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More Class Time Is Questionable

In an attempt to improve learning, reformers have convinced the public that spending more time in class is the answer.  I admit the strategy is appealing, but a Center for Education Policy Analysis study found that the gains - at least in math - are ephemeral ("Testing gains from extra time in math class not lasting, GSE study finds," Stanford Graduate School of Education News, Jul. 18).

Concerned about the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress results showing that two-thirds of students in the U.S. ages 14 to 15 were not proficient in math, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools decided to do something different.  It required students below a given cut- score on Florida's math test to take an extra math class in their sixth-grade schedules.  At the end of the school year, those students performed better than their peers who had only one math class. But the gains did not last.  By the time the same students reached high school, they did no better in math than the others.  Moreover, the extra math class had replaced foreign language, arts or physical education.  

Researchers have reported similar fade-out patterns with other pedagogical strategies such as preschool, extended school days and a longer school year. Positive results in the short run do not necessarily prevail in the long run. This calls into question what reformers are pushing for.

The most compelling evidence is the Department of Health and Human Services' own 346-page final report titled "Third Grade Follow-Up to the Head Start Impact Study." It concluded: "There were initial positive impacts from having access to Head Start, but by the end of 3rd grade there were very few impacts found ... in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices. The few impacts that were found did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children." 

On Sept. 4, New York City will begin a free, full-day, city-wide pre-K program for 50,000 children ("Universal Pre-K Takes Off, The New York Times, Sept. 2).  I hope it will provide more lasting outcomes than those that have been tried before. 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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