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December 2017

Education

In the News

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Later School Start Times in the United States: An Economic Analysis

Around the country, legislatures and school districts are debating whether to delay school start time. While numerous studies have shown that later school start times are associated with positive student outcomes, a major argument against delaying school start times is that such a move would result in significant additional costs due to changes in transportation, such as rescheduling bus routes.

A recent report from RAND provides new information useful for this discussion: In the first-ever state-by-state analysis of the economic implications of a shift in school start times, researchers found that within two years, most states would break even in terms of the initial costs of the move versus the economic benefits. Within a decade, a nationwide move to 8:30 a.m. could contribute $83 billion to the U.S. economy, increasing to $140 billion after 15 years.

These benefits accrue from higher academic performance of students and reduced car crash rates, but do not include other effects from insufficient sleep, such as higher suicide rates, increased obesity and mental health issues. Therefore, it’s likely that the reported economic and health benefits from delaying school start times could be even higher across many states.

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Featured Research

Investing Early: Taking Stock of Outcomes and Economic Returns from Early Childhood Programs

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As early childhood interventions have proliferated, in many cases, researchers have evaluated whether these programs improve children's outcomes and, when they do, whether the improved outcomes generate benefits that can outweigh the program costs. New research from RAND examines a set of 115 rigorously evaluated early childhood programs serving children or parents of children under age 5—including preschool, home visiting, parent education, health-related visits, and government transfer programs such as food and housing subsidies.

RAND researchers found that most of the 115 early childhood programs included in the review improved one or more outcomes for children and, for the 19 programs where formal benefit-cost analyses have been performed, most programs largely paid for themselves through benefits to participants, government, and other members of society.

  • Policymakers can be highly confident that well-designed and implemented early childhood programs can improve the lives of children and families. Across the 115 programs reviewed, 89 percent had a positive effect on at least one child outcome, indicating it is relatively rare, among published evaluations, to find programs that have no demonstrable impacts on child outcomes.
  • Benefit-cost ratios are typically in the range of $2 to $4 for every dollar invested, although higher ratios are possible. This occurs, for example, when very low-cost programs have an effect on costly outcomes, such as health care costs.
  • However, benefits can take decades to exceed costs. This can pose challenges for funding mechanisms that require short-term payoffs, such as social impact bonds and other pay-for-performance mechanisms increasingly being used to attract private financing for early childhood programs.

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Dual-Credit Education in Texas

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Dual credit (DC) education programs—delivered through partnerships between high schools and colleges and universities—offer high school students the option to take college-level classes that simultaneously award them college and high school credit.

Although DC education programs have been implemented for more than 50 years in the United States, there is surprisingly little research providing practical, evidence-based guidance on how to structure, target, and scale programs to ensure they benefit students. A new interim report from RAND provides policymakers and stakeholders with an initial perspective on the accessibility, diversity, quality, and efficiency of DC education programs in Texas.

Researchers found that DC students had better college outcomes than high school graduates who did not take DC courses, although they could not conclude that DC education improved student outcomes.

  • DC students had higher grades in DC courses in the same subject as their non-DC peers, and higher grades in follow-on courses in the same subject.
  • DC students had higher college enrollment rates after high school and were significantly more likely to persist in and complete college.

However, researchers also discovered disparities in DC participation rates by race/ethnicity, income, urbanicity, and academic background:

  • African-American and Hispanic students were less likely than white students to participate in DC programs.
  • Economically disadvantaged students were less likely to participate in DC programs.
  • Females were more likely than males to participate in DC programs.

The next phase of research is designed to provide an initial perspective on DC programs in Texas, and researchers recommend that policymakers wait for findings from the next phase to make changes to policy surrounding DC programs.

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Teachers' Support of their State Standards and Assessments

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Amid questions about the future of state standards and assessments, a new report from RAND provides a critical perspective for district and state policymakers to consider: teachers' perceptions of and support for current standards and assessments.

  • Researchers using the American Teacher Panel, a nationally representative sample, found that nearly all U.S. math and English language arts teachers support the use of state standards in instruction.
  • Secondary teachers and those with more low-income students were more likely to support the state standards.
  • However, the majority of teachers do not support use of current state tests to measure mastery of standards.
  • Teachers who did not support their state tests were two to three times as likely as supporters to be concerned about test difficulty and accuracy of scores for students with special needs.

The report's authors recommend that states strive to ensure that state assessments are closely aligned with their standards, and communicate the linkages between standards and assessments—and the specific content of tests—as clearly as possible to teachers, schools, and families. Teachers may feel less frustration with accountability requirements if they know what to expect regarding their assessments and have clear evidence that the assessments are tied closely to the standards they are expected to teach.

Read the report »

RAND Congressional Resources Staff

Jayme Fuglesten
Director, Office of Congressional Relations

Grace Evans
Education Legislative Analyst

RAND Office of Congressional Relations
(703) 413-1100, ext. 5395
www.rand.org/congress

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RAND Education conducts research on almost every aspect of the education system, bringing accurate data and careful, objective analysis to the debate on education policy. For more information, visit www.rand.org/education.

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