Policy Analysis Pre-Assignment 1
POLICY ANALYSIS PRE-ASSIGNMENT
July 18, 2007
51 Harrison Street
Boonton, NJ 07005
Policy Analysis Pre-Assignment
Policy Analysis Pre-Assignment 2
In 1984 the National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE) released A
Nation At Risk. This scathing report on the condition of American schools startled
Americans and triggered the modern movements in education policy. A Nation At Risk
deemed the current state of education as in need of serious reform. Subsequently, the NCEE
made a litany of proposals and recommendations for changes to the American educational
system. Many of those recommendations have been adopted and many have not, especially
at the high school level.
Hoxby’s article What Has Changed and What Has Not outlined several secondary
school recommendations made by the NCEE in 1984 that have not yet been adopted by the
nations public high schools. Hoxby notes that the NCEE urged high schools to increase the
rigor of high school courses and to graduate students who could demonstrate mastery in
subjects and disciplines. As a result of this recommendation, many states enacted policies
requiring students to demonstrate proficiency on state exams in order to earn a high school
diploma. However, the NCEE’s recommendation to increase the rigor of high school courses
has yet to be fulfilled on a national level.
Hoxby also articulates the NCEE’s recommendation that the school year be extended
from the current average of 180 days to between 200 and 220 days. That recommendation
has not been heeded; the national average of instructional time remains between 175 and 180
days. Hoxby notes that while time in school is being better spent than it was when A Nation
At Risk was published, the length of the school day remains at an average of six hours. The
NCEE recommended it be extended to seven hours.
Through What Has Changed and What Has Not, Hoxby has provided at least two key
issues to be debated in the education policy arena. Namely, the length of the school year and
Policy Analysis Pre-Assignment 3
the standards and rigor of the high school experience.
Policy Question #1: Should the school year be lengthened?
American schools currently provide an average of between 175 and 180 days of
instruction. The origins of this average dates back to between Reconstruction and World
War I. Contrary to popular myth, this calendar was not established as a result of the demands
of an agricultural society, but rather developed as a result of the enactment of compulsory
education and attendance laws (Rakoff, 1999). In fact, prior to compulsory attendance laws,
the length of the school year was well above 200 in many northern states (Rakoff, 1999).
Why then is the American educational system still averaging between 175 and 180 days of
There exists a movement in modern America to extend the school calendar to reflect
the demands and expectations of a global society. Many school districts across the nation
have experimented with year-round-education (YRE) or an extended school year (ESY).
YRE is a traditional 180-day calendar spread across twelve months, while ESY means the
addition of school days on the traditional 180-day calendar. Some school districts,
particularly those that are large and urban, have found success with YRE or ESY programs
and others, smaller and more rural, have encountered great difficulty (Johnson and Spradlin,
Proponents of YRE and ESY programs will say that the lengthened school year
enhances learning, sustains student learning, and assists low-achieving students (Glines,
1997). Dissidents of YRE and ESY programs claim that school systems cannot afford the
demands that YRE or ESY requires; more pay for teachers, increases on schools’
infrastructure costs, and increases in fuel and transportation costs (Johnson and Spradlin,
Policy Analysis Pre-Assignment 4
2007). Furthermore, opponents say that YRE and ESY programs cause disruption to the
established American family environment and have a negative impact on economies that rely
on summer season tourism and travel. Thus a change in any school calendar policy poses
many questions and captures the attention of those stakeholders who would be affected by a
Policy Question #2: Should a standard curriculum be adopted for high schools?
A Nation At Risk called upon policy makers to increase the rigor of secondary school
courses and to implement measurable standards of achievement for high school graduates
(Hoxby). This call raised concern that high school graduates were not able to compete in the
emerging global economy nor were they prepared for the demands of post-secondary
education. In response to this call, many states quickly adopted some form of accountability
for high school graduates and developed standards of competency in subject areas.
To date, nearly every state requires that a high school diploma can only be awarded if
a student has demonstrated some level of proficiency on a criterion-referenced exam.
However, the standards of proficiency and the standards of learning vary from state to state
(Olson & Hoff, 2006). This leads to the question, “What constitutes a common, rigorous,
and meaningful high school experience?”
The American Diploma Project (sponsored by Achieve, Inc.) has emerged as the
leader in developing national standards of rigor and meaning for high school students. In a
2007 report, Closing The Expectation Gap 2007, Achieve, Inc. indicates that 29 states have
signed on as partners in the American Diploma Project Network (ADPN). Membership in
the ADPN means that a state agrees to adopt a set of rigorous standards for math and
language arts. States further agree that high school graduates be exposed to a minimum of
Policy Analysis Pre-Assignment 5
three years of science (biology, chemistry, physics), three years of math (algebra I and II,
geometry), and four years of language arts. Though the ADPN is a relatively new entity, a
cause for concern has been established.
Local boards of education, in conjunction with state agencies, have traditionally set
high school graduation policy. A state’s membership in the ADPN raises concern that local
boards may no longer be in control of graduation requirements or math, science, and
language arts curriculum. This leads to a policy proposal problem.
This paper will concentrate on New Jersey’s structure of school governance when
discussing policy issues. Currently, the New Jersey State Board of Education (NJSBOE)
establishes policy regarding the length of a school year and academic standards of
performance or achievement for students. While the NJSBOE does not establish salary
requirements or local school policy, all New Jersey educators understand the governing
authority of the NJSBOE. In turn, local boards of education set salary policy and local
gradation requirements that are in addition to these state policies. Clearly, the NJSBOE
would be a key actor in any education policy debate in New Jersey.
The New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) is New Jersey’s parent
organization for all local boards of education. The NJSBA has a vested interest in
representing the concerns of local boards in both of the stated policy questions. One concern
is teacher compensation issues that arise with the adoption of an extended school year or a
year-round school calendar. Another concern is the loss of local control over high school
math, science, and language arts programs. Therefore, the NJSBA is also a key actor in the
development and adoption of any education policy.
Policy Analysis Pre-Assignment 6
Regarding lengthening the school day or school year, the key actors might consider
investigating the current school day structure. Some guiding questions might be: How much
time in a day is devoted to true learning? How can we best use the time that is currently
appropriated? Do all school districts need more time in the year? Is our time being used
efficiently? If not, why not?
Instead of quickly adopting new national standards for high school curricula, both
actors might consider first auditing all New Jersey high school curricula to see if the current
state standards are being met. Local and state officials would then be able to adequately
assess if New Jersey high schools are providing the best educational opportunities possible
for its students.
Both the New Jersey State Board of Education and the New Jersey School Boards
Association would evaluate the two stated policy issues utilizing multiple criteria. According
to Fowler (2004), issues of freedom must be addressed (How does this policy affect the range
of choices open to parents? How does this policy affect the autonomy of the faculty as a
decision-making group?) Issues of efficiency must also be considered (Does this policy cost
less than the previous policy that it replaced? Does this policy include the close monitoring
of outputs and inputs?) Finally, these policy problems raise economic growth and quality
issues (Does this policy require major purchases of new materials or equipment? Does the
policy include measure to raise the conceptual and cognitive level of the curriculum,
assessment procedures, performance testing, and problem solving?)
Both of these state and local governing bodies would place great emphasis on the
Policy Analysis Pre-Assignment 7
economic and quality issues. However, the local boards of education, which assume
responsibility for teacher salary policy, would probably place a greater emphasis on the
economic issues when considering extending or lengthening the school year.