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Unblocking The Schedule

One of the major school reform concepts that’s been inflicted on the teachers in our secondary schools over the past ten years has been block scheduling. Essentially, this is the idea that middle or high school students would attend three "blocks" of classes each day instead of six or seven "regular" periods. The result would be that I would meet with my Algebra I students for 100 minutes every other day as opposed to seeing them for 50 minutes every day. Supporters of the idea claimed all sorts of wonderful things would happen to learning, most of which never seemed to materialize.

Now it seems many school systems that converted to block schedules are switching back. I’m sure you can find lots of reasons for abandoning this organizational scheme but I think the bottom line is that most teachers hate it. Let’s face facts: it’s hard to keep a teenager focused on an academic topic for an hour. Trying to do it for almost two was far more than twice the challenge.

The biggest reason the block system doesn’t really work, however, is that the curriculum never changed along with the schedule. Rather than adjusting the way a subject is taught to fit a longer amount of class time, teachers usually took the two sets of lessons they already had and squished them into one block. The bottom line is that you can’t reform education by just changing one part of it, in this case the length of a class period. Everything has to change.

1 Comment

  1. Dave Shearon

    I agree with the need for comprehensive, culture-based change, preferably teacher-led. But I was just with a teacher and her husband from a neighboring county where I applied to be Director of Schools. They had fought the last few years to keep the block schedule. It gave top students an opportunity to take more credits and more time to help students who were struggling keep up. The teacher worked with the student council and they lobbied county leaders and board members, but the jig is up. It wasn’t teacher opposition, it was cost. Block required more teachers, so, cut block, cut teachers, cut costs, and to heck with the kids! (And, by the way, Tennessee assesses each counties ability to pay for schools to decide how much the state will kick in, and this county is not supporting schools to 100% capacity. Some counties routinely exceed 100%.)

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