by Jeff Lindsay
|Part 1||Part 2||Part 3||Part 4 (This Page)||Part 5|
|The Nature of the Problem
(Main page + overall index)
|The Debate on Academic Harm||Pros and Cons, Alternatives||Comments from Others||Tactics and Resources
(And summary + links)
Thank you for your incredible website. The first task when motivating a parent group is to get the parents informed. Many have never heard of Block Schedule or know of its affects on education. Our group is just ecstatic about hearing the news this morning as posted below on our school district website: http://www.boyertownasd.org/UserFiles/File/ED%20CENTER/Block%20Schedule.pdf
[We have had] 5 weeks of non-stop efforts [in] our Stop the Block parent and community group. . . . It wasn't easy. There were letters to the editor, signs posted all over the community, Board meetings, letters to Board members, local television broadcasts, student "Stop the Block" stickers, petitions, even a Facebook "Stop the Block" student network where gagged teachers could communicate with their students. Parents became in-depth experts on studies, and investigated local schools on a modified and 4x4 Block, determining its effectiveness. After compiling this concrete evidence, we made our plea to the school board to halt the implementation of Block Schedule at the junior and senior high levels of our district. This story has a happy ending.
Awesome! Now that's leadership.
An example of students and parents stopping implementation of the block comes from Pierre, South Dakota, where concerned parents and educators were able to use information from my site and other places to inform others and influence decision makers. Here is a Feb. 2004 message from a bold and intelligent eleventh-grade student (used with permission) who is standing up against the block in order to help the students who will follow after him:
Jeff,Many thanks to the vigilant parents and students of Pierre for taking a proactive stance against the erosion of education in their schools.
Things went very well in all areas in Pierre in our fight against block scheduling--most importantly, the School Board decided against it for next year and our superintendent stated that he doesn't see any further study of it. As you pointed out, we won mostly because half of the town stood with us and didn't just let this slip by. At the public meeting that I may have mentioned, there were several highlights which really made it stick out from your average meeting:
After that, I and another concerned parent voiced our concerns a week later at the School Board Meeting, and that is where they ruled against it. Once again, I thank you for preparing this Website at it was essential in this battle to improve the educational environment of Pierre, South Dakota. Some talked about getting together to see that it gets implemented, but thankfully we beat them in that area.
- Our head principal, probably the No. 1 block scheduling advocate that we had, responded to a parent's concern about her kid not accomplishing as much under block scheduling by giving a weak analogy over the principal's homework habits as a student. This parent stood up and said, "I'm not saying that it's easy to get the kids to do work--I'm just saying that is what school is all about."
- After the officials droned on about how much schools have to be responsible and get kids prepared and all, a parent stood up and said that even though the school has that important responsibility for 7 hours each day, each parent has a more important responsibility to their child or children.
- Toward the end of the meeting, a woman stated that she worked as a teacher under block scheduling in another location and that after her kids finished middle school, they moved back to Pierre because her kids had no study skills whatsoever.
Below is an inspiring story I received in March 2004, used with permission, showing how a couple of determined moms finally prevailed by using common sense in fighting the block:
In 1996 block scheduling (BS - appropriate initials) was being introduced to our school system. Our band director was scared out of his wits that his successful band program would go down the tubes with BS, so he began amassing information regarding BS from other music directors around the country. Since the information provided to him proved the negative effect BS had on music programs, he quickly shared his information with band parents. We were alarmed and many parents quickly fired off letters to the school board and/or spoke at school board meetings exposing the detriments of BS. We also gathered research mostly from your website and shared if with board members.Not every story is inspiring. In fact, many are quite troubling, such as this Jan. 2004 report from El Paso, Texas from an outraged parent:
Unfortunately, we lost primarily because the board "wanted to help students learn". All the wishy-washy reasons for BV flew out of the board members' mouths. It was nauseating, plus almost all the teachers wanted BS. They could not be reasoned because they felt with BS, they would have less work. That was their motivating force to push for BS. The 1997-1998 school year was used to decide which type of BS would be implemented in the school year 1998-1999. Most concerned parents gave up, but my good friend and I were determined to expose the fallacies and harm of BS. We continued to research and were greatly encouraged by your website. It told us everything we needed to know. A vote was taken in spring of 1998 to determine which type of BS to implement. My friend and I spoke exhaustedly against any type of BS, but we lost. BS was implemented the next fall.
Our concern about block had arisen mainly by doing a little math. BS meant less time spent on each subject, which as you well know was not good. Also common sense fueled our concerns. How could anyone who had observed children know that teens can't sit still for 90 minutes. Plus, in the year given to prepare for block by our teachers, few if any teachers seemed to have used it wisely. In the 1998-1999 school year, when our sons were seniors, our boys played cards, watched videos, did their homework during class, etc. They lost respect for their teachers and were frustrated about the material they realized that they were not being taught. In most of their classes the same lesson was taught that would have been taught during a regular schedule. Since they met only half the time, half the subject material was presented. You wouldn't believe the number of teachers that couldn't figure out by they couldn't cover all their material.... The few teachers who had been against BS drove themselves crazy to shove in all the material.
So, my friend and I griped and complained. We poured over everything we could find in your website. Thankfully, two of the brainwashed board members resigned and were replaced by two who interested in the facts regarding BS. Praise be to God, the board revoked BS in 1999 and returned to a 7 period day.
My friend and I are grateful to your website for fueling information and are relieved to know that if BS rears its ugly head again in our town, we'll have your better than ever website to return to for ammunition. Thank you for saving America's kids from another education fad!
As an encouragement to those parents who are waging battles to stop BS in their schools, remember my friend and I are just two stay-at-home moms who stopped BS at our school. We mainly waged this fight by ourselves through the help of this wonderful website. If BS is implemented at your school, do not give up. The truths of BS will become immediately visible which will bring validity to your arguments. The greatest foe for BS is good old common sense. Keep up the fight!
A few days ago in El Paso, Texas at Montwood High School, the subject of going to block scheduling 4X4 came to a head. The students and some teachers organized a walk out and what started as a peaceful demonstration turned into a quasi-riot. Supposedly school officials gave them permission to exercise their first amendment rights. However, the school officials then overreacted and called in the El Paso Police Department which deployed 100 officers.Shocking situation! Lesson: if you do organize people to speak our against the block or anything else, demand orderly behavior to leave no excuse for opponents turning riot police on you, and be sure to document the event with multiple video cameras.
Once the police implemented riot control tactics some of the students turned on the police. The police used their batons and beat many students and used pepper spray. Several students and a teacher were arrested. The teacher was arrested for defending students getting severely beaten.
The issue has El Paso and the parents of Montwood High students in an uproar over the deceptive methods employed by the school district (Socorro) in implementing block scheduling without the consent of the parents or students and not to mention the excessive force used by law enforcement on children.
Your web site helps shed the light on block scheduling and I will do everything in my power as a citizen and parent to fight the further spread of block scheduling to other school districts within El Paso. It is a malignant disease as far as I am concerned. The bottom line is if it isn't broken then don't fix it.
Sept, 2004 Update:
Regardless of the civil disobedience, etc. the Socorro School District forced the block scheduling on Montwood High School. Several meetings were held with a bunch of irate parents but in the end they lost. The police were found to have used excessive force by the school board.
I've had some email from high school students on both sides of the issue. Some say they prefer the block since it means less stress, more time to focus, etc. But this perspective may change, as evidenced from the following insightful email received Dec. 2004 and used with permission:
I graduated from high school in June of 2003. The year I became an 8th grader is the year my school implemented block scheduling. I loved it. I don't recall having homework once that year, as it was all done in class. In my math class, we were actually REQUIRED to work on our "homework" together in groups. I was lucky enough to have a few students who enjoyed math and were quite good at it in my group, so I got through the class easily without actually having to learn anything. Also that year, my science class was participating in a year-long assignment to turn the class into a tropical rainforest. About 20 minutes at the beginning would be spent doing flashcards of vocabulary words or doing group reading of the chapter in our textbook, and then the rest of the block would be spent cutting out leaf shapes for our trees, painting cardboard cutouts shaped likes animals and tree trunks, or fashioning snakes out of paper mache. This continued until about week before the end of the school year. The final week was spent giving parents and other students tours of our classroom. Most of the students got an A in the class for their great contribution to the project. However, I don't believe I would have been able to tell you where any tropical rainforests are located, what their climate is actually like, or what types of plants are growing there. There wasn't any time to actually learn any of this.Amazing. So those of you who love the block, look around and think: are you really learning anything? Are you being challenged? Do you know where the rainforests are? Maybe the block is working for you, but for many, it means watered down education.
In high school, we had "seminar" every morning, as opposed to every other day, which you mention on your website. Our seminar was also TV time. Half an hour was spent watching Channel 1 News, a supposedly educational news program geared toward high school-aged students. Afterwards, our school had a short news program of our own, in which students read the daily announcements to us (which were posted in all of the classrooms and we were perfectly capable of reading on our own). My class was required to be silent during morning news time. We could either do our homework or watch TV, whichever we preferred. However, after our TV show was done, we were free to do whatever we wanted. This included anything from doing our "homework" to going from classroom to classroom to chat with other students. Most of the teachers didn't mind this, as long as we weren't so loud that we disrupted the other students who were busy completing the homework that was due in their next class.
My favorite teacher of all was one of my high school math teachers. He lectured for most of the class, and paying attention was optional. We were free to play cards, braid hair, or talk as we wished, as long as we kept our voices down. Homework was never graded, but was just used as an exercise that was, of course, optional. Attendance really wasn't even mandatory after he took attendance at the beginning of the class period. This teacher was praised by all because he supposedly treated us like college students. We were told that in college, it would be up to us to be responsible enough to pay attention and do the assignments on our own. This teacher was also praised for being a very kind-hearted man. When test time came around, no one had a clue what they were doing, but instead of allowing us to fail the tests, he would explain how to do all of the math while we were taking our tests, and would check all of our answers before turning the test in. He said that he understood why we didn't understand anything. If he had block scheduling in high school, he wouldn't have been able to pay attention for the entire 90 minutes either. I, of course, got an A in math.
Needless to say, my school isn't exactly in the top 10 when it comes to standardized testing scores. I was fortunate to be disciplined enough to work hard outside of school in order to do well on my ACT test and earn a high score. Most other students didn't get this result. (May I also add that the ACT test is kind of embarrassing? The only section I had the least bit of difficulty with was the calculator-assisted math portion, more than likely due to my locally famous math teacher. I received near perfect scores on the rest of my test, and I would think even most upper-elementary students would be able to receive the same scores.) In addition to low ACT scores, my school's MEAP scores (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) are also among the lowest in the state.
Had I visited your website a few years ago, this email would have been much different. I would have been begging you to take your website down. I loved high school, especially the way mine worked, and I wouldn't have wanted parents to accidentally stumble upon this and find out what was really happening because of the block scheduling. Now that I'm just a bit older, I'm disgusted by how my high school worked and how little I actually learned. I'm disappointed in myself for not paying attention when I should have.
Although block scheduling isn't the only problem with schools like mine, I know that it does play a very important role. Thanks for working hard to inform others of this problem so that we can stop it as soon as possible.
Some experienced people disagree with my concerns. Some valuable points are raised in this email from Jan. 2007, cited with permission:
I think you are "barking up the wrong tree" on the block scheduling issue. I have taught under both and have worked with thousands of teachers all over the U.S. There have actually been several studies done....and the honest to goodness truth is that when you compare apples to apples....academic performance doesnt change much under the block. I taught under a horrendous block (45 minutes on Monday and Friday with 3 hours on Wed) and my students had some of the highest Advanced Placement Test scores in the United States. I agree with you that it all comes back to academic performance. My students did well and I have helped schools lower achievement gaps by over 25% as a consultant. Who cares how people "feel" if they dont achieve? I am completely with you on that. However, don't discard the "feel good" part, because brain research is very clear on the emotional connection to learning. I am all about achievement. If you want to make a difference for education.....instead of going after a schedule...go after poor teaching practices. In the end it is all about how things are taught...because a boring teacher in a 50 minute class period is still not getting the job done. Schedules, grading systems (such as portfolios), etc. are all secondary to what the teacher actually does. THAT is the issue you should be writing about. . . . I don't know that you are either helping or hurting the schools....but it is good that you are a parent that cares and gets involved.
E-mail below from a parent in South Carolina sent in 2004 gives insight into how little information about the block is made available by the school districts pushing for it. The advocates of the block continue to act as if there were no serious studies to challenge their plans. Here's the message:
I had used information from your site to place a post . . . on a parent run bulletin board last May. Most productively, I was able to give the study references to a parent who is on the high school reform committee. The committee had no idea that the college board and Canadian studies existed. The district had presented only a short list of anecdotal and theoretical reports. The district had also hired Michael Rettig to come down and talk about block scheduling. We owe you a debt of gratitude that we were able to consider information that neither the district nor Rettig would acknowledge existed. Even now the material for the latest meeting of this committee on scheduling reform included an article just written by Rettig subtitled "A study finds steady progress in the use of alternatives to the traditional schedule." The article that calls itself a study claims 4x4 is still doing well. It states "it is a sad and embarrassing fact that many programs drift in and out without ever measuring their impact because the were never rigorously evaluated. Block scheduling is no exception." He is still pretending that there is no data and the district is still copying these articles for the committee. The committee is still ignoring them. . . .A high school teacher from Washington allowed me to post this message, received April 2005, which reminds us to be skeptical of some claims by proponents of the block:
I am on a committee that is studying ways to improve student achievement.... Almost all of the research that has been brought before us has been pro-block scheduling. I look forward to sharing with the committee the information that I have learned from your web page.Another teacher sent me this insightful note in April 2005:
On a side note, I think you'll love this story: We were given a handout on Noble High School from the book Breaking Ranks 2. The author, Pamela Fisher, was the principal of NHS who instituted many of the so called reforms that are discussed in the article. These reforms started in 1990.
Being a bit cynical, I decided to do a little research. In 2003, ONLY 8% of the Grade 11 class met or exceeded state standards on the state test (MEA). (The state average was 19%) After further study, I discovered that on every test (MEA Reading, MEA Math, MEA Writing), & SAT, Noble High School was below the state average. In addition, only 32% of their AP test takers scored a 3 or above! 36% scored a 2 while 33% scored a 1!
I am eager for my committee meeting tomorrow when my colleagues share how wonderful this school in Maine is.
I want to first say as a former English teacher....I hated the BS system because of what it did to the courses that I taught. It essentially turned a course on World Lit or American Lit into "fortune cookie" classes.Here a parent in 2007 expresses shock from the adverse effects of the block on a special needs child:
What did catch my attention was the letter posted on the webpage from the parents regarding BS and this specific quote:
"You wouldn't believe the number of teachers that couldn't figure out why they couldn't cover all their material.... The few teachers who had been against BS drove themselves crazy to shove in all the material."
This is not the fault of BS but the fault of the school district for not properly instructing the teachers on how to teach in a BS system before implementing it. It's very easy to say things like "oh, kids can't sit still for 90 minutes...." Heck, they can't sit still for 15 minutes.....let alone 90....and if a teacher has the students just sit there and write notes all class (be it 35, 45, or 90 mintues), they're not teaching. Instead, they're trying to create little clones of themselves. It doesn't work...
The reality of a BS system is that the teacher has to change the way he or she uses the classroom and the time in it. The class has to become segmented, in that there's 6 mintues of intro/review, 12 minutes of new material, 15 min. of small group work, 10 minutes of review, etc. For the teachers who can learn to accept a BS system (as I did when I taught.....I'm now back in baseball....lol), it is possible to do great things within the subject area EXCEPT.................
YOU CANNOT FIT ALL THE SAME MATERIAL FROM A FULL YEAR INTO A BS SEMESTER!!!!!! It drives me nuts when teachers use simple math to reason that if I had X periods at 45 mintues and now have X/2 periods at 90 minutes.....that I still have the same amount of total time. Yes, the time is the same....but the days are cut in half. I don't care how good of a teacher someone is......it's not possible to stuff the information into a kid's head. Well, it's possible to stuff it in there, but they will not retain it.
As a result, it's necessary to hack out parts of units, etc. to fit it into the BS system. The problem with hacking is the nature of the act itself: What gets tossed, how much of it, and what is kept? Who's to say that iambic pentameter is more or less important than another style??? Do I expect my students to fully understand it and be able to give me written examples of it after 1 day, 2 days?
I also taught World History......think about that in a BS system.... "Today class, we're going to learn about the Romans..." and then come back three days later and say "Ok...the Civil War started because...." General survey courses are doomed in many aspects in a BS system because of this "hack and teach" method that has to take place to "fit" things into the new schedule. Thus, I've seen schools take World History and create 5 classes: Early Roman Empire, History of the Middle Ages, The Great Wars of History, etc. Now don't get me wrong, as I like the creative thinking of those districts to try and help teachers focus the goals of learning in the classroom, but doesn't that sound a lot like what you or I would take in college?
High school used to be for the exposure of knowledge to students across a wide variety of times and areas as the assumption was "students don't know what they want to do yet in life, so we'll give them a cross-section of everything (or most of it anyways)." When did this assumption change? I've seen Freshmen in high school and most don't have a clue what they want to do let alone actually know how to do it. How many students are lost to various areas because their "interest" was not covered in a unit because it was hacked out to fit the BS system.....
I could probably go on and on about this, but what can be learned from the BS system are the methods that teachers used to present new material and how it was reviewed in the classroom. Share and compare, small-group presentation, etc. are all good ways to get students interactive in the classroom setting; however, why does it only have to be used in the BS system to keep kids moving during 90 minutes?
My best year of teaching was my last year before going back to baseball. We had 42 minute periods and met every day. I used many of the methods of teaching in a BS system and applied them to the 42 minute class day and kept students involved in the class (and thus they learned and participated more). The only down side was that we didn't meet all year....only for 1st semester, and then I received new kids for 2nd semester. So, I still had to do some hacking......LOL.
I am in a state of shock. My daugther has moderate/seveve nonverbal learning disability, which has some Asberger-Autism-like social components. She has been put in a block program by our school. It has been a train wreck for her. She is deteriorating rapidly in school and at home.
The school was not very clear about explaning this program, and presented it as being easier for her because there would be fewer transitions. The reality is that between the blocks and the regular 45-minute classes, they don't even have lunch at the same time every day. I can't think of a worse scenario for our child.
This is a serious issue that has not been adequately considered by many school officials. They buy into the hype about the block making life easier with "fewer transitions," but overlook the realities that the block can impose. Confusing schedules are just one of the problems. I think more serious effort is needed to understand what the block does for all the children involved.
The following Jan. 2005 email illustrates the typical challenges posed by the block for academic courses, and the challenges one faces in fighting to get it removed:
I have found out it isn't easy to get the "Blockade" changed. I call it a blockade because it is a blockade to good education for all students. I have been working on this for a few years and have made progress and will not stop trying until it is changed. In our district we have some new school committee members, a wonderful new superintendent and will be getting a new Principal and Vice-Principal during this year. I am not sure without these changes that the previous administration would have ever changed or even adjusted the blockade. I see much hope with our new people. I do feel that in some subject areas that a "double period" is appropriate. Some might be in shop classes, home economic areas, physical education and other areas I call, non-academic. I have not found one academic area where the blockade is useful. Now and then a science or other lab class can use a double period but not on a daily basis. As you state, "This is nothing more than common sense." In our district we used to have seven 47 minute periods a day. Now there are four blockades daily of 83 minutes. When one does the math it is seen that students now have approximately 158 days of instruction compared to 180 days of instruction under the old system when comparing hours in a certain class. This is a straight 4X4 Blockade that runs for two semesters. Our school states they have raised graduation requirements from 17 to 24 credits. The problem is that they now give an equal credit for significantly less work. They have more excuses than the law allows. i.e. They will tell you there are fewer kids late to class. There has to be as there are only four classes to get to now when before there were seven. I have teachers telling me that they now cover only about 60% of what they covered under the old system. These comments don't even deal with boredom, span of attention and retention, and the inability to get in the next sequence of a class for sometimes up to over a year. I could go on and on but you have heard all these comments before.One problem with the block caught me by surprise in this note from a Wisconsin high-school student in June of 2007:
Block scheduling just doesn't work. I have a pretty short attention span, so it makes it very hard to pay attention, because the teachers are always packing tons of information into those 90 minutes classes. And a lot of teachers won't let you go to the bathroom during class either. You can't pay attention when you are about to wet your pants.Well, I can't disagree with that! I guess attention spans aren't the only things that get stretched past human limits under the block.
An all-too-common lament comes from a parent in California, who sent me this in early 2003 (quoted with permission):
My kids go to a small high school in California, North Tahoe High School, in Tahoe City. We have been on a 4x4 block for 2 years and trying to get rid of it. Our teachers were not prepared for the change, and really all we did was provide them with 1 day of training before changing the bells. While the staff supports the schedule overwhelmingly, all of the problems you talk about for the kids education exist. Many of the teachers favor the schedule because of the shorter work week they get and the fewer kids they have to teach. Most of the teachers teach the same material each day, the course just ends after 1/2 the content is covered!While life may get easier for some teachers under the block, in many cases the dreamy advantages are exchanged for a harsher reality. Specifically, the increased planning time that is sold as an advantage may become less time than before, along with more work. Here is a telling warning from a teacher in Texas:
I am a teacher and parent in Texas who has taught in two high schools that use the block. Here is something you may not have heard about:Another anti-block statement from Texas was received Nov. 2003:
One of the typical "sales pitches" given to teachers when schools are switched over to block scheduling is that it affords teachers the opportunity to plan longer and better lessons and projects. Teachers are also told that they will need more planning time to prepare "engaging and varied activities." The pitch is then made: "Because block scheduling requires teachers to be better prepared, we (the administration) are going to give you (the teachers) a planning period every day. This will DOUBLE your planning and prep time!"
As I said, I have taught at two high schools in Texas. Both of these schools used the lure of more planning time to convince the teachers to go for the "block." (NOTE: In Texas schools are only required to give teachers an average of 45 minutes of planning/preparation time per day.
Here is what actually happened: School "X" had been operating on a traditional 7 period day in which periods were 55 minutes long. Teachers taught 6 periods and had one 55 minute planning period every day. This school implemented a "modified" block which had two 45 minutes periods that met every day and three A/B, 90-minute blocks that met every other day. This created 8 periods of instruction (A1, A2, A3, 4, 5, B1, B2, B3).
The administration immediately saw "gold." What they did was assign each teacher to teach 7 classes with one 45-minute planning period every day. I was assigned to teach 6 sections of English and one section of Reading. My conference was 5th period every day for 45 minutes. UNDER THIS SCHEDULE I WAS NOW TEACHING 7 CLASSES PER SEMESTER INSTEAD OF 6, AND I HAD 10 MINUTES LESS PLANNING TIME THAN I HAD UNDER THE OLD 7 PERIOD SCHEDULE. I HAD AN AVERAGE OF 20 STUDENTS IN EACH CLASS FOR A TOTAL OF 140 STUDENTS PER SEMESTER. UNDER THE OLD SCHEDULE I HAD AN AVERAGE OF 20 STUDENTS PER CLASS FOR A TOTAL OF 120 STUDENTS PER SEMESTER. THIS WAS NOT IMPROVEMENT.
School "Y" was on a standard A/B block with four 90-minute period per day. Teacher were assigned 7 classes and had one 90-minute conference that met every other day. This meant that on one day a teacher would teach four 90-minute classes with no break or planning period, and on the other day the teacher would teach 3 classes and then have 90 minutes to plan and prepare for all 7 classes. In some weeks this meant that a teacher only had two planning periods. At this school some teachers had an average of 25 students per class for a total load of 175 students per semester. Under their old 7 period day, these same teachers had had an average of 25 students per class for a total of 150 students per semester. THIS WAS NOT IMPROVEMENT.
At both schools I have seen teachers using a third to one-half of their class time to allow students to do homework in class (instead of teaching). Students have stopped doing homework because they are given so much slack time in block classes that they now believe that they are entitled to have class time to complete work that should be homework.
We have students who are missing 3 days of school this week to go to Regional Golf and Track Tournaments. This is equivalent to missing 4 days of school under the old system.
Thought you would like to know.
You had letters from Texas parents about block scheduling. I live in Keller, TX and we have accelerated block scheduling in high school. In addition to the academic problems we are experiencing, we are also experiencing financial overspending in many areas. We have set-up a website, www.OurKeller.com to help inform parents in our area.If you have information related to their battle, let them (and me) know.
We would appreciate any and all information from any Texas parent in getting rid of this academic albatross.
Temple, Texas appears to have given up on the block, according to the following e-mail from July 2004:
Temple High School in Temple, Texas, used to be on trimester. They came to our high school [Midway High School, Hewitt, Texas] a number of years ago to present an in-service for the entire high school faculty. Their sales pitch sounded so wonderful -- all kinds of courses, electives, STW opportunities, etc. Of course, our administrators were impressed; and they began to push block scheduling off on us. A few of us teachers fought back by creating a block scheduling document showing advantages and disadvantages (the very ones that the TEA has now verified).How ironic that a showcase school for the trimester block would abandon it as a failure. Hey, folks, beware about the glowing sales pitch you hear about the block.
Anyway, the ironic thing is that Temple High School dropped the trimester after a few years. They found that the disadvantages of such a system far outweighed the few advantages. When their students transferred into other schools, you can imagine what a mess they got into because of their messed up transcripts which didn't jive with other schools' schedules. Also, one of the Temple High School staff members told me that their discipline problems increased so substantially during trimester that they had to drop it.
Here is yet another message from Texas, from a teacher who has taught at the ninth grade level and above since 1997:
First we were on the acc. block, then my last year with that district, they actually scrapped it and went back to 7 periods. Then I switched districts and this one is on the A/B block.A student sent me the following three messages in 2003 and 2004 (two messages strung together here):
Neither block system works. To me, the main drawback is the fact that kids now days are not going to pay attention for that long. As some of the comments pointed out, most classes wind up with from 30 min to one hour of "study time" or homework time, which actually amounts to free time. This is so common, the students expect it now.
The A/B is the worst, with absences amounting to 50% of class time if you have them twice that week. Also, the time between classes is so long, there is no retention. My class usually starts with the students asking "What did we do last time?" or "Did we have any homework?" or even "What do you mean we have a test? What is it over?"
One thing I didn't see mentioned on your page, is the subject of discipline. An administrator told me, with the block, most disc. problems are in the classroom. On the regular schedule, most disc. problems are between classes. With the block, the students are only out with each other maybe three times plus lunch. With the full day, they could be out 6 times between periods. Lots more time for interaction, good or bad.
The district I left, changed for several reasons. Once, some of the districts around them were going back. Since kids change districts, it causes a problem to switch from one to the other. Secondly, there was a problem with AP tests and the exit level tests, since students might not be currently enrolled in the classes they needed. Also, with math and languages, there might be a semester without a course in that subject. All of this points to what I say is a problem with education - something sounds good in theory, but the reality doesn't work out, and no one wants to admit it. Anyone who has spent time with high school or middle school students -unless they are the very top level students - will tell you, anything over about 40 minutes is just wasted time.
I'm changing districts again this year, and I will definitely be asking which system any prospective school district follows.
Feb. 2003:It's great to see young people with the boldness and leadership skills to stand up and organize others in resisting harmful proposals. How sad that their voices were ignored. How tragic that the educational establishment has so many leaders who are more interested in implementing unproven fads to enhance their resume than they are in advancing the education of students. It's a travesty.
I am 16 and a junior at Old Mill High School in Anne Arundel County Public Schools. In July of 2002, the Board of Education hired a new superintendent. They are paying him--I am not joking--$300,000 a year. They hired him because he was a proponent of the block. In November, we (my friends and classmates) started hearing that Smith was going to implement the block for our senior year. It didn't take long for us to figure out that we would lose at least 30 hours of class time. I emailed the board members, and got one reply-from the secretary to the board. She informed me of 3 public hearings and a workshop on "Secondary School Scheduling," all of which I already knew about because they were posted on the website in plain view. Meanwhile, I had suddenly become the leader of the crusade against the block at my school. I made plans to attend the workshop on scheduling options, which could have been a paid advertisement for the block. Actually, it was intended to inform the board members of possible choices for a new schedule (or so it was introduced). This biased workshop cemented my decision to speak at the first public hearing, which was going to be held at my school. . . . Final count: 12 speakers for the block. 50 speakers against the block. Of the 12 proponents, at least 2 were middle schoolers (the block was proposed for middle and high school). It was obvious that their speeches were the product of a class room assignment. It was easy to imagine a teacher saying, OK, whoever writes the best speech will get to read it at the big meeting. My speech went wonderfully despite the fact that I was shaking like a leaf. To close, I mentioned my fear that the public hearings were mere formalities. Suffice it to say that the audience overwhelmingly shared that fear. The event got a good write up in the paper the next day. I went and spoke at the second meeting too. We were told that the board would deliberate and have a decision ready by December 20--the last day before Christmas break. How convenient. Now might be a good time to mention how the school board makes decisions. Actually, they vote, and then the superintendent gets to decide what he wants to do. The board is there to ADVISE the superintendent.
A friend of mine got to speak with the vice-president of the board. What this lady had to say was that the community needed to support the new superintendent in his decision, whatever it was. We all knew, in the back of our minds and in our heart of hearts, that we had lost. The vote of the school board was 7-1, in favor of the block. It wouldn't have mattered if the vote was 8-0 against. I'm sure the superintendent would have made the same decision. Needless to say, I've never felt more deflated in my life. Just yesterday, we received or scheduling materials for next year. NOBODY has ANY idea what's going on. We can ask all the questions we want, but our teachers don't have any more information than we do. Our teachers look at us and shake their heads. They knew this would happen. We all knew it would be like this. No one is looking forward to next year.
While we were all debating the scheduling issue, Superintendent Smith was making other noxious decisions. He calls it "refining the curriculum." Some of the changes we've heard might happen are: all English students, regardless of level of ability, learn from the same textbook, an anthology. There will be no more novels read, only excerpts. One book. Similar plans are in the works for social studies, math and science. He also tried to get rid of the phasing we have right now, which goes from level 1 through level 5. 5 is AP, 4 is Honors, 3 is general, 2 is remedial, and 1 is special ed. The outcome Superintendent Smith's educational plan is based on is more enrollment in AP classes. So, he wanted to reorganize the phasing so that it would push more kids into upper level classes. Then what happens? Either the kids who struggle fall through the cracks, or the bright, gifted, talented, knowledge-hungry, whatever you would like to term them kids wait around and get bored. Smith doesn't care if a teacher has 100 AP students and half of them earn a D or lower. He's happy because they tried. Oh, I could go on about him for hours. He's enough to give somebody ulcers.
Finally, I wanted to thank you for your extremely detailed and informational website. I think I shouted when I came across it in my first research. It is so comprehensive. . . . I felt compelled to look at the website again, to compare my story to the other ones. It is so similar. It's like a disease, that follows a distinct course. Again, thank you so much for this terrific resource!
Dec. 2003, after implementation of the block:
If we get one B-day off school for snow, we lose that day and end up having 2 A-days in a row. That B-day is essentially gone. The A/B schedule has done nothing but encourage procrastination. . . . The superintendent says that by only seeing your teacher every other day, it is more like college. Well, I know only a handful of seniors who are actually mentally ready for college. I seriously doubt any of the juniors are ready. I would be shocked if you could show me a sophomore able to take on college courses. There are no freshman who could handle it. We are high schoolers. We aren't in college yet because we're high schoolers. In college, you do not have 4 classes every single day. The superintendent says that by doing more work on our own time, it is more like college. I am in high school. I may complain about school, I may say I can't wait for college, but right now, I am in high school. I do more work at home because my teachers don't have time to cover it in class, not because I'm pretending to be a college student. . . .
The county superintendent implemented block in his second school year in the county as he was hired to do just that (to the tune of $300,000 a year--and they wonder why they can't afford to give the teachers their COL raises...). This is the superintendent who promised to see our schools through the changes, and then interviewed for the position of superintendent of Dade County, Florida schools. Go figure.
Although I will concede I have enjoyed certain aspects of the block, I believe none of them outweigh the negatives. . . . I really disliked not seeing my AP Calculus teacher everyday, and feel that not seeing my Latin teacher everyday was detrimental to my learning the language. I know I am singing the same tune many, many emailers sing. We need to sing it louder.
Having experienced the birth of block, I will continue as much as possible to fight it.
In 2004, a parent in Delaware sent me this disturbing report of education harmed by the block:
I live in a small beach community-Lewes, Delaware. For years, our local high school was the pride of the state-top in state testing, SAT scores/college admissions, and various athletic awards. But, six years ago, our school superintendent imposed the "sentence" of 4X4 block scheduling! He presented it to the school board as follows: fewer behavior problems, teachers can "engage" students for 90 minutes, less homework, etc. The school board bought it and by a narrow margin we were imprisoned. The teachers continued to teach for 45 minutes and let the students do their homework or have "free time" for the rest. They have scheduled students to meet state testing needs only. For example, the students are top loaded with math and English in the first two years, and may not see it again until college! We have second semester juniors stating that they have nothing left to take! There are seniors finished classes by 1:00pm., or don't come in until 11:00 to start the day. We now have the lowest AP completion scores in the state, our SAT scores are falling way below the national trends, and our state testing scores are falling. We have been labeled a school "at-risk." It has been 6 years of failure, in every definition of the word.But later, I received a Sept. 2004 report from the same parent indicating that THEY WON the fight against the block. Here is the message, (actually two messages combined) with an important lesson for all those dealing with educational fads:
At the outset, parents 6 years ago saw the red flags and tried to raise these issues with the school board, but to no avail. Recently, we have started another movement to rid our system of this nightmare: we provided a petition with numerous signatures, a school board member in favor of returning to the traditional strip schedule, provided a clear presentation of the downward trend in our school, and after reading your web site, I called the superintendent on many of the points you raised. We asked them to rethink this flawed scheduling and to consider returning to the traditional schedule. The vote was tied (3-3) and our very weak school board president, stated the following, "As president I have to cast the deciding vote. I am voting in favor of staying with the 4x4 block, because my daughter just loves it." When parents screamed that this is not just about her daughter, she refused to answer.
Because our options are limited, we are forced to send our daughter, who is currently in the 8th grade, to a topnotch boarding school. My preference is to keep her home with her family, but I cannot imagine going to high school and not having math, English, a foreign language, etc., everyday and still being competitive for college admission.
If you have any suggestions for us (the frustrated parents!) I would really appreciate it.
We won! Two of our school board's members were up for re-election, and we put up two outstanding candidates and they won! The superintendent is finally listening to us and soon the awful days of block scheduling will be behind us.I'm thrilled to see parents standing up against the system to protect education for their kids. It's a hard battle sometimes, but it can be won!
Thank you for all of your great ideas, they worked!
It is indeed exciting, that our district will soon be rid of block scheduling. We tried many things: petitions (didn't work), ads in the local papers to attend school board meetings to voice opinions against block scheduling (no one showed), and letters to the editor in local papers. The school board always came back saying to us,"It is just a small elitist group, and they do not represent the majority. The teachers know best, and they like block scheduling." Stating that the "teachers knew best" affected many uneducated people, who would often say to me, "what makes you think that you know more about teaching than a teacher!" But, two seats came up for re-election on the school board, and we found two popular candidates, who were dead set against block scheduling. We put up signs, we made phone calls, we went door to door and showed the negative effects of block scheduling on SAT scores/subsequent college performance. And when the election results were announced, we were there to say, "This is NOT a group of MINORITY ELITISTS! The MAJORITY has spoken!" Our candidates won with a huge majority. The candidate went to visit our district's superintendent, to announce that the teachers had one year to prepare to a return to traditional scheduling! Thanks for the support and encouragement. My advice: never give up, keep educating your community with literature NOT provided by the district, and find candidates on the school board who have the courage to rid their district of the scourge of block scheduling!
Here is a Feb. 2004 note also from Delaware asking for information that some of you might have (please let me know), and also sharing an interesting statistic:
Our high school has used the 4x4 block for 5 years and many parents are concerned. When I researched what type of schedules are used in our public high schools in the state of Delaware and ranked them according to SAT scores, I found that the top 8 schools out of 24 do not use block scheduling. I also looked at the percentage of students taking the test as well as the percentage of low income and special education to be sure I looked at how these variables might affect the pattern. Those things did not seem to correlate with the ranking of the scores. Do you know of any similar information I could obtain to evaluate if this pattern also exists in other states? - particularly in other mid-Atlantic states?If you have new information about the correlation between SAT scores and block scheduling in your state, please let me know.
The issue of special needs students and the block was raised by a concerned parent in 2002, who gave me permission to quote her message below:
My son was attending [a] middle school in . . . where block scheduling is used. He is diagnosed ADD and takes 20 mg of Adderall XR (extended release capsules) each morning. This was not enough to maintain attention in a 95 minute class period especially when some of the teachers were monotone in their delivery of lessons or "lectured" the entire time.The special problems the block may pose to students with learning disabilities clearly needs further attention in the literature. It's hard enough for typical students to cope with the longer class period and still maintain some degree of attention. What about those with Attention Deficit Disorder? This may be an important issue that has been ignored in the rush to implement the block for reasons other than academic performance.
He did well in the "active" classes such as Band, Computer Technologies and P. E., but anything totally academic such as Science, Math and Language Arts became a problem. His grades dropped drastically!
I was forced to withdraw him from school and return him to where I teach in [another city] as the classes here are still only 50 minutes long. He is currently doing well and has had to work very hard to bring his grades back up.
I am concerned about next school year as [he] will return to [the same school district] for high school. . . . What can I do to convince the school district personnel and "powers that be" that block scheduling is not conducive to learning especially for ADD/ADHD students?
Your description of the attitudes of administration who would like to see this B.S. program implemented, and the arguments given to the staff at school was amazingly accurate.Jim Gable from York, Pennsylvania sent me the following note in Nov. 1999, posted here with his permission (and with permission to use his name):
The arguments we were given to convince us that the B.S. schedule was necessary were similar to the arguments on your page.... [T]he concerns most of us shared about the "con" side of the argument were never addressed. The concept of repeated courses and less hallway activity were pushed.
We were already using a modified block schedule, so we had a rather unique opportunity to compare a group of traditional 50 minute courses we were teaching with a group of 85 minute courses we taught concurrently. This whole schedule gave me fits from day one, and turned into a planning nightmare. I ended the year convinced that the block portion of our schedule was holding EVERYONE back. I found myself holding back my traditional classes for two or three days at a time because they would get so far ahead of my other courses. My honors physics course was a block course, while my regular physics course was on the traditional schedule, and my regular students out-performed the honor's group with every unit. While I realize this is anecdotal evidence, hardly hard core scientific data, I do feel that it's ominously indicative of some serious problems inherent in the block.
There were other issues that I confronted over the course of the year as well; some mentioned on your website, and some not. Going by student achievement levels over the course of the year, (mine and the achievement levels according to other teachers in the school) I believe it's true that you cannot teach as much information in a 100 minute period as you can in two 50 minute periods. It's simple: students stay focused on the topic for roughly 20 minutes before their attention starts to wander a bit. In one 100 minute class, that's 20 minutes of actual direct teaching/instruction before it's time to switch to "fun" activities because the students just can't handle sitting still for such a long period. In two fifty minute periods, that equates to 40 minutes of direct instruction. Even when pulling out a day for laboratory exercises every so often, and including daily short labs, that still equates to more time spent learning concepts and material, as opposed to activities that aim at entertaining our students as opposed to being meaningful. (That's not an ideal "activity", granted, but the teachers have responded by straining for affordable and applicable ideas every day, sometimes for more than one course, and that tends to be the end result.)
Also, I was not the only one who noticed a serious problem with regard to science and math. Students, by nature, are not going to do the homework assignments until the last minute. On a alternate block schedule, that means they don't do the reinforcement exercises until the next night. By then, they were fuzzy on the concepts they learned in class, and couldn't complete the assignments. For subjects in which constant practice and reinforcement are necessary, such as math, physics, and other math based sciences, this was a disaster. There was also a higher incident of students neglecting to turn in homework or bring projects in on time as well....
To reiterate, I think the freshest perspective I could add to your website is the fact that I taught both schedules side by side and was able to compare student achievement for each schedule. The B.S. has some definite problems that the administration here in this county back-peddle from acknowledging.
About three years ago I printed your report and gave a copy to every school board member at West York High School in York, Pennsylvania. They were hearing arguments on block scheduling. The high school principal was pushing the issue and had the backing of some blinded parents.... In the end I lost and block scheduling was implemented.... A few weeks ago they had the test scores in the local newspaper. West York's test scores are now second to last of the 19 high schools in the area. I don't know the percentage drop, but it was a lot since block scheduling was implemented. Everything you wrote in your paper happened. One of the new school board members who argued against me has just told me that I was right and he was wrong. I would love to go to a school board meeting and tell them, "I told you so, the experiment has failed." ... [The] GPA climbed but the test scores didn't. [My daughter] was bringing much less homework home because most of it was being done at school. More students were making the honor roll, a good touchy type of feeling for the students but what a big surprise when they got to college. Block scheduling was the worst thing that came to West York High. I would advise any parent to not let it happen to their school.A success story in stopping the block and a warning about the harm of the block even when ACT scores seem good comes from a parent in Arkansas:
[After distributing information against the block and organizing parents to oppose it,] when I went to the board meeting to find out their intention the whole subject just died. They more or less left it like the subject had never really come up. I guess you could say that was then a rather successful block of block scheduling. Again thanks to you and the many people who create a very large group through the Internet. Also, I sent my prepared package to some parents in another school district here in Arkansas. This school has had block for 5 years and the superintendent plans to get rid of it for next year. Now that is progress too since this has been the model school we were all to follow. The big catch is LOWER COLLEGE TEST ACHIEVEMENT!!! My understanding is that the superintendent there has gotten reports from colleges where their graduates are attending and the kids are being put back down in lower basic ed classes in spite of their wonderful H.S. grades and ACT scores.In spite of the risk of lower college test achievement, some advocates of the block maintain that it will help prepare kids for college because classes on the block are said to be more like college classes. They may be longer like some college classes, but one college student familiar with high school block scheduling commented on how unlike college those blocked high school classes are. Here is here e-mail from April 2002, quoted with permission, by a college student who shares her experiences with block-scheduled high school:
There were very few teachers who honestly believed that they could teach for 90 minutes straight and hold students attention. Most classes had a 10-20 minute break in the middle. Learning languages is very hard on a block schedule, as you don't get daily reinforcement. Musical groups also suffer the same fate. Math is hard to take 2-3 lessons at a time, but on a block schedule, that's how it has to be. After all, you only go to class 2-3 times a week.A chemistry teacher in high school sent me this note, used with permission:
I am about to graduate from college, and now I want to share a little about how I feel Block Scheduling is NOT like college. Most colleges do not have set schedules. Students decide when they are going to take classes. Languages and some math classes are 5 times a week at my college, and music/art classes require daily practice/work because of the work load. No one gives you study hall in college, you have to be in charge of when you go see teachers, and when you study. The concepts and lessons in college vary greatly from High School. You are required to think on your own and be self-motivated. No one babies you and makes sure you go to class. The only similarity to College that Block Scheduling holds is that less class time occurs for students. It doesn't 'prepare' you because you go to class less--it harms your education.
We went on the block three years ago, and the majority of the teachers love it. They only work 4.5 hrs a day and use the same tests over and over, and.... A FEW, and I mean a very few, understand math. We are voices crying in the wilderness. I am a retread businessman with 25 years in retail building materials and construction. I know what business needs and it sure ain't this. As everyone expects, we cover less material. Every teacher I have talked to admits that they have had to gut their courses. Of course, they don't call it 'gutting.' It is unfortunate that the conferring of a college degree does not confer logical thinking also. Last time I looked less was less, not more.Some schools encountering these kind of problems wake up and get rid of the block, but it's not easy. The politics behind the block can be so strong, that even when getting rid of the block is clearly the right thing for students, some administrators will go all out to resist change. Here is an example of what is faced, from e-mail I received Jan. 2003:
I am a frustrated parent in Somerset County MD. . . . Yes, our two high schools are using the 4X4 block schedule. Last year the school board was to vote on the scheduling problem and I felt we were about to do away with the block mess, but lo and behold, the superintendent announced that since the schedule would remain the same there would be no vote! I about fell out of my chair!So it appears that a vote had been promised, but when it looked like the vote might not go the "right" way, the superintendent unilaterally announced that there would be no vote. "Voting fraud" is a common thing associated with the block. Sometimes we see administrators acting like Third World dictators in the way they deal with the block. In my area, for example, we had a case where teachers were asked to vote, but any votes against the block required giving one's name, while votes for the block were anonymous. Teachers had to put their necks on the line, facing possible repercussions from the administration, to vote against the block. (I know some countries like that--and sure wouldn't want to live in any of them.) In another school a newsletter solicited feedback from parents on the block, and failure to respond was counted as a yes vote! So of course, an overwhelming majority were reported as being in favor of the block, apparently due to an overwhelming majority not even noticing that input was requested. Outrageous.
Here is mail from a frustrated parent received in 2001, used with permission:
Suffice it to say that my oldest child ... with an 1100 SAT score as a 12 year old [and] freshman PSAT scores equivalent to 1310 ... watched PSAT scores DROP over 50 points in math alone his sophomore year. I was told that was normal. I didn't find it normal to spend one and a half hours a day in band ALL YEAR LONG ... while having English ONE semester and math one semester a year....One parent found that under the block, her school no longer had time to make mathematics a priority. Home schooling was the best alternative to ensure that math was actually taught:
His scores went down the tubes. He was forced to take the National Latin Exam which is only scheduled in late February either having had Latin in the fall with NO review for two months or having only had Latin for six weeks. He managed to score cum laude one year and magna the other, but kids used to summa in our district. No one has since we went to block. These kids are penalized for their school's stupidity. Latin isn't the only casualty. Kids are dropping fine arts courses which require year long commitments because of class rank. They can't afford to waste two blocks on fine arts and still compete. The band has gotten smaller year by year. Ditto choir, orchestra and drama.
We moved both of our children to a local private school that is still on a traditional schedule. We are having to spend the small inheritance we received on their tuition. It would have been a blanket for our retirement or paid for their college.
It infuriates me because most kids don't have the option we took. It was horrible having to change schools in the middle of high school but my son agrees it was worth it. He has struggled trying to relearn how to juggle six and seven courses which is much closer to the real college world. We have been vindicated though. His junior PSAT scores were equivalent to 1530. Amazing. He will tell you that NOTHING took place after the first hour in any of his block classes. Even honors kids get bored. They watched movies galore to fill the time and yet never finished their textbooks. His new English class has TIME to read and discuss all the great classics.
AP scores are horrible in our district now. SAT scores have fallen every year since block went into effect. All the teachers but the AP science teachers HATE it. AP science courses are all year long. Still, no one listens to them or the parents....
You should see our elective lists. Our kids have no time to learn complex math or read and write about great works not to mention finish their history textbooks but we get four electives a year. Waahoo. Seems to me that a kid taking English, math, science, social studies, foreign language and an elective has plenty on his plate. Marine science fishing trips, videotaping the announcements, leadership (Student council members have to spend a YEAR--two blocks to serve!!!), yearbook (Ditto the two blocks! Remember when that was an after school activity?), Habitat for Humanity, office aide, pottery, and the like are electives now.
Sorry about the rant. I'm glad to be out of it but it infuriates me that it will cost me $20,000 to finish educating my oldest at private school and my youngest will cost me $70,000 before it is all over.
After a wonderful elementary experience my son is now in 7th grade and is in the block schedule. Much to my dismay his first and second semester classes consisted of Homeroom (20 min.), P.E., Home Economics, Science, Band and Choir. After approaching the principle in regards to the other vital subjects particularly "math" his comment was, "It's impossible to accommodate everyone schedule to include math." Completely appalled at the mentality of the educational leadership that will have a part in the affect of my child's learning over the course of the next 5 years, I have taken matters into my own hands and will be Homeschooling my children. After much research and having the support of my spouse and other parents, some in our school district I have come to the conclusion there is no other way to fight the small town ignorance that goes along with the Block Scheduling.An experienced chemistry teacher expressed these oft-repeated frustrations with the system of block scheduling:
[Block scheduling] was introduced into our school over the protests of many faculty members and parents. I am a veteran teacher and have always tried to keep up with changes in methods of teaching chemistry over the years. However, I have found that I must cover material at a faster pace, must leave out material that I know should be included, and must spend even more time in preparation for classes and laboratory experiments. Student retention on unit exams is consistently lower, particularly with my average students. Students complained that they did not have time to let the material "soak in" ( a good Southern expression.) I provide help after school for students who are struggling or just need to go over material again. However, I observed that students were so exhausted from their day that they did not take advantage of this help as much as before.The potential harm to foreign language programs is exemplified by a high school Spanish teacher's experience in Florida, which I quote with permission:
School starts in three weeks and I don't know how to make this system work for our students. I am a dedicated, experienced, well-prepared chemistry teacher who needs help. One comment that I hear consistently from administrators is "Don't worry about teaching less material, just teach what you can thoroughly." I have high expectations for myself and for my students and cannot go along with this concept.
I am pleased to see someone willing to ask for hard data on Block-scheduling. I am a ... veteran Spanish teacher at [my] high school ... [in] Florida, and this is our first experimental year on Block. We had to vote by departments and the Foreign Language dept. was the only department in the whole school to vote against what is essentially: 90 days in which to learn Spanish. We are on 4 by 4 (90 min blocks). We are close to the end of the 1st Term and I must say my students are carrying higher grades compared to last year, but their scores are significantly lower on chapter tests. No, I should say ATROCIOUS. I've changed the content of my class to teach only the basics and I'm afraid that teaching Spanish II will be a nightmare. Foreign Language and Math test true retention and so far all of these teachers recognize that what we are issuing are inflated grades. Yet, most say they like Block-Scheduling and would like to go to the 2nd year. I was given the argument that in 2 years the students not on Block and those on Block would not remember much of their Spanish anyway so what's the big deal? I totally disagree but neither of us has the hard data to back-up our opinions.I find the above quote crystallizes many people's experiences with block scheduling. Grades go up, many people like it, but ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE DROPS in content-based courses. We've had other educational fads that were praised for years while literacy and others skills continued to drop. Block scheduling has the makings of another potentially harmful fad that is widely praised without careful and critical evaluation.
Here is a note from a sharp student in Georgia who realized that teachers aren't being given any information about possible problems with the block before they are asked to vote on it:
I am a ninth grade student at Ringgold High School in Ringgold, GA. Our school district is considering going to block scheduling. At a school board meeting . . . the principal of my school [said] that last semester the faculty of both my school and another in the district took a poll of the teachers.... The result at my school was 73 for and 8 against [block scheduling]. I didn't know this until then. But shortly afterward I asked the teachers that participated in this poll what exactly they knew about block. Their response was that they only knew that it was going to help the grade average of students and that they had been to many schools that it had helped. Immediately after this I gave them a copy of the web site you have made. When they had finished reading it they told me that they wished they had read this earlier and they would have voted against block.Interestingly, those Georgia teachers were told that the block would be good because it would increase the GPA (which it often does because of grade inflation!)--not that it would improve academic performance, which is the real issue.
Some parents in Alabama are upset by the experimental block scheduling programs being proposed or used there. I received this via e-mail:
Local teachers who visited Dothan where block scheduling is in use and who now oppose block scheduling have prepared a handout stating that block scheduling watered down courses, making up work from absences is harder due to more material missed, there is a lack of content and depth in math courses, students do not know material from prerequisite courses and STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT SCORES DO NOT IMPROVE. The most important problem with block scheduling is the difficulty a block student has in transferring credits to a non-block school.A parent in the Friendswood School District of Texas wrote of their experience with block scheduling:
WHERE in the U.S. has this been tried for 5 years or more successfully? Where are the SCORES to prove that it helps students LEARN MORE?? Why are we jumping onto another unproven education reform bandwagon??
Our high school in Friendswood has gone through one year of accelerated block. You are wise to try hard to keep it out of your schools; it has created unbelievable turmoil here in what is usually a quiet community of around 25,000 people. We don't think this newfound research [the Canadian studies] alone will result in getting rid of block at the high school, but it may be the dynamite that breaks the logjam. We had been told there wasn't anything other than what they gave us. I hope it will make some people think. This issue will have bearing on this summer's election for 2 school board seats. Right now, no fewer than 5 people are running against the 2 incumbents who voted for block....A parent in Massachusetts sent me the following message in 1996:
Our school system is declaring block a success ..., even without test scores and other hard data, and with more than 50% of the parents surveyed requesting the high school seek another schedule. It is disheartening....
I read with great interest your series of articles on The Case Against Block Scheduling.... Most of the towns on the Cape and many others in Mass. are doing the same, virtually overnight and with little training or preparation of the teachers, and little apparent thought as to how so radical a change implemented quickly will impact students.Certainly there are schools which seem to do well under block scheduling. The actual outcome will depend on many details of the implementation and of the school and its people. I have received a number of messages from people saying it has "worked well" for their school. For example, the following message, in support of block scheduling, comes from an 18-year old high school student:
The ostensible reason the Block is being implemented all over Mass. is because of the passage of an Education Reform Act in 1993 which mandates increased class time and time on learning, among other things. Normally increased class time necessitates a longer school day/year, and thus incurs more expense. The "beauty" of the Block (from an administrative point of view) is that it enables school districts to reach the mandated increases with no extra expense. The big benefit to the Block is that it saves money, period... Unfortunately, the economic benefits to the towns of the Block are so strong that virtually nothing else matters: not drops in SAT scores, not the fact that teachers can cover only 60%-75% of the material they were able to cover under the old system, nothing.
Just the way the Block was implemented into our district is suspect. The superintendent in Sept. 1994 created faculty committees to come up with solutions to meet the new mandates; when they came up with ideas different from his own, he disbanded the committees and announced block scheduling. The decision was announced to parents and students in Jan. 1995 and voted upon by the School Committee in March, despite the formation of a parents' group opposed to the Block, and against the strenuous objections of many of the teachers. What particularly shocked and disturbed me were the lies and deception used by the administration to force this thing in. For example, when people expressed concern about students' ability to retain material because a gap of 7-12 months exists between sequential courses like math and foreign language (we are on the 4 x 4 Block with one semester, or half year courses), the administration assured us publicly that studies existed which proved that there's no loss of retention, and therefore no problem. A spokeswoman for the administration said later privately that the effects on retention in such a situation are unknown. This is one example of many.
The Block has been in effect in our high school now for almost a year and the results unfortunately are exactly what its critics predicted--the teachers cannot cover a year's worth of material in 1/2 year even with increased class time because students need time to absorb and process material; scores dropped on the first group of SAT Achievement Tests taken in Jan.; teachers have trouble maintaining student interest for 90 minutes; the increased class time which was supposed to be used for creative exciting projects is instead being used for homework; student absences mean they miss 2 days worth of material, etc., etc.
But all this means nothing in the face of the great economies offered school districts by the Block. (The Administration of course denies these problems exist and says the Block is working just fine--money is never mentioned)....
I am a student at one of Texas' finest High Schools, Lackland High School. We won the national Blue Ribbon award for being an outstanding school. Lackland has a record for being good at academic achievements and awards.There is no doubt that many people like the Block and that it does bring some advantages, less stress being one of the most popular, but I'd like to see hard data showing gains in academic performance before I give it my support. Based on the experience of my kids in public school, I think they would benefit from more stress (challenging homework, for example) rather than less.
Lackland has been on a block scheduling for more than three years now and has been doing great with the outcome. It's true that block scheduling allows for one to meet more people, it improves student-teacher relationships (maybe), and so on. I personally have found no problems with the scheduling. This way the students are able to use an extra day to do assignments and projects, it allows for less stress, and it also allows for a student to get a possible 32 credits before graduating from high school to where as at a school with a normal scheduling you would only get about 24 credits at the most.
The 32 credit system allows a student to expand his world of knowledge by letting them take more math classes, classes like psychology and sociology in which they might not have had a chance before, they could take any number of other classes.
A similar positive comment from the block came from a student writing me in 2001. She noted that everyone in her school seems to feel positive about the block. She mentioned that is helps her in specific classes, such as English:
[My English] class focuses both on grammar and on creative outlets. We use class time to discuss things that are pertinent to books we are reading, and to write in our journals or to read our books. We spend another part of the class on grammar. We cover a lot in class, and since we have had so many past troubles with grammar, it is comforting to be able to do the work in class and ask questions at the same time.
In response, I wrote that it's great that everyone enjoys and has positive feelings about the classes, but the very thing that makes the classes more enjoyable and easier (like doing journals in class) is cutting down on the amount of material that can be mastered and learned. Major studies show that on the average, academic performance will be hurt by the block, though people have more fun and maybe even get higher grades. And that's why it's a concern.
I asked a psychologist with many years of educational experience what he thought of block scheduling. Here is his common-sense analysis:
[Block scheduling] supposedly gives the kids twice as much time in half as many places in a given semester/quarter. What it translates into is an over-extended teacher being forced to over-extend him/herself twice as hard to control kids for twice as long. I don't think it's going to improve the quality of education, just make it more necessary for teachers to implement more "fun and games" type activities to keep the class from spilling out into the hallways. From some of the dialogues we've intercepted on CompuServe and other chat forums between teachers (if those messages are to be believed), some teachers look at block scheduling as a way to do half as much in twice the time -- and use the extra time to make "plans." ... Block scheduling may sound good, and a competent, literate, motivated teacher may be able to do some good with it, provided the teacher is working with competent, literate, motivated students. When was the last time you saw BOTH of those components in the same class at the same time (for more than a fleeting moment) ...?Here is a plea from a teacher in Georgia, received in 2004:
I am a high school teacher in the Cobb County School District in Atlanta where we have a block schedule. . . . We have standards to follow from the State of Georgia called Quality Core Curriculum. I began by teaching as I always have, determined to fit as much into one class as possible! The kids WOULDN'T LET ME. (Sounds crazy doesn't it?) They shut down after about 15 minutes of class. Then I am "trapped" in there (trying my best) with them for the rest of the block. It is the most frustrating thing I have ever experienced.This came in March 2004:
I know that proponents of B.S. (good initials, by the way) would say that I don't have the experience, but I promise that I am NOT a lazy teacher. I plan several activities within a period--it does not matter. I loose them.
Another big problem is that they try any way that they can to leave the room. They have so many bathroom emergencies that you wouldn't believe. I do limit this now, but never dreamed it would be a problem with high school children. (And afraid that a parent will sue me if I don't let their kid go to the bathroom if they say they need to.) Absences are another problem. My kids are absent frequently--they NEVER make up their work. Learning is not happening with most of my kids. I had [a huge] failure rate last semester. I was shocked. My colleges said it was normal. . . .
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?? What do the school systems get out of it? Is it the money? I will never understand why teachers like this!
I wish someone would come and observe my kids and see what a detriment it is for them. This does NOT prepare them for life or college.
I think you're right in saying that teachers let them do their homework in class. The kids look at me like I'm crazy when I give them homework! REAL homework.
Thanks for providing the information. This was the only website I could find (so far) that goes against the B.S. It's unreal! I need a support group...know of one?
There was an attempt to switch to block scheduling at my high school. A mass email of your web page helped to convince enough people at the high school to stop block scheduling (a 50/50 split in opinion). Thank you for researching and creating your web page.Glad my page could help!
A sophomore in high school sent me this in 1997, expressing his concern the block:
My school is in the middle of a ten week trial, and I'm sort of worried how this will turn out. The trial is not long enough to offer any quantitative data, therefore surveys will focus on the "enjoyability" of the block. I have talked to many teachers who are afraid to report negative opinions to the administration yet are covering much less material. I talked to one teacher who mentioned that many of the "extras" he usually incorporated into his class would have to be cut due to time restrictions in the block. To me, this is not less stressful; kids are missing out! Am I the only person who sees the reasoning in this? Also, AP classes will definitely suffer! I am told that I could take and AP class all year, but I was planning on taking three AP's next year. That would mean much less class variety, not more.In September of 1996, I received this e-mail note:
Last week I received a phone call from my 15 year old son who upon starting the 10th grade discovered his school had transformed its traditional scheduling seemingly overnight to the block form. He is an A-B student who is very active in sports. His first comment to me was, "Dad it's really hard to pay attention for 90 minutes". I have called the education department of the University of Miami and my sons high school ... to obtain some "hard" facts as to the reasons for the change, in light of a teenagers 20-50 minute attention span, and have been given very general, vague reasons. It seems to be convenient to meet "time" spent in class criteria rather then genuine education. My main concern is that this Block scheduling is not proven to be beneficial to the child's learning and that those involved in this experiment will not receive the education needed.I also received e-mail from a science teacher in Kansas who felt that block scheduling was helpful to him in handling specialized lab classes. However, reports from his students confirmed that most other teachers were turning to games, movies, and other activities to kill the time. Yes, motivated students and teachers together might yield good results under block scheduling, but this hardly justifies its use for the entire school.
Several teachers on the East Coast sent me this note in 1998:
We have just started our second year of block scheduling, and the majority of us are overwhelmingly opposed to it. We have the Day A-Day B schedule, and we are teaching SIX classes! We have only 42 minutes of preparation a day, and we have found that it is a completely negative experience. Our experience is similar to that of other teachers who have commented in the information you have posted on the Internet: there is a lack of continuity, less content is covered but the students do not retain the information any better, teachers are demoralized (despite trying to adapt to the new schedule), administration does not seem to care about our concerns (because they are getting an extra class out of every teacher). We are told "less is more" but less is simply less.A teacher on the East Coast sent me this in 2004 (used with permission):
I've just started to read your info on the block and I am motivated to write to you because I have been having much of the same problems with the block schedule. We instituted the block about 5 years ago (mainly forced upon us by an administration who wanted to get 6 courses taught by each teacher per year rather than 5) and I have noticed a drop in material covered, and less learning going on. In general our test scores have stayed the same or have gone down. . . . Please continue to put forth this vital information showing the pitfalls of the block--maybe someday we can convince our district to eliminate it--at least that is my hope.Here is a message from another teacher, received Jan. 2002:
As I'm sure you know, the Middle Schools are a magnet for all variety of trendy, but unproven educational theories. To question any of these by asking for documentation or research earns one the label of "negative". Just recently the PR person from our high school came over to talk to me about "negative comments" I made to parents when about the recently implemented block scheduling at the HS when, in actuality, I was only warning some parents about the downside of block and suggesting ways they can compensate for this in their child's education. Anyway, I am writing a research paper for my Masters in Secondary Administration and to have on hand in general for future discussions of block. There is a big push for teams to do block at our school, despite my team's persistence that evidence shows there is harm to the students. As my principal said, "I'm not looking for hard data, I'm looking for ideas." God help us all when, in the interest of being "cutting edge", we don't even attempt to learn from or avoid the failures of others who have gone before us.Some teachers in Salem are frustrated with plans to adopt the block and other reforms in the absence of evidence that these reforms help. Here is a message I received in Feb. 2004:
My present school district is presently adopting just about every single educational "reform" undercut by the data on your site. . . . [M]y gut told me that my school was about to commit an impressive list of crimes against its students. In the next two years, the superintendent wants, to name just a few:2005 Update on Salem High: More shenanigans have taken place to push the block in Salem and elsewhere. Here's a note received June 2005:
None... NONE of the changes are linked to statistical proof that such changes improve student performance, but our superintendent insists that it is still "his vision of what is best for kids." Better yet... a vague faculty vote on a "mission statement" for the High School is being used as proof that the High School faculty voted in these changes, and our Superintendent even secured a $500,000 grant from the federal government to implement the changes. It's a real laugh riot... a sad laugh riot. And best of all, most of the teachers that spoke out against the changes are untenured . . ., so he will most likely s---can the voices against his plan at the end of the school year.
- Block Scheduling
- Heterogeneous classes
- A focus on "student centered" education
- A "house system"
- A marked turn away from lecture in the classroom
Any way...[there is] a resistance site at http://www.salemhigh.net/ if you have any interest at all. . . . What I'm finding is that the educational system does not seem to attract too many people of intelligence or guts, so it is refreshing to see a site like yours out there. It has been a great starting point for research and resistance against a superintendent and a principal who seem much more interested in putting their names on a "successful implementation of xxxxxxxxx school reform," than on creating a pedagogically successful school system.
Any help or suggestions that you can bring to our battle are greatly appreciated.
When Salem's Superintendent brought the block scheduling vote to the Union, the schedule change only affected the High School, but as a quirk to the union process (another problem altogether) the entire union voted on the schedule. Salem High School was prepared to vote down the schedule, and the High School DID vote down the schedule. BUT... in order to make sure that block scheduling passed the vote, Superintendent Levine promised Salem's Elementary schools that he would hire more physical education instructors, if they voted for block scheduling. Ultimately, block scheduling is now the schedule at Salem High School, because Superintendent Herbert Levine bribed the union membership. Disgusting, no?A vigilant parent in Maryland send me this information:
More information is up at salemhigh.net, if anyone is interested.
In late 1996 I received this message, which I reproduce with permission (as is the case for most e-mail postings on this page):
Why is block scheduling being pushed so strongly? Politics. Education is now fully engulfed in politics. What's new and innovative looks good. And every elected city official wants to look good and be on the "cutting edge."
We are being told to look to Dothan as an example of where this is a success. Daniel Cunningham, principal of Frederick High School in Frederick, Maryland went to Dothan to discuss the block schedule before it was implemented. He told them that Thomas Guskey, a University of Kentucky Professor evaluated their system and approved. A computer search revealed that Guskey is an expert on OUTCOME BASED EDUCATION/MASTERY LEARNING. If you don't know what OBE is, you owe it to your children to find out.
Dothan parents ordered ... a Canadian study of block scheduling ... that stated that the four period day is "detrimental" to student achievement. The Dothan school system was given the reports from the studies conducted in Canada on four block scheduling, yet they deliberately misled the parents of Dothan by stating that the researcher, Dr. David Bateson, had repudiated his study and now supported the four period day. The Dothan parents contacted Dr. Bateson and he sent a letter adamantly defending his position AGAINST block scheduling. After having block scheduling in place for only one year, the Dothan School system is declaring it a success and encouraging other systems to join in this experiment.
Systems are being led into the block scheduling with no objective data, merely attitudinal information. All the administrators know is what they saw at the school they visited and the puffy propaganda they have been given to read. They have gathered no objective data because THERE IS NONE.
A Dothan handout stated that there would be six hours more instructional time than in a seven-period day. In actuality, students will receive approximately 20 hours less instruction time for each subject per year. TWENTY HOURS LESS!! And they will cover the same amount of material in half the time.
Some have argued that the block/semester schedule is the same schedule used in universities and that high school students should have no problem with starting the same type of schedule in high school. The problem with this reasoning is that the majority of high school students will not be attending college. In college, students are there because they WANT to be there and they are more willing to apply themselves to their studies. With block scheduling, students sometimes cover an entire chapter of material in a day, and in some cases, they review and are tested within the same day. This is TEACHING TO THE TEST and is not true EDUCATION. It eliminates the need for retention.
It is detrimental to require that they cover such a vast amount of material in such a short period of time.
I feel that with all the hard data about block scheduling, showing the academic harm, no more should be necessary. That said, Commissioner Mills (NY) recently visited our school district to film a "teleconference" on block scheduling. I believe this to be propaganda since mostly parents known to favor blocks were asked to attend. He did tell the local weekly that he had not made up his mind about block scheduling. During the filming he said that Dover had gone from 28% regents diploma to 47% in four years. (Dover actually had 36% last year and 28% seven years ago) I pointed this out in a letter to the paper and faxed a copy to the Commissioner. Our superintendent sent a copy of regents diploma rates for the last six years to the board, with a "projected rate" for this coming year of 47%. Even if this is a valid projection, it certainly falls under the heading of "counting your chickens before they've hatched."More recently, the author of the above message noted that SAT scores have declined in his district under the block.
This is our third year under blocks. In Physics, Chemistry, and Math 3; course enrollments have dropped by almost one half. In Math 1, Biology, and Earth Science; enrollments exceed class sizes by about 20%. Since New York requires Math 1 and 2 years of science (only one of which must have a regents exam) for a regents diploma, it is pretty obvious what is going on. They are intent on boosting regents graduation rates to prove that block scheduling works.
Here is a comment from a parent in Illinois:
As a parent of three sons ... in Wheaton-Warrenville IL School District 200, I am very concerned about our move to block of time scheduling both at the middle school and at the high school. Administrators keep talking about the electives such as foreign language and music getting in the way of this new wonderful approach to scheduling. I have not seen our teachers use the flex time that they have already implemented to the advantage of the good students. They are particularly not concerned with the higher ability students!! I am afraid that restructuring like this will reduce both the quality and quantity of learning for my boys. I also don't like the resultant teachers who teach out of their expertise. ... Why isn't it clear ... that kids need to gain self esteem through real personal struggle and accomplishment rather than artificially-produced successes? They are not doing anyone a favor by watering down the entire system.Rotating schedules with the block are another twist on an already twisted situation, as evidenced by this note received March 2003 and used with permission:
I hope you can help me find some material in opposition to rotating school schedules. I have been making great use of your website on the case against block scheduling. I am the chairman of the history dept. at . . . a private prep school with very high academic standards. . . . Until recently we have more of less ignored the many "trends" promoted by the educational establishment. Our schedule has 8 45-min. periods (double periods once a week for science labs). Every class meets at the same time every day--simple efficient, easy to use.I agree with the concerns about the rotating structure being a complex distraction. Adding that on top of the problems that the block brings can only make things worse. But why not try it? A consultant recommended it, and it will show that the school is progressive and innovative. So what if the kids don't learn as much? It's progress--and will look great on resumés.
Alas! the administration has now created a committee to redesign our schedule according to the trends of the day. The administrators are not finally committed to anything but lean heavily toward something with lots of rotation in it and at least some extended blocks. "Semestering" probably won't happen but an A/B block might. I have found your arguments and others about the problems with blocks; but I have found nothing either positive or negative about rotating classes in 5 to 8 different daily schedules. This rotation seems most likely to prevail simply because it is widespread and a consultant urged it upon us. We had a two day rotating schedule for two years (1996-7, 1997-8) and it drove me and many others crazy. Perhaps because we have no bells (and everyone is dead set against them) it was very difficult to remember that the class that ended at 11:55 yesterday will end at 2:40 today or that whereas yesterday one went to such and such class at 10;25, today it would be at 1:55. Whereas a stable schedule becomes second nature an 8 cycle rotation cannot. I have found some evidence that these schedules are quite destructive for ADD kids (no surprise), but I find nothing about this in recent educational literature. Surely making something simple into a complex distraction is not entirely good. Can you help me find some leads?
Harm to music programs is a common problem with B.S. For example, here is a message sent to me by a disappointed parent, Nov. 1999:
Our school system went to BS two and a half years ago. At the time of the initial discussions we the parents were given only the positive "possibilities" of the plan. We were told that our students academic scores would improve. I was told that my gifted (IQ 150) but low GPA child would improve his grades because he would be much more challenged and more interested in learning. We believed.... Actually he is more bored than before and is struggling just to be able to graduate in spring after failing an English course....A teacher at Bettendorf High raises these concerns about music and PE:
Although I have really seen no positive results from the block scheduling, I have seen many negative results. Our award winning jazz band which presents a major jazz concert each year is struggling to even put together a group for the year and for the first time in many years may not put on this celebrated event. The regular band has declined to half its membership and will probably lose more with a scheduling problem that has just hit the sophomore class. We fear that eventually we may lose our band director to another school. A neighboring school has used our band problems as a reason not to implement this in their own school....
Unfortunately our BS program makes it almost impossible for our students to take one [music class] the entire four years of high school. My daughter ... is devastated that she will not be able to take both band and choir.
Thank you for your informative web site. I wish that I and many other parents had not accepted what the school board and others had to say without asking more questions. Fortunately there may be hope yet to discontinue this program before any more damage is done.
We are planning to go to the block in 1996-1997. We are having difficulty fitting in Music and PE. Presently we have an excellent Band and Chorus program and do not wish to lose an part of it. Are there successful programs out there where the block did not restrict student opportunity to enroll in music? Presently our PE is on alternate days throughout 2 semesters. In all fairness, this program will be restricted to one quarter of time under the block, since it has been decided all present semester courses will become one quarter courses under the block.If you have other information or experience about the impact of the block on music programs, please let me know. Some people are especially interested in this topic, as evidenced by this Aug. 2003 request from Minnesota, where the effect of the trimester block may be especially severe:
Could you put a question to all music educators asking about the Trimester Block? Where else is this happening?A junior high school teacher sent me the following note about "at-risk" students:
In Minnesota one large high school has implemented the TB [trimester block]. Band is offered all year, but students are not able to register for it. With only 5 class choices per trimester, and offering programs such as Minority Encouragement, International Baccalaureate, and Learning Communities, all which have required classes, students have no time for music education. The Concert Band in a school of 2000 has only 18 students.
The problem at our junior high school is that we have switched to the A/B block (90 minutes every other day) instead of 45 every day. I am just sick about the effect on our "at-risk" kids whose reading skills are still developing. Sure, our classes go all year, but we have massive "forgetting" problems. This was pushed by the administration--most of the teachers don't like it (even some of those who were in favor of trying it want to dump it). So it is not only 4x4 that is the problem.Another comment on the impact on music programs:
In Washington State, our experience with the four period day has been universally negative. Bands and Choirs fall by the wayside as scheduling conflicts arise. I believe that allowing any schedule to be built which does not provide opportunities for kids to participate in music is a terrible thing to happen...Other comments on music from a graduate student veteran teacher at a Florida university:
We studied the block at the school where I taught last year and wisely decided that we did not have enough information to proceed. Here is some research on the block and music. Music teachers for the most part are cold on block scheduling, as you can imagine.
Larry Blocher and Richard Miles. "High School Restructuring--Block Scheduling: Implications for Music Education." Prepared for the Kentucky Coalition for Music Education. Dept. of Music, Morehead State University (February 1995).
Gary E. Hall. "The Effects of the Four Period Day on Colorado High School Performing Arts Classes." Master's Thesis, Adams State College, 1992.
Dudley B. Wade. "Changes in the Band Programs of Missouri Public High Schools Using the Eight-Block System of Scheduling." Master's Thesis, Univ. of Missouri, Kansas City, 1994.
Glenn W. Patterson. "Modifying Block Schedules to Save Music Programs." The Instrumentalist, January 1997. 17-20.
John and Stephen Benham. "The Perils of Block Scheduling." The Instrumentalist, August 1996. 30-32.
A music teacher offers thoughts on the real agenda behind block scheduling:
In December of 1994 I attended the Music Educators National Conference in Chicago. Over 11 thousand music teachers filled five hotels. It was suggested in a brainstorming session that the true reason for Block might be to eliminate one year of high school. Not a dusty idea. All the reasons of "why to Block" sold to administration and passed on to the faculty have not occurred, yet Block is still being pushed. Why? Look at the way Block has been set up, 16 credits rather than 12, students can graduate in three years rather than in four. Imagine the financial implications; half the teaching staff at the senior level, less special education, less equipment to instrumental music and physical education, smaller buildings, less utilities, less discipline problems, less drugs, fighting, etc. I could go on a great deal in the amount of money that could be saved. Also, we would be getting the lower quartile students (blue collar cheap labor) into the workforce sooner. Could this be a hidden agenda from those who are looking at the "big picture" of economics in our country...?Here's a fairly typical note from a teacher, received Dec. 2003, and used with permission:
I've just started to read your info on the block and I am motivated to write to you because I have been having much of the same problems with the block schedule. We instituted the block about 5 years ago (mainly forced upon us by an administration who wanted to get 6 courses taught by each teacher per year rather than 5) and I have noticed a drop in material covered, and less learning going on. In general our test scores have stayed the same or have gone down. In math especially, I have noticed students will forget a lot of the previous course when they take a first semester Algebra 1 followed by a second semester Geometry the following school year (since we are on a 4-by-4 two-semester 85-minute block schedule. Please continue to put forth this vital information showing the pitfalls of the block--maybe someday we can convince our district to eliminate it--at least that is my hope. Thank you for your efforts in this regard.And finally, from a school board member in North Carolina comes an example of the many success stories I have heard from people fighting block scheduling with information and facts:
Our school has recently considered implementing block scheduling at our High School. The board defeated the proposal with a 4 to 3 vote.... A large measure of the credit goes to the information that you gathered on your web site. I want to personally thank you for your efforts. You probably will not be surprised to learn that the administration's analysis of block scheduling was pretty one-sided. Without the information that you and some others have provided we would not have had the information that we needed to support our "common sense" concerns.On the other side, here's a note from a proponent of the block sent to me in Feb. 2000. Sadly, it uses the type of logic one often sees in modern educational debates:
As a teacher who loves block scheduling, I can only say that as soon as I saw the "keep Christianity in our schools, whole language reeks, etc." rhetoric, I realized your true agenda. I hope that folks who attempt to use your anti-block "concerns" look at your biographical info and draw their own conclusions. I hope your home has room for your ego, and the Lord is to be thanked that you have all sons, no gals--for your subtle sexism shines through.Amen! The old ad hominem attack is always useful when facts are in the way. We can ignore all the studies, for Mr. Lindsay is egotistical, sexist, middle class, and--Gaia forbid--Christian! And I even admit it--the Christian part, that is (though I have said nothing about "keeping Christianity in our schools").
The block is not the root of educational evil. The upper and upper middle classes in our country do their best to impede the progress of everyone else. I see that as long as your agenda benefits YOUR children, and their upper middleclass peers, you are satisfied.
Some of us care about ALL children, not just a few; that is why I teach in a public school.
Religion and personal biases have nothing to do with the issue of whether the block helps or hurts academic performance. Amazingly, some teachers and administrators assume that if parents demand academic achievement, they are elitist and not thinking about the underclasses. BALONEY! What disadvantaged, "at risk," or impoverished children need almost as much as food is ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT. Teach them to read well and to do math and to have the confidence that comes from having knowledge and skills, not phoney mantras about self-worth, and the initial disadvantages they face can be largely wiped out. Equal opportunity or even superior opportunity will be theirs if they are given an equal opportunity to learn real skills, rather than being held back by false and even racist ideologies that assume academic excellence is beyond the grasp of certain segments of our society. When schools push academic excellence, the needs of all children are much more likely to be met. When schools become centers for social conditioning and self-esteem therapy, the disadvantaged can lose nearly all hope of achieving success and independence.http://www.ed.gov/pubs/Diverse that the real reason may have been to enable school-to-work programs, where the Federal Government is driving the bandwagon. A Feb. 1999 from a concerned parent called this to my attention:
The Dept. of Education When Dothan decided to go to block scheduling, their reasons were 1. It would cut down on disciplinary problems between classes 2. Academics. Little did we know the real purpose that I just discovered on the Department of Education Web site:The Dept. of Education page cited above gives more details. It appears that block scheduling in Dothan, Alabama was one of many steps needed over several years to bring about a shift in education to make it more geared to the needs of the Corporation rather than the needs of the individual or the family. Well, that's my spin on the federally driven shift to "tech-prep".
"Still, potential vocational education courses were crowded out of students' schedules because many students choose music or sports as their one elective. In 1993, Dothan submitted a proposal to the state for an additional waiver to change the scheduling plan to a semesterized, eight-block day. Under this plan, students would have only four 96-minute classes each day during a semester. They would choose eight courses each year, with two of the four core academic subjects scheduled each semester."
It is interesting that when Susan Lockwood's article on block scheduling was published in The National Association of Secondary School Principal's (NASSP) Bulletin, December, 1995, there was also an article by Dothan's Director of Instruction, Jack Sasser, entitled "Career Quest and the Changing Workplace: Career Paths in Dothan, Alabama." In other words, we were guinea pigs for School-to-Work and block scheduling was one of the pieces that had to be in place for it to be implemented.
This is from the Department of Education web site: http://www.ed.gov/pubs/Diverse, "The Diverse Forms of Tech-Prep: Implementation Approaches in Ten Local Consortia."
It seems that the recent Federal push for "school-to-work" programs and certificates of mastery may offer a partial explanation for direct Federal and indirect corporate support of block scheduling. If students are to have time for work experience or visits to work sites during school hours, then longer blocks of class time are helpful. Some people really believe that the purpose of education should be to provide labor to support corporate America, even providing some free labor along the way through "partnerships." The vast majority of the jobs that will be supported by this effort are jobs requiring low intellectual skills but plenty of conformity and cooperation. Should education therefore focus on cooperative education, group projects, and conflict resolution instead of academics and individual growth? That may be what corporate America demands for all but a few workers, but it's not what parents want for their kids.
To say that the educational system tries to prepare kids for basic work tasks does not imply some sort of conspiracy theory behind schools and corporations, as some foolish people have said about my views. No conspiracy is needed to account for the natural effect that one's views and priorities have on one's choices. For many in the educational establishment, the top priority for education is not creating highly educated people striving for excellence, but cooperative citizens who can adapt and behave. I hope one can disagree with that perspective without causing undue fright and alarm!
The purpose of school, in my opinion, should be to educate, to help kids learn to understand and think--not to become compliant citizens ready to follow orders in Corporate America. But our focus on socialization skills, working in groups, "cooperative learning," citizenship, etc., rather than academic excellence, shows which paradigm we are adopting. Excellence is downplayed; cooperation and social adjustment is emphasized, particularly in middle schools but also increasingly in high school. If local schools want to be more vocational, that's fine. I oppose the Federal Government controlling schools or influencing the curriculum, and I oppose the machinations to get schools on the block without being honest about the reasons--or the consequences.
Federally driven trends have probably been a major influence toward the block, though often indirectly. I have received reports of grants given to schools to help implement block scheduling, often in the context of forms of Outcome Based Education and the Goals 2000 agenda. Good ol' money probably plays a key role--not only to motivate schools to "reform," but in motivating the gurus of reform to sell their spurious wares. Certainly I was shocked to see that Dr. Robert Canady, one of the leading gurus of block scheduling, has block scheduling implementation materials--just two 30-minute videos, an audiotape, and a small booklet--that sell for $395. I have received several reports of high lecture fees and consulting fees being received by the most noted proponents of block scheduling.
Now that the block has become the rage, personal career development can motivate many to keep the bandwagon rolling. I had one school administrator tell me that if his career goal were to be a superintendent, then he had better get some experience with block scheduling in order to be competitive. He suggested that some administrators are pushing this fad with their own career in mind. But self-promotion or the profit motive still don't explain why block scheduling has become such a popular fad in the first place.
Here is a citation from an important document available on the Internet, detailing how the federal government is encouraging schools to restructure their use of time in order to further the Goals 2000 legislation:
Excerpt from Cheryl M. Kane, "Prisoners Of Time Research: What We Know And What We Need To Know," Report Of The National Education Commission On Time And Learning, Sept. 1994.
Public Law 102-62 (The Education Council Act of 1991) established the National Education Commission on Time and Learning as an independent advisory body and called for a comprehensive review of the relationship between time and learning in the nation's schools.From the April, 1994 Prisoners of Time Report:
The legislation established a nine-member Commission (three each to be appointed by the Secretary of Education, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives) and directed it to prepare a report on its findings for the American people within two years of its first meeting.
That report, PRISONERS OF TIME, was released in May 1994 amidst widespread public and editorial approval. It contained several straightforward messages. Learning in America is a prisoner of time. Times have changed, and the nation's schools must change with them. We have been asking the impossible of our students -- that they learn as much as their foreign peers while requiring them to spend only half as much time in core academic subjects. The reform movement of the last decade is destined to founder unless it is harnessed to more time for learning. Time is the unacknowledged design flaw in American schools.
"Fixing the design flaw also makes possible radical change in the teaching and learning process. New uses of time should ensure that schools rely much less on the 51-minute period, after which teachers and students drop everything to rush off to the next class. Block scheduling--the use of two or more periods for extended exploration of complex topics or for science laboratories--should become more common. "The April report of the Commission fully endorses and embraces Goals 2000 as the objective. Longer school hours and a revolution in the use of time are viewed as necessary to achieve the revolutionary objectives of Goals 2000. I suspect that the one-sided findings of the Commission (which recommended block scheduling without any consideration of research into its effectiveness!) are also being used as a justification for pushing block scheduling. Between Goals 2000 and School-to-Work (both part of the same doomed mindset), there are plenty of reasons for some educrats to be pushing so hard for the block--and plenty of reasons for parents to cry "foul!"
Last Spring I received a number of phone calls from parents of high school students in the United States concerned about "block scheduling." What is "block scheduling," I asked? Why was I being called? Why was I suddenly being contacted now? The answers to these questions reminded me of a debate about an educational development that was absent in Ontario. A development, that even now, is probably adversely affecting the achievement of students in Ontario.Thank you, Dr. Raphael! And really, I'm not all that irate.
What is block scheduling? Block scheduling is termed semestering in Ontario and Canada. Semestered schools are schools that offer courses in a half year that had traditionally been offered over a year. So courses like Grade 11 mathematics, instead of being offered from September through June once a day for 50 minutes would be offered as a five month course involving daily hour and a half periods. Until 1980, all Ontario secondary schools were using the traditional timetable. By 1990 however, virtually all schools were operating on a semestered timetable.
In the US, this issue is a lively one as school administrators had lauded the benefits of this scheduling approach and begun wholesale shifting. What is attractive about semestering? Administrators found that semestered courses were easier to timetable and some students found it easier to graduate more quickly. Students also could repeat courses to attain higher grades for university application. More recently in the US, semestering is seen as a panacea for all of the problems with the American education system.
Why call me? In 1982, I was manager of Ontario's involvement in the Second International Mathematics Study. This was an extensive study of student achievement and in Ontario it involved students in 85 secondary schools. Students were given an extensive battery of achievement tests, teachers asked about teaching practices, and principals provided information about schools and scheduling. During the study, I was approached by a number of mathematics educators concerned that student achievement in semestered schools would be lower than those students enrolled in traditional schools. These educators spoke of difficulties in assimilating complex mathematics knowledge in too short a period of time, lapses in learning between courses, and difficulties in maintaining student attention over the longer periods associated with semestered classes.
Our analyses indicated that indeed, Ontario students in semestered schools learned less mathematics than students in traditional schools, and these differences were not trivial. These results were published [Raphael, D., Wahlstrom, M. W., & McLean, L. D. (1986). Debunking the Semestering Myth: Mathematics Achievement and Attitudes in Secondary Schools. Canadian Journal of Education, 11, 36-52], but as is often the case with research findings in Ontario, ignored by educational officials. Semestering proceeded non-stop. Over the past 10 years, I occasionally received calls from Ontario parents fighting rear-guard actions to maintain the non-semestered status of their local schools.
Why was I now receiving a spate of calls? An irate parent [Webmaster's note: I prefer the word "concerned"] in Appleton, Wisconsin had set up a "Case Against Block Scheduling Homepage" on the Internet. Jeff Lindsay and his wife had compiled ... research related to semestering to assist parents in resisting semestering in the United States... My study was one of the few that had actual data related to achievement under different scheduling schemes. The other was that of David J. Bateson of the University of British Columbia who studied 10th grade students in British Columbia who took science courses in year-long or semester-long blocks [Science Achievement in Semester and All-year Courses, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 27(3): 233-240 (1990)]. Students in year-long science courses significantly outperformed both those taking science in the first semester and students taking science in the second semester.
A number of WWW sites are now debating the block scheduling issue in the United States. (Have your search engine look for the term "block scheduling"). I leave the last word to Jeff Lindsay of Appleton, Wisconsin:
"In both British Columbia and Ontario, serious peer-reviewed scientific studies involving many thousands of students across many schools demonstrate that academic performance suffers on the Block. If administrators or board members don't even care about these findings, or refuse to at least consider them carefully before making a decision to adopt block scheduling, then what are we to assume about their competence, integrity, or agenda? To be fair, though, most are never made aware of the research results. On the other hand, I know of multiple cases where committees and administrators claimed to have been researching Block Scheduling in detail for several years, only to be completely surprised when a parent or teacher asked about the Canadian studies. 'What Canadian studies? What negative effects?'"
In Ontario, the debate over semestering never occurred. Is it too late?