- Sarah Novicoff
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We examine the fundamental and complex role that time plays in the learning process. We begin by developing a conceptual framework to elucidate the multiple obstacles schools face in converting total time in school into active learning time. We then synthesize the causal research and document a clear positive effect of time on student achievement of small to medium magnitude, but also with likely diminishing marginal returns. Further descriptive analyses reveal how large differences in the length of the school day and year across public schools are an underappreciated dimension of educational inequality in the United States. Finally, our case study of time loss in one urban district demonstrates the potential to substantially increase learning time within existing constraints.
While policymakers have demonstrated considerable enthusiasm for “science of reading” initiatives, the evidence on the impact of related reforms when implemented at scale is limited. In this pre-registered, quasi-experimental study, we examine California’s recent initiative to improve early literacy across the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools. The Early Literacy Support Block Grant (ELSBG) provided teacher professional development grounded in the science of reading as well as aligned supports (e.g., assessments and interventions), new funding (about $1000 per student), spending flexibility within specified guidelines, and expert facilitation and oversight of school-based planning. We find that ELSBG generated significant (and cost-effective) improvements in ELA achievement in its first two years of implementation (0.14 SD) as well as smaller, spillover improvements in math achievement.
A controversial, equity-focused mathematics reform in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) featured delaying Algebra I until ninth grade for all students. This descriptive study examines student-level longitudinal data on mathematics course-taking across successive cohorts of SFUSD students who spanned the reform’s implementation. We observe large changes in ninth and tenth grades (e.g., delaying Algebra I and Geometry). Participation in Advanced Placement (AP) math initially fell 15% (6 pp.) driven by declines in AP Calculus and among Asian/Pacific-Islander students. However, growing participation in acceleration options attenuated these reductions. Large ethnoracial gaps in advanced math course-taking remained.