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10 Aug 2015

Block Schedules

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Block Schedules

Block schedules have been around for many years.  I taught science in a high school block schedule and loved it for selfish reasons- I had time to introduce content, conduct the experiment and revisit the hypothesis (reflection) all within one class period.  I remember the talk in the work room- the music teachers loved it, math teachers hated because they would have students for 90 minutes which did not fit their 45 minute class period model of instruction.  From my time in the early 90’s as a teacher in a block schedule to my time as a building and district level administrator two things, in my professional experiences, are true about block schedules.  First, they are in place largely to satisfy the staff’s need more then they are based on true data measurement of benefit to students.  To further exacerbate this point look at the vast number of hybrid block schedules that have spawned from the traditional every other day block schedules.  Now we have split blocks or some form of confusing and over complicated block within a block concept.  Again, this was developed largely when administrators sat down and looked at some sort of master schedule on a white board mounted to the wall in an administrator’s or counselor’s office. Every year there is a ritual where administrators are frantically trying to find a way to manipulate student enrollment to fill staff teaching sections.  Block schedules are rarely, if ever evaluated to determine if they benefit student learning.  The quality, or lack of, instruction has the greatest impact and not the number of minutes of the class.

The second issue with block schedules is the excessive cost compared to a traditional 7 period day. They are very costly due to the need for more staff required to fill a block schedule than a traditional, let’s say, 7 period instructional day.  I would encourage you to look at the master schedule of your local high school and see how many teachers have open instructional hours during each day.  An example you might see play out- let’s say a teacher teaches a elective course (where enrollment is subjected to customer feedback) in a 4 period/day with 90 minutes/block.  One of those daily 90 minute blocks will be a union negotiated professional planning period.  Let’s say another period is not able to make due to lack of enrollment interest or over abundance of other elective opportunities- that would be the second 90 block during the day equating to half of a teacher’s contracted day where they are not instructing students.  Let’s say that the class load is 25 students per period.  In this example the teacher would actually instruct 50 students total in a day.  Let’s say the same elective teacher taught in a traditional 7 period day and had one plan period and a second open class period leaving 5 classes taught.  Using the same 25 students per class times 5 sections= 125 students taught by the same teacher that day as compared to the 50 in a block schedule.  Thus in the block schedule the district would need to hire an addtional 11/2 teachers to cover the load a teacher in a traditional 7 period schedule would= more $$.   You may be thinking this seems isolated and far fetched.  It may be in some districts but I would encourage you to check this out in your local school district because it may not be that inaccurate.  These types of schedules create the need for more staff to cover the classes created in a master schedule.  This issue is further compounded with hybrid split blocks.  High school principals are trapped in a inefficient staffing model with little to no flexibility to immediately respond to the ebb and flow of “customer” demand.  So, the rigidity and costly solution is to plug students into class sections rather than plug class sections into the student interest areas.   With tight resources, and frankly even if resources were not tight, it is not a good business model for school districts’s primary function is to act as an adult employment agency over their true mission to provide the most optimal learning environment for the students.

I am not necessarily advocating for the removal of block schedules- simply, I am saying resource allocation of this magnitudes should have the decisions tied to student needs first and foremost.

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