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Patrick J. McEwan: (781) 283-2987,
Teri Battaglieri: (517) 203-2940,

Review: Solid Brookings report highlights little-noticed school reforms

Moving to K-8 schools and starting high schools later in the morning could improve education and save taxpayer dollars, Brookings report says

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Nov. 29, 2011) — At a time when policymakers and media are fixated on school "reforms" like charter schools and virtual learning, the Brookings Institution has released a report examining school organizational reforms that should be more widely considered.

The report, entitled "Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement" and released by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, applies cost-benefit analyses to three reform 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 Brookings report found that:

  • Moving away from junior high and middle schools and to K-8 schools could increase student achievement while providing benefits that far outweigh the costs. Studies show that 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. Ultimately, moving to K-8 schools could provide $40 in future earnings for students for every $1 spent in reconfiguring schools. 
  • Starting high school classes later in the morning can 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. While benefits in any given district depend on local context, overall the Brookings report estimated that 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. The review was produced by the National Education Policy Center with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

McEwan praises the report for using sound research to judge the value of each of the three considered reform proposals. He writes, "The report's discussion of effects is thorough and nuanced, and it draws from high-quality empirical studies conducted in the last several years."

"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.

Find Patrick McEwan's review on the Great Lakes Center website at
Find "Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments" by Brian A. Jacob and Jonah E. Rockoff on the web at:
Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policy makers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review is also available on the National Education Policy Center website at:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.

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