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Spending More of the School Day in Math Class: Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity in Middle School

Abstract

"For students whose math skills lag expectations, public schools often increase the fraction of the school day spent on math instruction. Studying middle-school students and using regression discontinuity methods, I estimate the causal effect of requiring two math classes—one remedial, one regular—instead of just one class. Math achievement grows much faster under the requirement, 0.16-0.18 student standard deviations. Yet, one year after returning to a regular one-class schedule, the initial gains decay by as much as half, and two years later just one-third of the initial treatment effect remains. This pattern of decaying effects over time mirrors other educational interventions—assignment to a more skilled teacher, reducing class size, retaining students—but spending more time on math carries different costs. One cost is notable, more time in math crowds out instruction in other subjects."