“Shortened School Weeks in U.S. Public Schools”. There is an increasing trend among schools and districts to reduce the school week from five days to four (longer) days. Much of the impetus of this structural intervention comes from the perception that this schedule would generate significant cost savings. Additionally, there is a belief that it positively impacts student achievement, teacher recruitment, and other quality indicators. Unfortunately, the lack of experimental evidence makes it difficult to prove or disprove most of the claims.
In the 2017-18 school year approximately 1.9% of public schools provided shortened school weeks. Eight states had more than 10% of their schools on this schedule, with Wyoming having almost twenty percent of its schools on a four-day week. In general, rural schools and those in the West were more likely to adopt this model. (NCES, 2020).
The number of school districts operating on a four-day schedule grew by 466% over the last three years. There were 120 districts in 21 states in 2016 and 560 districts in 25 states in 2019. Over half of Colorado’s districts now operate on four-day weeks. (Walker, T., 2019)
Proponents claim that the model saves money, improves student performance, helps with teacher recruitment and retention, reduces student absenteeism, and improves the quality of life for all involved as they have an extra day away from school to take care of personal business. Opponents challenge these claims and highlight the potential new costs for parents, loss of wages for support professionals, and reduced access to services for low income students.
Regarding potential savings, the analysis is straightforward. The Education Commission of the States conducted a detailed analysis calculating that the maximum savings for a district was 5.43%, but that the more likely average is in the .4% to 2.5% range. Many of the largest costs such as salaries, facilities, administrative costs, etc. are not affected by fewer days (Griffith, M., 2011).
Unfortunately, large-scale experimental studies on the other stated pros and cons of this intervention are as of yet nonexistent. The studies that have been completed are often non- or quasi-experimental and produce results that are inconsistent, inconclusive, or show negative impact (Heyward, G., 2018). Additionally, it is difficult to evaluate the impact of this intervention because, as with most structural interventions, the 4 day school schedule does not represent any particular teaching or educational model. It is just a work schedule. Regardless, “the idea has proved contagious because adults like it”. (Hill, 2017).
Citation(s): NCES. (2020). Shortened School Weeks in U.S. Public Schools. NCES 2020-011. National Center for Education Statistics.
Griffith, M. (2011). What Savings Are Produced by Moving to a Four-Day School Week?. Education Commission of the States (NJ3).
Heyward, G. (2018). What Do We Actually Know About the Four-Day School Week? Center on Reinventing Public Education
Hill, P.T. & Heyward, G., (2017). A Troubling Contagion: The Rural 4-Day School Week. Brookings Institute, Brown Center Chalkboard.
Long, C. (2019). Four-Day School Weeks More Popular, But Impact on Students and Educators Unclear. neaToday
National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). (2019). Four-Day School Week Overview
Walker, T. (2019). After Moving to a Four-Day School Week, There May Be No Going Back. neaToday
The Current Controversy About Teaching Reading: Comments for Those Left with Questions After Reading the New York times Article. This Op-Ed commentary by Daniel Willingham discusses the current knowledge base on effective reading instruction in the context of a recent New York Times article on the topic. For over twenty years, the core components of effective reading (phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension) have been available to educators. Despite ample evidence, a large number of teacher preparation programs do not adequately train teachers on the best available evidence, many relying on an approach, “Balanced Literacy.” Balanced literacy was offered as a compromise to end the conflict between those advocating for phonics instruction and instructors promoting the immersion in relevant texts designed to motivate student’s learning. In practice, when Balanced Literacy is implemented, phonics instruction is frequently not included in the curriculum. Willingham concludes that decoding is the most thoroughly researched aspect of reading, decoding’s efficacy is well documented, and he suggests it is about time educators take advantage of this work.
Exploring the Impact of Student Teaching Apprenticeships on Student Achievement and Mentor Teachers. Each school year, more than 125,000 student teachers complete training working in a classroom with actual students. A substantial body of research exists regarding the importance of clinical training for teachers, but much less is available on the impact of student teachers on the students they serve. This paper examines the consequences of having an apprentice teacher for 4-8 graders in the state of Washington. The authors find that hosting a student teacher had neither a positive or negative impact on student’s performance in the year of the apprenticeship. The study did find a modest positive impact on students’ math and reading achievement in a teacher’s classroom in the following years. The study concludes that schools and parents feel comfortable that hosting a student teacher, and there may be a small benefit achievement from this experience.
Citation: Goldhaber, D., Krieg, J. M., & Theobald, R. (2020). Exploring the impact of student teaching apprenticeships on student achievement and mentor teachers. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 1-22.
Teacher prep review: Program Performance in Early Reading Instruction. Each school year, over one million public school 4th graders fail to achieve proficiency in reading. Evidence strongly suggests this is unnecessary as a roadmap with the potential to reduce the rate of reading failure from 3% to 1% of children is available.
The National Council of Teacher Quality (NCTQ) review examines teacher preparation program progress in adopting the necessary components of evidence-based reading instruction. The report continues the effort of two previous reports offering educators a look at trends on preparation program progress on providing this essential training. NCTQ assesses Teacher preparation programs on the instruction of the five components of effective reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The NCTQ assessed preparation programs on three criteria; teaching all five components, the inclusion of high-quality textbooks offering detailed information on all five factors, and requiring teacher candidates to demonstrate mastery of the five skill sets.
The findings reveal that preparation programs are making persistent progress delivering instruction for all five reading components. The report concludes the field of teacher preparation is at a critical juncture in reading training as the data suggests a continued momentum in favor of science-based reading instruction. This year’s report finds undergraduate programs consistently improved scientifically-based reading instruction since NCTQ first began these studies. This report finds 57 percent now earning an A or B. This growth represents a 10-point improvement when compared to 2016 and an 18-point increase over the 2013 Teacher Prep Review.
Although this progress is to lauded, it is important to note only half of the programs provide instruction in phonemic awareness, the first step in mastering reading. The study also finds teachers are not any more likely to learn the importance of fluency, with only 53 percent of programs providing adequate coverage of this component.
The trouble with teacher turnover: How teacher attrition affects students and schools. Schools in the United States continue to experience a shortage of classroom teachers. Teacher shortages negatively impact school systems, including but not limited to student learning and available district resources. This study finds higher turnover rates in the southern states; among mathematics, science, special education, English language development, and foreign language teachers; in schools serving students of color and from low-income families; and among teachers of color. The analysis reveals factors associated with higher turnover rates, ranging from insufficient administrative support to teacher compensation. Finally, the paper proposes strategies to address teacher turnover to ensure a stable teacher workforce.
Citation: Carver-Thomas, D., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2019). The trouble with teacher turnover: How teacher attrition affects students and schools. education policy analysis archives, 27, 36.
The Unavoidable: Tomorrow’s Teacher Compensation. This research examines the issue of teacher compensation. The author finds that teachers earn significantly less than they could make working in other comparable fields. The results show teacher salaries have been stagnant as a result of money has been funneled to increasing the number of educators and support personnel in schools. An examination of school expenditures reveals substantial growth in the costs of teacher pensions, and health care coverage has negatively affected teacher compensation. Consequently, inadequate teacher compensation reduces teacher retention and, ultimately, the quality of instruction. The research cautions against merely throwing money at the problem, as is commonly the case in many policy initiatives that do not directly impact how teachers teach.
Citation: Hanushek, E. A. (2020). The Unavoidable: Tomorrow’s Teacher Compensation. Stanford Hoover Education Success Initiative. http://hanushek.stanford.edu/publications/unavoidable-tomorrow’s-teacher-compensation
School Principal Competencies. Research has consistently shown that principals play a critical role in determining the quality of teaching, and in turn, student learning and achievement. Recent meta-analytic reviews suggest that effective principals are highly competent in the following areas: 1) establishing and conveying the school’s vision, goals and expectations by modeling aspirational practices and promoting data use for continuous improvement; 2) building teachers’ professional capacity by providing targeted and job-embedded professional development, protecting instructional time, and selecting educators who are the “right fit” for the school; 3) creating a supportive organization for learning by sharing and distributing leadership, understanding and building on diversity, and strategically acquiring and allocating resources; 4) facilitating a high-quality student learning experience by developing and monitoring curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and creating learning environments that are personalized, safe, and orderly; and 5) connecting with external partners who can support fulfillment of school goals, and building productive and collaborative relationships with families. While these principal competencies are relevant for a range of school contexts, leaders operating in varying school environments (e.g., high/low poverty, urban/rural) must ultimately determine how best to enact them to optimize teaching and learning.
Practice Outpacing Policy? Credit Recovery in American School Districts. Traditionally, students who failed classes could get credit by taking the class over during summer school. In a relatively brief period of time, most high schools have a undergone a complete and rapid transformation in this area, shifting to “credit recovery” programs to help at-risk students earn credits towards graduation for classes they have failed. These programs typically offer online alternatives to students rather than having them retake the failed class. In the 2015-16 school year approximately three out of four high schools offered credit recovery programs with about 6% of all students participating. This growth in credit recovery programs, rapid expansion of new online models, and numerous cases of misuse to inflate graduation rates highlight the need for research into the implementation and effectiveness of this intervention.
This study examined the policies and practices of a representative sample of high schools to identify how they structure their credit recovery programs. It found: Over 95% of the credit recovery program had online components (58% online with some in-person instruction, 37% were exclusively online). Seventy-eight percent used just one online credit recovery provider to manage their system. Eighty-seven percent of districts offer credit recovery programs year-round. Forty percent of the districts limited credit recovery to courses
Traditionally, students who failed classes could get credit by taking the course over during summer school. In a relatively brief time, most high schools have undergone a complete and rapid transformation in this area, shifting to “credit recovery” programs to help at-risk students earn credits towards graduation for classes they have failed. These programs typically offer online alternatives to students rather than having them retake the failed class. In the 2015-16 school year, approximately three out of four high schools offered credit recovery programs with, about 6% of all students participating. This growth in credit recovery programs, a rapid expansion of new online models, and numerous cases of misuse to inflate graduation rates highlight the need for research into the implementation and effectiveness of this intervention
This study examined the policies and practices of a representative sample of high schools to identify how they structure their credit recovery programs. It found: Over 95% of the credit recovery program had online components (58% online with some in-person instruction, 37% were exclusively online). Seventy-eight percent used just one online credit recovery provider to manage their system. Eighty-seven percent of districts offer credit recovery programs year-round. Forty percent of the districts limited credit recovery to courses required for graduation. Only 16% limited the option to twelfth graders, allowing students from all high school grades to avail themselves of the option. The study concluded that “many districts’ policies allow lots of flexibility for student access and assessment with relatively little constraint. Taken individually, these policies could be justifiable but taken together, and they leave credit recovery programs ripe for abuse.”
Citation: Malkus, N. (2019). Practice Outpacing Policy? Credit Recovery in American School Districts. American Enterprise Institute.
On the Reality of Dyslexia. This paper assesses research on the topic of dyslexia. Willingham’s piece is in response to comments made by literacy researcher, Dick Allington, in which he questions the legitimacy of the label, dyslexia. Answering this question is more than an academic exercise as having a clearer understanding of dyslexia is crucial if educators are to understand why 10% of students struggle to master reading, the skill essential to success in academic learning. Willingham highlights the etiology of the disorder, and he concludes that the ability to read is the product of the home environment, instruction at school, and genetics within the child. Dyslexia is a problem in the child’s ability to successfully master the skills of reading and is closely related to fluency in language. Dyslexia is not like measles in which you are ill, or you aren’t. Dyslexia is more like high blood pressure where individuals fall on a bell curve. Falling somewhere on the bell curve is supported by the hypothesis that the disorder is the complex interaction between multiple causes. Although it does not have a single source, dyslexia is successfully remediated through evidence-based language and reading instruction.
PISA 2018 Results (Volume I): What Students Know and Can Do. Benchmark Indicators are critical tools to help education stakeholders track their education system’s performance over time, in comparison to other similar level education systems (state, national, international), and by student groups (ethnicity, disabilities, socioeconomic status, etc.). One of the most respected tools for benchmarking system performance is the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests 15-year-old-students across nearly 80 countries and educational systems in reading, mathematics, and science. The results from the most recent testing (2018) were just released. The report itself has an enormous amount of data. A summary of key findings follows.
Performance Over Time
U.S. test performance, despite small fluctuations, has been virtually flat over the past twelve to eighteen years (depending on the subject area). The reading performance score was 504 in 2000 and 505 in 2018. Math performance got worse, dropping from 483 in 2003 to 478 in 2018. And science performance has remained the same over the last four testing periods, remaining at 502 between 2009 and 2018. Consistency is not inherently a bad thing depending on how well a system is performing. However, PISA data suggests that the U.S. system is significantly underperforming compared to other international systems (see following). Consistency is also a problem when one considers that unprecedented investments in school reform efforts during this time period (e.g. No Child Left Behind, School Improvement Grants, Race to the Top, and Every Student Succeeds) have failed to move the needle in any significant way.
Performance Compared to Other Countries
U.S performance in reading ranked thirteenth among participating nations in reading, thirty-eighth in math, and twelfth in science. These represent a slight improvement in rankings from the 2015 test results, but that is a reflection of several top performing nations had lower scores, not that the U.S. improved.
Performance Across Different Student Subgroups
One of the biggest takeaway’s from this report is the growing inequity in performance between the high student performers and low. The following chart looks at the average scores of a gap between student scores in the highest percent of academic achievement (90%) and scores at the lowest (10%).
Reading scores of the highest performing students have increased over the lasts two tests from 614 to 643, while the scores of the lowest 10% have decreased from 378 to 361. The result is a widening gap between the top and lowest performing students. While improving the scores of the best performing students is a laudable achievement, an education system must serve all of its students in the interest of equity.
Further analysis of the data shows a correlation between student performance differences and their socioeconomic status (SES). One of the metrics used to determine SES is whether or not students qualify for the National School Lunch Program.
This data shows a direct correlation between a school’s reading scores and the SES of its student body. The more low SES students, the lower the PISA reading, math, and science scores.
It is almost impossible to document cause and effect with data at this level of analysis and control. Still, when making policy and program decisions, we must use the best available evidence. In this case, the best available evidence portrays an education system that, despite significant school improvement efforts, has shown little or no improvement over time, performs worse than a significant number of other nations’ education systems and continues to have inequitable results.