Tuesday, December 21, 2004


A reader has asked for background information on block scheduling, which is under review in his Nebraska school district. Since the State Department of Education is hell-bent on getting what they call ‘’core academics’’ set in stone, it’s a good time to discover how lousy block scheduling is, because the two go hand in hand.

What was your school day like? Seven 50-minute periods, or something like that? With block scheduling, most commonly, there will be four 90-minute class periods. Under the old way, it took a year to divvy out the course content in most classes. With block, everything’s crammed into one semester.

The advantages were supposed to be more time in class to go over the material and get the students’ questions answered. It’s truly great for laboratory science, so that there’s time to set up and do experiments. Block scheduling is promoted as producing better student engagement and attendance, less distraction because of fewer passing periods, less cost because fewer textbooks are needed, more teacher planning time, and many other benefits. Blocks have worked well on the college level, including at the tony Colorado College in Colorado Springs.

But reality intervened. Block scheduling reduces the time available for content delivery. One 90-minute period is less than two 50-minute periods, no matter how you slice it. Teachers find themselves cramming material into the reduced teaching time, and letting a lot of content fall by the wayside. Take English class: with a block schedule, you give up half of the weekends in a school year, but that’s when students used to be expected to get a lot of their serious reading done. Voila: fewer books, and shorter ones to boot, are assigned. Music and Advanced Placement classes are particularly hard hit, essentially because of the consolidating what should be a one-year curriculum into one semester.

Then the problem of spacing occurs, since kids learn better bit by bit; consolidating the material into a shorter block of time actually reduced retention. But with block, they get it downloaded too fast. Last, but certainly not least, trying to keep student attention in longer class periods in this generation of media-crazed, ADHD, learning-disabled kids is a foolish idea and flies in the face of everything else that goes on in their lives today, much less the ever-changing, fast-paced work world. To try to capture at least some semblance of the kids’ attention, teachers are forced into pointless, ‘’fun,’’ hands-on group activities instead of actual academics. They take class time to do homework, shoot the breeze, play cards and watch videos.

Bottom line: block scheduling is harmful to academic achievement, dumbs down the curriculum, hurts test scores, and sets kids up for more blocks of time to do their School-to-Work apprenticeships, not broaden and deepen their intellectual ability so that they can compete in college and get professional and entrepreneurial careers.

If your district’s officials have bought in heavily to outcome-based education and School-to-Work, you will either have block scheduling in place now, or it’s coming, and soon.

Yes, I can prove all this. Go to www.jefflindsay.com/Block.shtml and see for yourself.

If you have it, or it’s coming, you’ve got to . . . BLOCK . . . it.

Don’t miss the study of 30,000 10th graders in which the kids on a traditional school schedule beat the kids on block schedules in every single measurement. Also note the Iowa State study of 568 high schools in Iowa and Illinois in which the kids on block schedules did worse on their ACT tests than the kids on regular schedules.

That kind of data is why districts like South Bend, Ind., have dumped block scheduling in recent years. In fact, according to TV station WNDU, block scheduling cost that district an extra $2 million, which it found it could no longer afford.

Can any of us? I’d say unless you have a mental . . . BLOCK . . . you’d have to agree that we can’t.

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