MDRC in the News

Proof Points: Could More Time in School Help Students After the Pandemic?

The Hechinger Report

05/2021

It seems intuitive that what children need now is more time. Because students missed so much instruction during the pandemic, teachers should get extra time to fill all those instructional holes, from teaching mathematical percents and zoological classifications to discussing literary metaphors and American history. 

Indeed, many advocacy groups, including the Learning Policy Institute and Ed Trust, are recommending extending learning time next year. I haven’t heard about many school districts announcing longer schedules yet but I was curious to learn what research evidence shows for students at schools that have extended the day or lengthened the year. (I’m excluding optional after-school programs here.) I was surprised by how few well-designed studies there are and how uncertain the benefits have been. 

”We don’t really know what the effects are,” said Jean B. Grossman, an economist at Princeton University and MDRC, a nonprofit research organization, who has studied this research literature. “My takeaway is that extending the learning year doesn’t really work. Just adding 10 extra days doesn’t seem to have any effect.”

Even advocates of longer school days and years emphasize that extra time by itself often doesn’t have an impact. What you do with the time matters. Devoting the extra time to a daily dose of tutoring seems most promising. But tutoring can work equally well even when the school day isn’t lengthened. Extra time does mean that other activities — from physical education to art and coding — don’t have to be curtailed. Another approach that warrants further study is using the extra time for a double dose of math, in which students take a remedial class and a grade-level class concurrently. That’s worked well in Chicago high schools but not in Miami middle schools. What is clear is that using the extra time for just more hours or more days of traditional instruction doesn’t appear to achieve much….

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