The Case Against Block Scheduling

Part 5: Alarming Tactics + Resources

by Jeff Lindsay

This is one of several pages on the problems of block scheduling, a major educational "reform" that is being implemented across the country in spite of serious evidence that it is harmful to education. These pages are the work of Jeff Lindsay. On this page, I assume that you have already seen my main page on block scheduling, Part 1.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 (This Page)
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)

Index to this Page:

By Hook or by Crook: Alarming Tactics [index]

An alarming tactic used by proponents of the block in the face of strong, informed opposition (usually parents and teachers) is to appear to listen, table the issue, and then wait until no one is looking to implement it anyway. After a hearing where the opposition is strong and effective, a second unpublicized "hearing" may be held with hand-picked advocates of the block. Then, in light of such support, the block is voted in or a decision is simply made to adopt it. Here is one example, sent to me in late 2000 and used here with permission:

As you post incidents of block scheduling from around the country, here is one that is probably one that has to top the list of slamming the public. The issue of block scheduling had occurred in Lancaster, PA. Of course only positive aspects were given to parents. Parents however, took it upon themselves to investigate and the picture of the 4x4 block schedule is quite different than that presented. Results were given from North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Oregon, etc. that of all the formats the 4x4 is the LEAST effective format. After the election in Nov., 1999, the issue was again brought before the board in Jan. 2000. The board vote was to return this initiative to committee to restudy it in light of new data. At that meeting many parents spoke. In fact once again only 1 parent came forth as pro block. What a difference a week can make. While the parents were home believing in the board and the fact that an evaluation committee was being formed to study this issue, members of the board/administration had different ideas. Without public announcement, subject area supervisors only (no teachers) were contacted and 2 students who had been contacted by board to speak in favor of 4x4 were present. Needless to say the vote was reversed in favor of block. All this happened regardless of the election where an incumbent was voted off the board because she favored block, despite all the data presented to show 4x4 the least effective, despite parental opposition. The bond of public trust within the district has been greatly damaged.

Public trust is not what those guys were after, obviously. When administrators push the block over the objections of parents and teachers, and in light of hard data showing possible academic harms, who are they looking out for? Not the students! Could it be that the career benefits to having B.S. experience is motivating some people to get their way, by hook or by crook, regardless of what is best for students? Pennsylvania is not the only place where these kind of tactics have been applied! I have heard many cases of administrators "sneaking" the block back in after it supposedly had already been defeated. Opponents of the block must constantly be on guard.

Another illustrative example comes from Texas, taken from e-mail I received in 2003 (used with permission):

Our school district, Socorro Independent School District in El Paso Texas, is attempting to convert the last of our high schools (there are a total of three in the district) from traditional to block schedule we have extensively used your website to support or cause and keep it out from Montwood High School. The district administration tried to "sneak" it in for the school year, 2003-2004. When teachers, parents and students go wind of it, everyone mobilized. The district turned a deaf ear. As a result, the students at Montwood High School organized a walkout on January 29, 2003 (student enrollment is around 2900 - about half participated) and since then the parents have taken on the fight in which the whole issue has now become a matter of parental rights. "Uniformity and it's a good program" is the stand that SISD administration has taken, unfortunately the school board trustees are split with only 3 of 7 votes against the implementation. We have informed the Texas Education Commissioner of what is going on in our school district and will continue the fight.

In my part of the world, I watched a neighboring district (Neenah, Wisconsin) adopt block scheduling and was dismayed to see the tactics used to coerce teacher support. Teachers were allowed to vote anonymously on the issue, but only if they wanted to vote FOR block scheduling. Opponents had to put their necks out on the line by putting their name on the ballot. The vote came out in favor of the block, of course. Similar tactics were tried a couple years ago in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. The teacher vote was for. But then the school board got wise to the coercion and demanded that the vote be done again with a secret ballot allowed for both sides of the issue. The new vote came out against.

Another clever tactic of block proponents is to claim widespread support and consensus when none exists. For example, I was amazed to read in our local paper that North High School in Appleton was planning to adopt block scheduling soon. The article claimed that there was overwhelming support of students and parents, with only 70 students out of 1500 being opposed to the block. However, one parent explained to me how these numbers were obtained. Buried inside a thick newsletter from North High in late 1996 was a small notice, with no fanfare or eye-catching graphics, that any parents opposed to block scheduling should send back a slip indicating they were opposed to it, while those in favor needed to do nothing. Anybody who did not respond was assumed to be in favor of block scheduling, including the hundreds who never saw the small notice, allowing the administration of North High to claim overwhelming support. Now if the "survey" had asked for those in favor of the block to respond, much different results would have been obtained. Probably only a handful of parents ever saw the "survey" notice, and certainly none of them were given meaningful information by the administration about the pros and cons of the block. It's a case of the debate that never happened. This "survey" method may have been a mistake made in good faith, but the practice of making sweeping claims on the basis of such questionable data does not engender trust among the skeptical.

A related example was sent to me in late 1997 from a school district in the Pacific Northwest:

As we have been working on this, we have also uncovered underhanded techniques in taking and reporting teacher votes. Our District is reporting 97% of HIGH SCHOOL teachers support the change - however, there were only 2 options on the ballot, the 4 or 5 period block - and they had to vote. Not all teachers were present and those not in attendance were not allowed to cast a later vote. They were not allowed to vote for retaining the seven period day or for a 6 period day.
Sounds like the way elections are done in countries with brutal dictatorships. Of course, another beloved technique is to just ignore a vote that you don't like. I received this note from a teacher in Florida in early 2000:
Today the faculty voted overwhelmingly to not go on block next school year (2000-2001). In fact, many of our teachers are wholeheartedly against block. However, our superintendent of schools is mandating, without any discussion from parents or students, that schools go to block in the next two years.
Agreement or not, B.S. must be spread throughout the district. But most administrators like to claim that they have "consensus." Questionable methods of obtaining "consensus" from teachers or others have been reported a number of times in various parts of the country. I've also received a few reports from teachers in other states who have experienced several forms of intimidation such as being pressured, ridiculed, threatened with loss of work or a transfer, or punished (e.g., "accidental" denial of a summer sabbatical), to elicit their support of block scheduling. When coercion, deception, or trickery is used to push block scheduling, you can be sure that more than altruism is involved. I hope these reports are all unusual exceptions to the rule.

One recent example was described to me in e-mail from a district in New York. It was initially agreed in that district that block scheduling would only be implemented if 80% of the staff agreed (80% was the specified level for "consensus"). The vote, though, showed 64% in favor of block scheduling. The administration then worked to have a new vote taken on what the level of consensus should be, claiming that it would only take a 50% vote to set a new (and reduced) level of "consensus." (Sounds like an interesting "recount" strategy.) The story isn't over yet, but the administration seems bent on imposing block scheduling. And naturally, it will be claimed that "consensus" was achieved.

A note from late 1996, used with permission, illustrates related problems:

My wife and I were given most of your material in our effort to stop implementation of block scheduling in our system: Downingtown Area School District (DASD), Chester County, PA. As you are well aware, one of the staunchest proponents of BS is in the area, David Hottenstein at Hatboro-Horsham High School. We have found out about the move to BS recently . . . . BY ACCIDENT! The DASD has a history of secrecy and cover-up. There are numerous examples on many subjects: desire to keep parents out of classrooms and schools; resistance to student directories; lack of communication to parents on issues related to curriculum; resistance to the formation of PTOs (can you believe that one!!); etc., etc. The move to block scheduling is the latest . . . . and last straw.

Decision about moving to BS is suppose to be made in January or February. Word has it that it is a done deal. Had my wife and I not gotten a small group of parents together to raise questions at the [district] board meeting NO PUBLIC COMMENT or DEBATE would have taken place at all on this subject. It was obvious by the reaction of the board, they had been caught . . . again!

We attended the next Curriculum Committee meeting with a few more people and invited a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer (who did attend). Funny thing, it was announced at the end of the meeting that there would be a meeting for parents to ask question about BS on December 10 - very short notice. On the surface it sounded like a small victory, but was short lived. On December 10 there are six major school system events involving parents and students. So, what do you think the turnout will be for the BS meeting?? They're not dumb.

A subsequent note reported on the Dec. 10 DASD meeting on the block. It was structured to keep dialogue to a minimum. When one parent tried to begin some dialogue about his concerns, he was cut off by the person running the meeting, who said, "This is MY meeting!" and threatened to adjourn it. Sad to see such tactics being used - but they are far from rare. Interestingly, the main portion of the DASD meeting was a show, described by an eye-witness as follows:

Then the show began. [A counselor] and four perfect students were brought in from Hatboro-Horsham as testimonials. It was nauseating. Everything is perfect at HH. [The counselor] said that ALL students and ALL teachers loved BS and would never consider going back. His final comment was about returning to "Camelot". Another student was trotted in from another school in the block who stated that she was BOTH gifted AND had learning disabilities. She just loved the block as well. This was suppose to cover the questions about the high and low end of the student spectrum. The parents left with a feeling that it was a put up job.

Nowhere did they address learning. All answers, in essence, were generalities. A lot of people stayed after to ask questions. Someone asked [the principal] about SAT's. He said '. . . they aren't good measures of achievement'. Right! He did admit that the HH group looked a little 'put-up'.

And so it goes. It's amazing how many letters, phone calls, and e-mail messages I've received expressing dismay at the questionable tactics used to push block scheduling.

Another recent submission comes from a parent and a former teacher, who has been disturbed with what block scheduling has done for academics in her district:

[In] 1993 [our] school changed scheduling to the 4-by-4 ( block ). They sent out surveys to all the parents of the high-school students the preceding year. Of approximately 1300 surveys sent out, approximately 100 were returned and only 29 responses were positive for the new schedule.

I was on the county advisory council at the time and we were informed of the change of schedule after the school year and the schedule had started. When some parents objected, the administration insisted that a majority of parents surveyed approved the change. I brought up the lack of support in the surveys and the fact that most parents didn't fully understand the concept when filling out the surveys. They respond ed, as usual, that it was a done deal and it would be reassessed at a two-year interval.

My son and his friends were not academically-oriented students and I immediately noticed something that I didn't like. These students, even freshman, quickly learned that if they were failing or just doing poorly in any course in the first few weeks, they could repeat that course the next semester or next year. This mind-set disturbed me and I asked a principal what kind of processes were set up for remediation. I was told, "They can repeat the course." I was also concerned because my son was ADDH and was having problems with the 90-minute classes.

At the end of the 2-year period, I brought up my concerns at the advisory meeting and asked when it would be evaluated. Of course, I was told it was on the agenda.I have yet to see any evaluation or objective facts relating to the block schedule. . . . When I started researching these reforms, I was appalled. I found that this restructuring was a national project. . . . The Strategic Planning Concept, although touted as community involvement, is used as a weapon for "change-agents" to bring restructuring to every school. Strategic Planning has brought OBE to our schools without the teachers or parents' knowledge or consent.

From Feb. 2002 comes this message from a proactive Florida parent:
I am part of a parent group trying to stop block scheduling from invading the last of 4 high schools in our county. At last night's board meeting the 5 board members and the superintendent had received a copy of the 77 pages of your web site, "The Case Against Block Scheduling." One commented on the information and a workshop will be coming. The principal at our HS wrote her doctoral dissertation on BS and is hard selling BS to parents, students and faculty. It seemed a done deal until last night! I asked a board meeting to present concrete evidence of the positive effects BS has had on our other HS. Frankly, I do not think it can be done. Lee County (a neighboring county here in Florida) were on BS and abandoned it this year. . . .

I found your information to be the best available. It was suggested that I send the site to the school board members and the super. However, the only sure way to see that they read the ENTIRE site was to copy and hand deliver it to them. At my own expense I ran off copies for them an interested parties ... over $100. But to see the board members with their envelopes in hand made the investment so worth it! Thank you! As a Mom of three sons, school volunteer, member of the SAC (School Advisory Councils) at an elementary, middle and high school, and a parent representative for POGS (Parents of Gifted Students), I am highly involved in the school system and would not have been able to find the quality of work you provided.

Getting the information directly into the hands of board members is one of the keys for overcoming the slick propaganda campaigns of pro-block officials and their high-paid consultants. Way to go!

Eric Anderson, Jr. of Richland Northeast High School, Columbia, South Carolina) South Carolina made this observation in 2000 (used with his permission):

I understand that my school is under pressure to change their schedule to accommodate for the South Carolina Legislature's requirement of 24 credits for a high-school diploma. The schedule must change because there are students who cannot earn these credits on traditional scheduling, which allows for six credits a year. My problem with this is twofold -- 1) the 4x4 system essentially gives South Carolina students the ability to fail two classes a year 2) the schedule is being changed for students who can't pass six classes a year, who are typically the students in the lowest level classes, and who don't care one bit about school; and as long as they don't care, no amount of scheduling restructuring will help them pass their classes.
Good points. However, there is a chance that you may be wrong, Eric. Grade inflation is a common effect of the block. Kids in some cases suddenly have more time to do homework in class and find life more relaxed, making school easier. Some call that progress. Other call it dumbing down. With enough of that kind of progress, some of those kids that don't care about school may be able to graduate not only from high school, but medical school as well. As long as your surgeon can tell which end of the scalpel to hold, why worry about how much he or she actually learned?

Here's a message from a physics teacher in Kentucky received in 2001. The sender's name is given with her permission:

I teach high school physics at Madison Central (1400 students) in the small town of Richmond Kentucky. Several year ago we too were "sold a bill of goods" by the Wasson people, no less, on block scheduling. Being a physics type, the first thing I did was add up the class time I would have under block verses the traditional 55 minute period. I discovered that I had LOST AN ENTIRE SIX WEEKS of class time. Unfortunately my principal at the time was an ex-basketball coach, who could not understand my math and branded me a "malcontent" who "hated change." Lucky for me I was tenured, highly regarded by parents (one of whom was on the school board) and had several awards to my name, so he was forced to keep me. But we still went block anyway and my students have definitely suffered for it.

Tammy S. Hooper, Science Chairman
Madison Central High School, Richmond, Kentucky

Finally, a note from Dec. 1996, quoted with permission:

Your comments and directions to other Web sites provided invaluable assistance in our effort to confront block scheduling. At present our school district has elected to indefinitely postpone implementation of this program until "further evaluation" can be conducted. We provided School Board members with copies of your site and several others. You should know that your discussion of implementation strategies is correct - our Administration scheduled a 09:00 a.m Saturday morning informational session in hopes of limited attendance (last minute conversation with at least one attorney convinced the School Administrators to advertise the meeting rather than run afoul of Pennsylvania sunshine law). They were most upset that people, including board members, elected to attend. They lost their initiative and "screamed" to the Board that the information obtained from individuals like yourself was totally inaccurate, but they could not refute it. The Board has promised to investigate their motives.
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty - and quality education. Parents, board members, teachers, be vigilant!

Response to Critics [index]

Some proponents of block scheduling have criticized this page on several counts, some valid and some not. I strongly disagree with allegations that I have deceitfully tried to put words into the mouths of Bateson or Raphael by making it sound like my comments were theirs (though based on my reading of their work and on my personal correspondence with both authors, I think my commentary is fair). Direct quotes have always been presented with clear attribution. One person I know of was upset about my brief commentary on Bateson's study, feeling that I was trying to attribute my comments on the study to Bateson's publication. I apologize for any confusion, which should have been fully resolved now by slight changes in wording and punctuation to remove any doubts. Based on the alleged lack of clarity in the source of two sentences in this report, one critic has publicly challenged my credibility. I feel this is unfair. However, please note that I'm not asking for credibility! I'm asking people to be incredulous when they hear the long, lush list of blessings that block scheduling will bring. I'm asking people to look at the studies themselves and to demand hard data when consultants and administrators want to experiment with their children's education. Block scheduling may improve academic performance in some cases, in some schools, when properly implemented. It may. But if so, there ought to be hard data to support the notion. Grades going up (often due to grade inflation) or an occasional blip in SAT scores in a single school with block scheduling does not constitute hard evidence of academic benefits.

In response to the hard data showing academic harms, critics quibble about the magnitude of the harm, saying that it may only be a few percent, so why worry? Now this is an important point. If block scheduling isn't HELPING academic performance, but may even be HURTING it, then we've got a problem. But is the magnitude of harm really as trivial as the proponents of the block claim? When it comes to human performance in education, there are hundreds of factors that affect student performance. In studies of teaching methods, it is hard to find any single classroom factor that can account for more than a few percent difference in test scores. If multiple large scale studies are able to show statistically significant decreased academic performance on the order of 2-10% attributable to one factor, block scheduling, then we've really got a problem. I'm puzzled by those who say that a 5% or greater drop in academic performance is "not educationally significant." How many parents would be happy knowing that their school has adopted a program that could decrease their child's SAT or GRE scores by 5%? How many students have noticed that a 5% drop in scores can mean the difference between an A or a B on a report card? Not educationally significant? As a parent, I cannot understand that kind of attitude from educational leaders.

I have also received several comments from professional educators challenging whether I am qualified to make the arguments I do. One recently asked me if I was "qualified to dissent" and then demanded to know if I have any teaching experience. (Yes, seven years of it at the university level, where I experienced the difference between 55 minute and 90 minute classes.) That attitude is part of the very problem I am fighting with this page - an attitude that swiftly finds reasons to ignore hard facts ("Never mind the Bateson study or the scientific method in general, what qualifications does this impudent Web page author have?"). It's also an attitude that ignores the wishes and practical knowledge of parents because only the opinions of "qualified experts" are worth considering when it comes to educating children. (Whose kids are they, anyway?)

One school administrator recently wrote me and said he was puzzled about why I and others would want to hinder progressive reforms like block scheduling. We need to make progress, he said, but I was accused of being one of the troublemakers opposed to progress. It's similar to an attitude expressed by a teacher in my town of Appleton, Wisconsin during a recent public forum on block scheduling. He said that there may be some problems with block scheduling, but one thing was sure: our schools need to change, and block scheduling is a change, so let's go with it. I'm not making this up - that's what professional educator actually said during his invited presentation on block scheduling. So many of the failed educational fads of the past 50 years - new math, "look say" reading, whole language, mastery learning, Outcome Based Education, etc. - were pushed into our schools by leaders who draped themselves in the robes of progress. Denying the scientific method, these prophets of progress argued that the changes needed to be made in spite of lack of data or in spite of significant data contradicting the assumptions behind the change. The changes were implemented and academic performance was hurt. Thanks in part to that kind of "progress," we have kids who can't read, can't calculate, and can't write graduating with a falsely inflated sense of self-esteem, quite unprepared for life. Now more prophets of change want to make our kids the guinea pigs in new experiments on schedule changes, experiments that appear highly questionable in light of extensive research on limited attention span and in light of negative effects on academic performance seen in Canadian studies. But those who point out the implications of previous studies are viewed as troublemakers in the way of progress. It's a pathological attitude that has affected too many in this nation.

The critics who say I oppose change are dead wrong. Ladies and gentlemen of Cyberspace, I WANT CHANGE! I want educational practices to be based on proven strategies. I want decisions to be driven primarily by a commitment to academic excellence for students, not by baser motives. I want more class time to be spent on real academics. I want decision makers to respect the scientific method and not to stick their head in the sand when faced with hard data ("Studies? Oh, you can prove anything with studies." I regularly hear that statement from those who find their position decimated by data. My response: "If that is so, can you prove that block schedule actually helps academic performance with real studies that have been peer reviewed?")

When I see my 8th grade son cutting out pictures of magazines to make collages for one of his biggest language arts homework assignments for a class of allegedly talented and gifted kids, you bet I want change! When I saw the two first weeks of his 7th grade science class spent on discussing rules, self-esteem, feelings, and other trivia before anything close to science was tackled, you bet I want change in how time is used in the school. (When that class did start doing "science," he came home with an assignment to cut out pictures of butterflies - another collage! Teachers, please note this request for change: collages may be suitable for preschool children, not middle school and high school students.) When I see large portions of the year spent on affective topics (feelings, self-esteem therapy) or the worship of recycling for recycling's sake (no matter what the real cost) or on fund raising efforts or other non-academic activities, you bet I want change. But diluting the content further with block scheduling strikes me as a change in the wrong direction. Please, give me changes that help. And if the changes are experimental, don't experiment with my children.

Several people have asked why I seem to be so critical of educational reforms. For example, one person asked this:

I am really curious as to why you have such a negative view on just about every educational reform or change that exist. I am currently researching block scheduling and science instruction and I have come across several cases of positive results. I notice that you like to use "hard data" to support your views, but you are conveniently leaving a lot data out of the picture. The fact is, there is not enough empirical research to make any real solid conclusions about block scheduling.
Here's my answer:
I have very positive views about the educational reforms that work, such as Direct Instruction, integrated curricula like Core Knowledge, parental choice, charter schools focused on academics, and systematic phonics. But much of what we call "reforms" are experiments that fail, that have already been proven failures, and that dumb down our kids. After years of failure in Mastery Learning in Chicago, it's amazing to see it's fraternal twin, Outcome Based Education, sweeping the nation. After years of data from Project Follow Through and other studies showing the failure of Piaget's theories and cooperative learning, child-centered learning, etc., it's amazing to see it implemented - implemented not because data proves it works, but because it fits the preconceptions of liberals and their romantic views (traced to Rousseau and others like Piaget) of how children learn. After huge mountains of data on how children read and learn to read, consistently showing the superiority of phonics and whole language, I'm amazed to see whole language as the dominant paradigm - it's all that teachers are taught. The educational schools teach failed theories and do not acknowledge contrary data. It's political, not scientific. So your amazement should not be over why I reject these "reforms," but over why these "reforms" continue to be advanced in the face of hard data that they are educational failures, and in the face of data that significantly superior systems exist.

I demand evidence and data showing academic gain. The advocates of popular reforms tend to flee from such data at all costs and push instead errant paradigms. Those who question their paradigms are persecuted. There is a monopoly of thought in the educational establishment, and it is liberal thought with a peculiar immunity to scientific data.

There is a difference between "several cases of positive results" reported in the trade literature and an objective scientific study. "Positive results" are naturally all you are going to hear from the advocates of a reform and especially from the administrators who implement a career-boosting "reform." in our area, for example, block scheduling in Neenah High was being called a success from day one by the administration who brought this disaster into the school - in fact, they were publicly congratulating themselves over its "success" even before the first day of school under b.s. had begun. Even the greatest failures will be reported as a success by those who implement them. There's always something positive to report: fewer tardies, fewer fights during lunch, less trash in the gym, inflated grades, decreases in number of flu cases, whatever. Administrators benefit from the block - both in making their lives easier and in boosting their careers by implementing this popular fad that is so in demand. They will praise it endlessly. To condemn it is to risk ostracism, as many have reported to me. The people who see and feel the brunt of the harm - the parents and the children - are not the ones who write trade articles for other educators. So ignore the glitzy reports of "it's great here" and look for hard data. It condemns this fad.

And if it were true that we don't have hard data on B.S., why should we rush into it? Why the push for something unproven? But the genuinely scientific data suggest genuine harm or at best no significant benefit to academic performance. And there's no question that less material is covered. Why do something that doesn't help or hurts? It's about politics and personal gain - not a concern for the educational future of students.

Tips on Keeping the Block Out of Your School [index]

I have received e-mail from MANY people indicating that they were able to resist a strong movement to implement block scheduling by using the information on this page. Propaganda and hype often fades in light of the truth. Many school board members have never been told that there is the potential of serious academic harm from block scheduling. When they receive copies of the Canadian studies or even hear discussions based on the well known limitations of the human attention span, many minds are opened. Proponents of the block often fight hard and sometimes fight dirty to achieve their goal, in some cases being obviously motivated by something besides the well being of the students. Parents and educators who resist must be prepared for the tactics that will be employed. I feel that the key is to inform board members. other decision makers, and parents about the problems of the block, and to put the burden of proof on the shoulders of the proponents of change. Get copies of this page and of the key studies, pass out copies, and make an intelligent fuss. Write a letter to the editor. Personally contact school board members and appear at school board meetings. Let the press know about the problems. Get the word out - and the walls of propaganda can crumble.

One parent wrote me recently and asked for advice on dealing with stubborn administrators who seemed unwilling to listen to the evidence against the block or to the concerns of parents. Here was my response:

My advice is to forget trying to use logic with administrators that appear stubborn in pushing the block. The stubborn ones who won't listen tend to have a personal agenda and rarely will be concerned about your views. Face it, in their eyes, you are just an ignorant, untrained parent. They are the professionals, the wise ones. How on earth could they be expected to listen to your "facts" and "arguments" when you don't even have a teaching degree??

Solution: Get parents to sign petitions - parents who can vote - and take hundreds of these petitions to the school board. In one success story, parents bought an add in the local paper featuring the arguments against the block and a petition that parents could cut out and mail. That resulted in hundreds of responses. Those petitions got the attention of the elected board members.

Once you've decided to speak out against the block, don't shy away from public speaking opportunities. I feel that most parents, with some thorough preparation, can effectively challenge even the slickest of professional B.S. advocates in a brief Q&A session by pointing out the potential for harm and demanding peer-reviewed, large-scale studies showing that the block helps academic performance. Ask questions that puts the burden on them to support their claims with solid data. They won't have a meaningful reply. But have a few parents there to ask follow-up questions if the proponent mangles the facts or makes deceptive allegations in response to your challenge.

As an example of what one person can do, here are two 1997 e-mail messages from a Rhode Island high school student (I have permission to give his e-mail address: [email protected]):

1. I'm a student at a high school which recently considered a switch to 4X4 block scheduling. I was writing to thank you because I sent portions of your block scheduling page to members of our schools school committee to inform them of the other side of block scheduling. Along with your information and Gore's study and the concerns of many teachers and students block scheduling will not be at our school next year.

2. I just wanted to make a suggestion for your page that you add a section that gives people ideas on how to keep block out of their school, such as distributing studies or going up in front of school committees or just writing a letter. I did all these things and much more to keep it out of my school and I think that letting others know the tactics that work best will help keep block out of a lot of schools. I think doing what I did at my school could work at most. I check your page often for updates and thank you for continually updating it with new studies.

Other suggestions for this section are welcome.

"Who is this guy, anyway?"

I've had people say that they would like to cite my views here, but want to be able to tell their school board who I am and why I have put this information out. I've been told school administrators put undue value on college degrees and that I should emphasize mine in dealing with them for credibility. How sad. But given that, here's a brief description for your information:

I (Jeff Lindsay) have a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University, am a registered U.S. patent agent, was a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, and am currently a scientist in research at Kimberly-Clark Corp. I was a faculty member for 7 years (1987 - 1994) at the private university known as the Institute of Paper Science and Technology on the Georgia Tech Campus in Atlanta. (If you need more details, I have a resume of sorts on a Web page.) I have taught many classes at the graduate level and have significant experience in teaching both 55 minute and 90 minute courses. I can say from my experience that longer classes make it much harder to cover the same amount of material as shorter classes. However, it's easier at the graduate level, for students are more motivated.

I have also been active in local education. Previously, I served an active representative of my kids' school on the Appleton, Wisconsin District Citizens Advisory Committee, which provides feedback and guidance to the Administration of our district. More importantly, I have followed educational issues for some time and have been saddened to see over and over again that the scientific method has been rejected in adopting theories and programs that are not supported by hard data. When the data don't fit on the bandwagon, they are tossed out. As a scientist, my training has been in the use of the scientific method. Those same principles of reason need to be applied in considering changes in education. If the hard data show that block scheduling or whole language or new math HURT academic performance, we have no right adopting those programs just because they're popular.

My motivation in posting this page is to help prevent my district and other districts from hurting the education of their children with harmful but popular strategies. I have seen that if I and other parents don't dig up the hard data on block scheduling, school boards won't be informed about what the studies show or what the problems really are. Some school administrators who propose block scheduling and who claim to have been doing all the background research for years seem oblivious to any serious studies on it.

For those who feel like digging up dirt on me will help the cause of block scheduling, feel free to dig away on my slightly warped personal home page, the Cracked Planet of Jeff Lindsay. (I'm not always as serious as I am when writing about block scheduling.) But let me warn you that disagreeing with my humor or other views is NOT a convincing reason to disregard the evidence presented on these pages. I know there are proponents of B.S. who, due to their tragic humor-impaired state, thought I was serious on some of my satirical pages on topics such as "safe smoking." Some have published letters or web pages telling people to disregard my pages on the block because I am allegedly a proponent of children smoking in school. Even if I had such errant views (I oppose smoking, as a matter of fact), that would not be sufficient reason to disregard the evidence I have compiled on the block. We are dealing with issues that demand attention to scientific findings, not an appeal to authority. I could be totally insane, but that would not change the fact that serious scientific studies have pointed to possible problems with the block. Look at the evidence, people, not at me, if you want to understand the block. (But I also encourage you to look at my humor pages as well. Maybe it might even help.)

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Internet Resources on the Block and Related Topics [index]

Bibliography on Block Scheduling Publications
This Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file was compiled by Steve Krasner of the Special Education Resource Center of the Connecticut Dept. of Education. An excellent resource for those wanting to survey the literature from 1988 to 2002. A useful section of relevant Web sites is also included, beginning on page 15. Many thanks, Steve!
Christian Science Monitor: Popular Reform Draws Mixed Reviews
This article from July 16, 2002, discusses concerns about academic performance on standardized tests. It also kindly mentions my Web site. (A full HTML version of the article is also available with some additional links.)
Iowa State University Studies: The Block May Hurt ACT Scores
Iowa State University news release dated July 1, 2002 and archived at (or see the same story from (archived)). One of these studies examined ACT scores for 568 public high schools in Illinois and Iowa, including longitudinal data for the two years prior to the implementation of block scheduling and four years after. One study examined ACT scores for 568 public high schools in Illinois and Iowa, including data for the two years prior to the implementation of block scheduling and four years after.
"Block Schedules and Student Performance on AP Examinations, 1998 (Archived)"
A report, Research Notes (RN-03), by the College Board's office of research and development in May 1998. Details some of the academic harm due to the block for AP courses. Archived at
My Response to a Rebuttal of Bateson's Work
Some wild arguments are being used by the proponents of the block to hide the fact that serious, scientific studies show academic harm. This page exposes some of them. The page was written several years ago and is becoming dated, though I hope still of some value.
1995 British Columbia Assessment of Mathematics and Science
The details behind Dr. Bateson's 1995 study. This site gives the methodology and results of a large and significant study - and reveals serious problems behind the unsubstantiated claims of block scheduling.
Block Scheduling: With a Mathematics Perspective
A carefully consider evaluation of pros and cons by Karen J. Bennett and Tom Anderson, done for the CTER Program at the University of Illinois.
"1996 Provincial Exam Results and Timetables" by Gordon R. Gore (published at Drexel University as archived in 2001 at
Every subject tested showed diminished performance under two forms of block scheduling compared to traditional full-year courses. The disparity between course grades and performance in mathematics and English was rather high under block scheduling. Note: This page at Drexel appears to be down. Another archived version is at this link.
News from Texas: B.S. Does Not Improve Learning
This article from the former briefly reports a new Texas Education Agency study of block scheduling in Texas high schools. has a copy of the 1999 Texas report, "Block Scheduling in Texas Public High Schools."
Articles on the Problems of the Block
A useful collection of excerpts of various articles by Scott Truelove.
Block Scheduling: Is this Right for America's Public Schools?
Helpful information from John W. Cooper.
MS Word document: 1998 Paper by Professor Reginald D. Wild
This 85k Word document is "Science Achievement and Block Schedules," a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, San Diego, California, April 20, 1998, where it was nominated for best paper. The paper reviews extensive data related to block scheduling and sorts through some of the arguments made on both sides. Dr. Wild is in the Department of Curriculum Studies, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia. The paper is posted at my site with his permission. Thanks, Dr. Wild!
David Vawter's Block Scheduling Page
Offers arguments for block scheduling.
Blaine High School
Blaine is a showcase school for block scheduling. Their web page notes that they were "instrumental in district initiatives for Mastery Learning and Outcome Based Education." They "work outside the confines of traditional educational paradigms" and "embrace" the concept of "student-centered" education. Parents who understand the gross educational failures of Mastery Learning and Outcome Based Education (among other disturbing problems things, they involve dilution of core academics) will not be surprised to find that block scheduling fits in well with the paradigms behind OBE/Mastery Learning. With abundant resources, well-paid teachers, and a good demographic base, Blaine may look like a great place to visitors. My suggestion: ask for controlled studies before you assume that alleged success in block scheduling at any single school will apply to your school.
Examining the Effects of Block Scheduling on Gifted and Talented Students - an article by Robert Arthur Schultz in Gifted Child Today, Sept. 2000.
ERIC - the Educational Resource Information Center
ERIC at is a large and free database of publications and reports on educational matters. This is the place to search when you want the best information on a topic. Huge amount of information!
The Anti-Content Mindset Behind Block Scheduling
A new page by William G. Quirk that deals with attempts to implement the block in Guilford, Connecticut. Dr. Quirk is a graduate of Dartmouth College and holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the New Mexico State University. He recently co-authored The State of State Math Standards 2005, a report published by the Fordham Foundation.
Prisoners of Time
Report of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning, April 1994 (archived).
U.S. Dept. of Education
AASA Article: "Back from the Block, or Not?"
A 2003 publication discussing how some schools have abandoned the block while others praise it. Mentions my work, "The Case Against Block Scheduling."
My Education Page
Views of a concerned parent.
The Cracked Planet
My personal home page.
American Collage Network for Educators (ACNE)
A parody page I created about a support group to encourage secondary education teachers to keep on using COLLAGE as an all-purpose educational tool. ACNE is a fictitious organization, but the concerns behind it are real - though overblown. The prevalence of collage for homework assignments and class projects in high school is one of the smaller problems in the world of education - but I still had fun with this page. Be sure to check out the real collage there, too.

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