Legislative Analyst's Office

Analysis of the 2001-02 Budget Bill

Longer Middle School Year

The Governor's budget proposes $100 million from the General Fund (Proposition 98) to phase in a new incentive program to lengthen the school year for middle schools by 30 days. (Most middle schools operate on 180-day calendars.) The administration estimates funding for the second year (2002-03) would increase to $450 million. In the third year, the proposal calls for enough funding for all middle schools to participate, at a potential annual cost of $1 billion or more. At the time of this analysis, however, the administration was revising program details. The administration intends to seek legislation to enact its longer middle school year incentive program. At the time this analysis was prepared, no bill had been introduced and no draft bill language had been provided for legislative review.

The Secretary for Education has stated that the program would be available to all middle schools serving students in grades 7 and 8, and that school districts could choose to include either 6th grade or 9th grade in the program depending on school configurations. The proposal would provide $770 per student, intended to offset the costs of increasing the school year by 30 days. Participating districts also must agree to have instructional materials aligned to the state academic standards.

The Secretary also stated the administration's intent to devise special rules for multitrack year-round schools, where it would be difficult (or impossible) to extend the school year to 210 days. These rules probably would include allowing multitrack schools to lengthen the school day by an equivalent number of hours (slightly less than one hour per day based upon our calculations). Even so, multitrack schools may have difficulty implementing an extended school day, or would do so at the expense of supplemental instructional programs.

District participation in the longer middle school year program would be voluntary, but only in the most limited sense. The proposed $770 per-pupil payments for extending the school year represents a very large amount to school districts—over one-sixth of average revenue limit funding. Districts would have the option of foregoing these amounts but this would be a difficult decision from a practical standpoint.

The Role of Time in Education—Research Findings

The Governor's proposal provides the Legislature with the opportunity to consider the role of time in education, and to ask some basic questions about how well schools use the time they have. A recent study by West-Ed, the western regional laboratory for the U.S. Department of Education, identifies three different measures of time in education that differ qualitatively and in terms of policy implications.

The West-Ed study found, based on a review of the academic literature, that:

The West-Ed study summarized the role of time in education as follows:

The research literature suggests that, while time is certainly a critical factor, by itself it has little direct impact on student performance. Simply adding time to the school year or day would not likely produce large scale gains in student achievement.

Rather, what research studies repeatedly find is that in education, quality is the key to making time matter. Of particular importance is providing curriculum and instruction geared to the needs and abilities of students, engaging them so they will return day after day, continuing to build on what they have learned. In other words, educators must—to the greatest extent possible—make every hour count. What matters most are those catalytic moments when students are absorbed in instructional activities that are adequately challenging, yet allow them to experience success . . . Only when time is used more effectively will adding more of it begin to result in improved learning outcomes for all students.

Instructional Time Alone Not the Answer

Instructional Time in Different Countries. The Governor's budget summary cites as one rationale for extending the school year the hope of replicating the academic success that other countries with longer school years have experienced. The budget summary specifically cites Japan, Korea, and Taiwan as countries providing 20 to 40 more school days and demonstrating high student achievement. The fact that these countries have nominally longer school calendars, however, does not necessarily explain the high achievement relative to California or the United States, since many important aspects of these educational systems and national cultures also differ strikingly. In fact, a closer inspection of how time is used in different countries is revealing.

Perhaps surprisingly, the instructional time that students in the United States receive is greater than other developed countries. Figure 1 shows that middle school students in the United States receive 980 hours of instruction annually, which exceeds the average for countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Since instructional time for California middle schools falls within the approximate range of other American states, California middle school students annually receive more hours of instruction than students in either Japan or Korea. This is because Japanese and Korean students spend more of their day on noninstructional activity—such as at-school study periods—than California students. Moreover, Japanese and Korean teachers spend less time instructing pupils because they spend more of their day than their California counterparts in activities such as class preparation, grading papers, and staff development.

Figure 1

Instructional Time for
14-Year-Old Students

(Hours per Year)


Hours of Instruction



United States




International Average a






Czech Republic










a International average includes 16 additional Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries that submitted data.

Source: OECD Education Database.

Another important distinction in how time is used in different countries involves the proportion of instructional time devoted to core academic subjects, which is much higher in Japan and many other countries than in California. Figure 2 shows the number of hours a high school student spends annually on core academic subjects (such as math and language arts). The figure indicates, for instance, that American students spend significantly less than half the time on core subjects as in Japan, France, and Germany. California time requirements for instruction in the core academic subjects may be slightly higher than the national average, but are still significantly below the requirement in Japan, France, and Germany. While the data available from the international studies shown in Figures 1 and 2 are for different grade levels, the data generally suggest that students in the United States spend as much or more time in classes, but receive significantly less instruction in the core academic subjects.

Figure 2

Required Instructional Time in
Core Academic Subjects

(High Schools)


Average Hours Annually

United States








International Math and Science Study Suggests Instructional Quality May Be Lower in U.S. As part of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, mathematics experts reviewed video tapes of classes from a representative sample of mathematics instruction and ranked the quality of instruction high, medium, or low. They found that 89 percent of the U.S. classroom instruction reviewed was of low quality. By comparison, 34 percent of the reviewed instruction was graded as low quality for German classrooms, and 11 percent for Japanese classrooms. The study also found that new teachers in the U.S received less on-the-job training, less mentoring, and less preparation time than teachers in Germany or Japan.

Using Existing Time Better

The West-Ed report suggests that better time management and increasing the portion of the academic day dedicated to core academic subjects are ways to maximize student time dedicated to academic learning without requiring significant additional expenditures, as discussed below.

Another approach to improving the use of existing time is the adoption of alternative academic calendars, as discussed further below.

Alternative Academic Calendars

Background. According to researchers, the traditional nine-month school calendar evolved long ago as a compromise between agrarian and urban regions and has no real tie to how students learn or to the needs of modern family lifestyles. Research suggests that altering the academic calendar may improve student performance over time by eliminating the long summer break when students often forget much of what they have learned.

Summer Fall-Off Effect Varies By Subject Area and Socioeconomic Status. Researchers have documented the learning "fall-off effect" or the "summer of forgetting" that occurs between the last day of one school year and the first day of the next. A recent academic article reviewed 39 studies tracking student achievement over the summer months. The findings of that review suggest that the impact of summer vacations on learning differs by subject area and across socioeconomic groups:

Researchers have not been able to determine if the summer fall-off effect has lasting impacts or whether students recover over the course of the next school year. That the impacts of summer vacation differ among socioeconomic groups implies that options to address these effects should be flexible. Researchers have proposed three basic ways to address the summer fall-off effect—year-round scheduling, targeted or remedial summer school, and longer school year. The cost implications of these three alternatives for California differ greatly, ranging from almost no extra cost to potentially billions of dollars annually.

Can a Year-Round Calendar Improve Achievement? A year-round schedule involves distributing the same number of school days as in the traditional calendar (180) but structuring the "breaks" at more intervals that are shorter than the traditional summer break. The most common year-round schedule has a recurring pattern of 60 days of school followed by 20 days off. In California over 1.3 million students (22 percent of students) attend schools on a year-round calendar. This calendar could have several potential benefits:

Summer School Provides Opportunity to Catch Up. A second alternative to addressing the summer fall-off effect is to provide summer school to all students at a school, or targeted sets of students. Unlike lengthening the school year, summer school generally concentrates on students in most need, and often focuses exclusively on core academic subjects.

What Are the Problems the Administration Is Trying to Solve?

The administration has identified several problems that it is trying to solve with this program.

Student Achievement Declines in Middle School. The Governor's proposal attempts to address (1) a decline in reading test scores occurring in 9th grade, and (2) the relatively weak improvement in student test scores in middle schools over the last couple of years. The data, however, suggest a more complicated set of student achievement problems that are evident to some degree in many middle schools, but are more clearly evident in many high schools. Achievement data from the National Assessment of Education Progress, Stanford-9, and international comparisons suggest that academic achievement in middle schools is relatively similar to that in elementary schools. Figure 3 shows that Stanford-9 test scores for students in 4th grade and 8th grade are similar. However, starting in 9th grade and continuing through 11th grade (the last year the Stanford-9 is administered), reading test scores decline.

Figure 3

Percent of California Public School Students Above National Average a


4th Grade

8th Grade

9th Grade

11th Grade











Language arts





a Based on Stanford-9 test data.

Over the most recent two-year period for which data are available, student achievement as measured by the Stanford-9 improved in all grades, but relatively more in the elementary schools than in middle schools and high schools. Figure 4 shows recent improvements in the percentage of students scoring above the national average on the Stanford-9. We have concerns about the exact meaning of these achievement gains, given that the Stanford-9 has numerous problems (which we discuss in the "Accountability" section of this chapter). However, the recent results suggest that middle schools may be appropriate grade levels to target additional resources to ensure that all students enter high school prepared. But the data suggest that additional resources also may be needed in high schools, where achievement problems seem more prominent.

Figure 4

Gains in California
Student Achievement

(Change in Percent of Students Above National Average)
1998 Through 2000





Elementary (Grades 2 - 6)




Middle School (Grades 7 - 8)




High School
(Grades 9-11)




Preparing Students for HSEE. To support its longer middle school year initiative the Governor's budget summary states: "It is critically important that students—particularly those who enter the middle grades without having mastery of basic skills—achieve grade-level competency in reading and mathematics before they enter high school." A related budget document cites the need for middle school students, " . . . to achieve reading and math competency especially as it relates to the High School Exit Exam." However, the students the administration refers to—those who are below grade-level competency and, therefore, are in danger of not passing the High School Exit Exam (HSEE)—are not evenly distributed throughout the state's schools.

Students Experience a "Summer Fall-Off." As we discussed above, the summer fall-off effect is real, and supported by the data.

Inadequate Support Time for Teachers. International comparisons suggest that teachers in the United States provide the highest number of hours of instruction. As a result, teachers in the United States have significantly less time to prepare, collaborate, be mentored, and receive staff development than teachers in other countries.

The problems the Governor has identified are serious issues that warrant discussion. Some of the problems are faced by all schools in the state, but most are faced by a subset of schools. Many of these same schools face other problems that have not been singled out by the administration as part of its longer year initiative, such as the lack of fully qualified teachers, inadequate classroom space, and inadequate remedial instruction.

Longer School Year Proposal Not Best Solution

In our view, the administration has not made the case that (1) the problems facing middle schools are so widespread as to justify a universal solution, or (2) that the longer school year is the best solution to middle school problems. We have identified the following key drawbacks to the Governor's proposal:

Results From Oxnard Longer School Year Pilot Inconclusive

In the 1996-97 Budget Act, the Legislature initiated an extended school year pilot project in Oxnard Union High School District, and provided $1.75 million to extend the school year to 187 days. In fiscal years 1997-98 through 1999-00, the Legislature provided funding to increase the school year to 195 days. The implementing legislation for the project required an independent evaluation be completed and delivered to the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) in fall 2000. The independent evaluator did issue an interim report in 1999, and the school district has informed us that the findings in the final report are similar to the interim report. However, at the time of this analysis, the final report had not been provided to our office.

The evaluation addresses five areas and the preliminary findings include:

Teacher Perceptions. Some teachers reported that the extra time allowed them to cover topics in more depth, and others were able to cover more topics.

Student Perceptions. Students perceived a greater amount of work being assigned, and that teachers explained topics in greater depth.

Student and Teacher Absences. The implementation of the 15-day extended year led to an increase in the number of days absent for both students and teachers. Students were absent an additional three days on average, or one-fifth of the school year extension.

Dropout Rates. Dropout rates decreased from 2.9 percent annually to 1.6 percent. While the change in the dropout rate is significant, dropout statistics should be interpreted with caution because of problems with dropout data.

Student Achievement. Unfortunately for the purposes of the evaluation, the school district switched tests between the base year and the year of the evaluation. When a school district switches assessments, it is difficult to make comparisons across the testing years since one test may be easier/harder than the other one in a specific subject area or one test may be better aligned to what the students are actually learning. One more note of caution is that the evaluation provides the amount of change in average student test scores that occurs, but does not address whether any of the changes are statistically valid changes. Given these important caveats, the findings of the preliminary evaluation - shown below - should be interpreted with significant caution. They indicate that the impact of the extended school year on student achievement is mixed, with generally negative effects on reading but generally positive effects on math.








Title I



Non-Title I





No Change





No Change


In addition, the Governor's proposal lacks detail on numerous technical issues:

Figure 5

Number of Schools With
Grades 6-9 Enrollment

Elementary Schools

Grades K-6


Grades K-8


Other elementary combinations


Subtotal, Elementary


Middle Schools /Junior High Schools

Grades 6-8


Grades 7-8


Other middle schools


Subtotal, Middle Schools


High Schools

Grades 9-12


Other high schools


Subtotal, High Schools



Grades K-12


Continuation high schools


Alternative schools


Special education schools


Community day schools


All other schools


Subtotal, Other




Total schools in state


Percent of schools with 
grades 6-9 students


Provide Struggling Schools With Expanded List of School Reform Options

We recommend the Legislature redirect the $100 million proposed for longer middle school year to a block grant targeted at middle schools and high schools with high numbers of students in need. (Delete Item 6110-192-0001—$100 million.)

The one-size-fits-all approach of the longer middle school year proposal fails to recognize the complexity and diversity of problems that middle schools face. It also fails to address the fact that student achievement problems persist through high school. In our earlier discussion of "K-14 Education Priorities," in this chapter, we propose a $500 million block grant that lets school districts flexibly address the needs of those middle schools and high schools facing the most difficult problems. Our recommended approach has three main components:

Target Middle and High Schools. We recommend the Legislature target high schools as well as middle schools because assessment results suggest that high school students struggle even more than students in lower grades. Also, many high schools probably need additional resources to help assure that all their students are provided with an opportunity to pass the HSEE.

Target Resources to Schools in Need. We recommend targeting additional resources at schools with the highest percentage of low-income students and/or the lowest Academic Performance Index scores.

Allow Local Flexibility. We recommend providing school districts with a menu of options to improve student achievement. Not all schools are the same, nor do they face the same problems. Recognizing the diversity of problems suggests allowing school districts to use a diverse set of tools to address those problems.

Based on the problems we identify with the longer middle school year proposal and the advantages of a targeted, flexible block grant approach, we recommend the Legislature redirect the $100 million for a longer middle school year to a block grant for middle schools and high schools with concentrations of students in need. (We discuss our recommended disadvantaged schools block grant in more detail in the
"K-14 Education Priorities" section of this chapter.)

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