to give students more time to prepare.
  • However, grading the tests over a shorter time frame costs more, estimated at some $3.9 million annually in Colorado, for example. Schools thus sacrifice things like smaller classrooms or higher teacher salaries.
  • Moreover, schools that are already at risk of being sanctioned for poor performance are disproportionately affected by conditions out of their control, such as bad weather.

As educators look ahead, it is important to include the number of days a student attends school in any state or federal accountability system.

Opponents argue that increasing the number of instructional days would require massive expenditures that school districts are not equipped to deal with. In addition, they claim that simply providing more time for students to be in school would simply result in teachers trying to fill the day with games and other activities that don't benefit students.

Source: Dave E. Marcotte and Benjamin Hansen, "Time for School?" Education Next, Vol. 10, No.1, Winter 2010.


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