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Increase instruction time in schools

BY DANIEL TAIBLESON | APRIL 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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Retaining America's status as a world economic power requires us to take back our status as the best-educated country in the world. The only way to do that is to enact education reforms proven to improve student performance.

The state Legislature has moved closer to passing legislation that would increase the minimum number of hours of instructional time students must attain each year. Opponents warn that the dollar costs of keeping schools open longer are too high.

This penny-wise foolish thinking ignores a tremendous body of evidence showing that increased instructional time is one of the single most reliable ways to improve student achievement — more than lower student-teacher ratios, higher per-pupil spending, and requiring teachers to be certified.

Researchers Willie Dobbie and Roland Fryer, two Harvard heavyweights, shed light on which education polices meaningfully improve student performance in a recent report. Policies that do not seem to influence student performance are class size, the percentage of teachers with advanced degrees, and per-pupil expenditures — increasing instructional time was one that drastically improved performance.

Across all of the New York charter schools, the two observed, student performance appeared closely linked to the total amount of instructional time students were provided. On average, student in "high achieving" schools benefited from seven additional instructional days each year and an additional half hour of instruction each day. In sum, these students were receiving between 26 and 28 percent more instructional hours.

To be sure, it is certainly possible that environmental or circumstantial variables might have skewed Dobbie's and Fryer's findings. However, a follow-up study in Houston public schools confirmed the veracity of what was observed in New York.

Fryer oversaw the implementation of the education policies his earlier study had revealed to be effective tools (such as increasing student instructional time) for improving student performance in nine of the lowest performing middle schools in Houston during the 2010-11 academic year. Those nine schools saw a statistically significant improvement in student performance after only one year.

This result not only buttressed previous evidence that increasing instructional time is a reliable approach to improve student performance, it also showed that approaches that work in one school system can be effectively implemented in others. Moreover, they could implemented in "failing" schools and produce a tangible improvement in student performance.

Educational attainment is not deterministic: There is no guarantee that a college-educated individual will be more economically prosperous than someone who dropped out of high school. But when you look at the numbers, a college education makes it far more likely that a person will experience economic and financial success.

The same holds true for nations: Undereducated countries might be able to outperform better-educated ones, but there is no doubt that a better educated population is better suited to reap the rewards of an ever-changing and growing global economy.

There is a myth, of sorts, that exists in modern American culture — that there was a time when American economic superiority was not tied to education. Sure, an 18-year-old white male with no more than a high-school education in the 1960s faced far better economic prospects than does his modern-day equivalent. However, that historical fact distracts from the far more important truth that today's 60-somethings grew up in an era when America had the highest college-graduation rate in the world.

That is no longer the case.

Education is not only a pillar of the American dream, it is the bedrock of America's economic success. We cannot lose sight of that fact. Having the best and brightest work force in the world is only possible if we adequately educate children from the very start.

This requires putting into practice those education policies that reliably improve student performance — increasing instructional time means better outcomes for students.


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