Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Sorry to see that the Omaha Public Schools is expanding block scheduling, with two high schools and eight middle schools slated to use that cornerstone of the dumbed-down, standards-based education philosophy next fall.

There’s so much hard evidence out there that block scheduling is bad for academic achievement that it makes you wonder: are they TRYING to crash their own test scores, to try to get more money to “fix” these poor kids?

It’s only common sense, but scientific data backs it up: block scheduling is bad for academic achievement. Research has shown that block scheduling reduces actual instructional time by 20% or more. Why? Because the teacher’s focus shifts to the portion of the student population that’s not understanding the lessons, going over and over the same material.

Consequently, the majority of the students, who DO get it the first time, go into “idle” mode and do repetitive busy work and time-wasting hands-on group activities. Test scores consequently drop “markedly,” studies show, including a big one by Iowa State University and ACT Inc., and several in Canada (see below).

While test scores may rise a little for the bottom 50%, they fall for the top 50%, and they fall overall. That means more kids go to the workforce, not college, after graduation, and more kids go to community college and not four-year schools, and more Nebraska kids can’t get in to top schools in other states, for the simple reason that they aren’t qualified academically.

Again, you have to wonder: is this on purpose? I certainly hope not.

The deceptive push toward block scheduling is following true to form for how this dumbed-down time management philosophy has been jammed into public schools from coast to coast, starting with Oregon about 15 years ago: there’s a high-paid “consultant” involved who is trumpeting erroneous, misleading, distorted “data” to grease the skids.

The World-Herald quoted Elliot Merenbloom of Baltimore as that consultant, and he claimed in Tuesday’s paper that the research shows that block scheduling helps student achievement.

Baloney. See the website listed at the bottom of this page for ample documentation of evidence to the contrary.

Tell you what: if you know anyone with a child in OPS, send them that website, and urge them to switch to private school. Of course OPS will realize that block scheduling is a rotten idea, but it will take four to six years for that – that’s the learning curve all around the country, apparently – and by then, waves of kids will be damaged.

Oh, well, though, huh? This just follows that popular educational credo: “What’s nuts? Let’s try it!”

Here’s my advice column on the subject:



Block Scheduling

Q. Block scheduling cuts the number of classes a student takes in half, but nearly doubles the time spent in each class. That would help minimize disruptions between classes, and sounds great for science class. In a 40- or 50-minute period, students must just get their science experiments set up and then it’s time to put it all away. A 90- or 100-minute class period makes a lot of sense. But in other kinds of classes, is block scheduling a smart way to schedule the school day?

No. It’s terrible. Teenagers have shorter attention spans these days, especially those with learning disabilities. Teachers report that actual delivery of academic content drops by 20% with block scheduling, because neither kids nor teachers can stay sharp for an hour or a half or more per class period. So a good chunk of class time is spent playing cards, watching videos, doing homework from other classes . . . and academic achievement suffers.

Block scheduling is aligned with standards-based education, which is in place in most public schools around the country. It’s geared toward preparing students to pass statewide tests. But by definition, that dumbs down schooling for 50% of the kids, since the statewide tests are targeted to the norm.

Block scheduling significantly reduces instruction time, amount of academic content, freedom for electives such as music, and test scores. Its key victim: retention. It is well understood that “distributed” lessons are best. In them, content is delivered in small, evenly-spaced increments. Example: classes that meet five days a week for 50 minutes a day.

With block scheduling, though, an entire school year’s content is delivered in one semester, or in class periods that are nearly twice as long but meet only two or three times per week. Because the spacing of the material is less “distributed,” learning retention drops significantly.

A study by Iowa State University and ACT Inc., of 568 high schools in Iowa and Illinois revealed “markedly lower” ACT scores in schools with block scheduling, especially in rural areas.

Homework: Great documentation on the hazards of block scheduling is found on

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