Last week, the Center for Public Education released a comparative study of international college attainment rates, which reinforced what other research has found: a smaller proportion of America’s twenty and thirty-somethings are getting college degrees than other countries and their own parents. There are myriad reasons behind this decline— we were at one point, the top producer of college graduates in the world— and one of the most cited barriers to earning a college degree is the rising cost of tuition.
While few dispute the necessity of postsecondary education in the pursuit of a well-paying job, more and more are questioning whether traditional four year degrees are still worth it. The Economist approached the subject in a provocative piece last week that declared American universities represented declining value. Meanwhile, Academic Earth presents this nifty infograph that keeps the comparisons of return on investment within the U.S., looking instead to the salary differences of private and public university graduates.
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Five states have entered into a pilot project to add 300 hours of instructional time to the school year. The participating states — Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee — had each made more school time part of their approved ESEA waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. The Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time and Learning are providing technical assistance and support for the pilot, which is expected to reach about 20,000 students in 40 schools.
According to an AP story, the overarching goals for adding time are to raise student performance and to also provide a well-rounded curriculum including the arts and other subjects that sometimes take a backseat to reading and math.
There’s a common-sense appeal to the idea that extending time for learning will produce more learning. A CPE review of research on school time found that to be generally true— with some caveats.
Number one is that the impact of extra time depends how it’s is used. Merely stretching 45 minutes of typical instruction into a bigger slot isn’t likely to make much difference. That’s why it will be important to give teachers their own time for planning.
Last year, CPE’s Jim Hull and Mandy Newport analyzed the amount of time students are required to be in school in different countries (cited in the AP story). They found that contrary to many reports, the U.S. requires about as much or more time than many of our economic competitors. They also found little relationship between time required and outcomes. Just consider the case of high-scoring Finland which requires the least hours compared to low-scoring Italy which requires the most. Note that time required doesn’t necessarily represent the actual instructional time students receive. Nonetheless, this underscores how vital it is to use the time effectively.
The pilot has a three-year timeframe. We’ll be watching to see how much impact it has on student learning and how it compares to investments in teacher professional development, curriculum or other strategies to raise achievement. As budget conscious school leaders know, time in the school schedule truly is money. Hopefully, these five states will have lessons for schools across the country to make sure time is on our side.
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