Little Noticed School Reforms Have Big Impact, Says Report

As policymakers and educators fixate over large-scale school reforms like charter schools and virtual learning, the Brookings Institution has released a report analyzing smaller organizational reforms that should be more widely considered, says a press release by the Great Lake Center.

The report, called “Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement“, applies cost-benefit analyses to three proposals: starting schools later in the morning; replacing junior high or middle schools with a K-8 grade configuration; and increasing teacher specialization by grade and subject.

The report found that, as 6th and 7th graders in junior high or middle schools perform worse than 6th and 7th graders who attend K-8 schools, encouraging more K-8 schools could have an even greater effect on student achievement than the laudable goal of reducing class sizes.

The report also found that starting high school classes later in the morning has the potential to save taxpayer dollars while producing better outcomes for students.

“The Wake County Public School System in North Carolina saved more than $100 million by moving to a staggered transportation system, which allowed greater use of the existing bus fleet.”

“Other studies show that later start times for high school students improves attendance and graduation rates by allowing teens to get more rest during the night… moving to later start times could provide $8 in future earnings for students for every $1 spent in changing transportation schedules.”

Increasing teacher specialization by grade and subject “may not pass a cost-benefit test and is almost certainly politically infeasible.”

Wellesley College economics professor Patrick J. McEwan reviewed the Brookings report for the Think Twice think tank review project. McEwan praises the research of the report and its judgment of the value of each of the considered reform proposals.

“In short, the report’s evidence supports its main conclusion that organizational interventions deserve careful consideration alongside more hotly-debated or popular interventions such as charter schools or computer-assisted instruction,” McEwan concludes.