July 31, 2007

RALEIGH – North Carolina cannot fix its ailing public school systems by mandating longer school days or a longer school year. That’s the conclusion in a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report.

Click here to view and here to listen to Terry Stoops discussing this Spotlight report.

“The General Assembly has not yet translated chatter about longer school days and a longer school calendar into legislation,” said report author Terry Stoops, JLF Education Policy Analyst. “But both ideas are gaining favor. Like proposals to reduce class size or raise the compulsory school attendance age, these ideas promote facile solutions to complex problems.”

Supporters of the longer school day and longer school year point to practices in other countries, Stoops said. But research into math scores around the globe shows extra instructional time does not translate into higher scores.

“More is not necessarily better,” Stoops said. “American students already receive the equivalent of four more weeks of math instruction than students in the average nation linked to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. But U.S. students’ standardized math test scores rank 27th out of 39 OECD countries.”

Just two of the five highest-performing countries offered more math instruction each week and each year than the average U.S. school, Stoops said. “Among the nations with the worst scores, three actually offered more math instruction each year than American schools,” he said. “There is no consistent relationship between in-school instructional time in mathematics and the country’s average score on this standardized math test.”

The findings extend beyond math instruction, Stoops said. “Authors of a 2004 Pennsylvania State University study found no statistically significant correlation between instructional time in math, science, reading, and civics and test scores on international assessments of those subjects.”

High-performing countries are successful because they employ strong leaders, focus on measurable results, and maintain high expectations for all teachers, parents, and students, Stoops said. “That sounds like a good game plan for our public schools, too.”

Along with dubious educational benefits, a longer school day and year could have major budget impacts, Stoops said. “You can’t just tack another hour at the end of the school day,” he said. “School systems could face considerable costs as they redesign their educational programs, offer extra training, and boost funding for additional staff and resources.”

Massachusetts public schools budgeted an extra $1,300 per student for a longer school day, Stoops said. “Applying that figure to the average-size North Carolina elementary school, taxpayers would spend $656,000 per year per school to lengthen the school day here,” he said. “Even a five-school pilot project could cost nearly $3.3 million a year.”

Flexibility is the key, Stoops said. “Although it is not the panacea that advocates make it out to be, an extended school day and year might help students who could benefit from high-quality supplemental instruction,” he said. “That’s why parents should have the option to send their children to a school with an alternative schedule, which may include longer or shorter days, if parents believe it to be in the best interest of their child’s education. Otherwise, the measure becomes one in a long list of one-size-fits-all reforms that invariably fail to deliver on the promise of increasing student achievement.”

Terry Stoops’ Spotlight report, “Better Instruction, Not More Time: A longer school day and year will be North Carolina’s next education fad,” is available at the JLF web site. For more information, please contact Stoops at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].