Friday, November 13, 2009

Dunwoody HS students only take four classes per day under Block Scheduling. Does this need to change?

I just learned of this Block Scheduling situation and many Dunwoody parents want it changed. If you know about this, please post your opinions both pro & con.

On Monday, November 16th at 6 PM, the Dunwoody High School PTSO and School Council are hosting an informational meeting about various school day scheduling options for the 2010-2011 school year. This meeting will be held in the cafeteria. Our speaker will be Ms. Stacey Stepney, DCSS Director of High Schools. We invite all DHS stakeholders, including future parents and community members to attend.

Wikipedia - Block Scheduling
Block scheduling is a type of academic scheduling in which each student has fewer classes per day for a longer period of time. This is intended to result in more time for teaching due to less class switching and preparation. It also allows for a student to take four electives, rather than two, or three.

In some cases, such as in medical school or other intensive university program, a block schedule means taking one class at a time, all day, every day, until all of the material is covered. A normal university course might then be completed in three or four weeks of focused effort on a single topic. When used as a supplement to a normal academic term, instead of the normal schedule, this approach is sometimes called a mini-mester.

Conversion to block scheduling became a widespread trend in American middle schools and high schools in the 1990s, but around the late 2000s, the scheduling is switching back period scheduling.[citation needed] Prior to that, many schools scheduled classes such that a student saw every one of their teachers each day. Classes were approximately 40-60 minutes long, but under block scheduling, they became approximately 90 minutes long.

However, many American high schools still use the traditional eight- or nine-period day, and consider block scheduling to be one of many ill-considered education reform schemes.

Part of the motivation for block scheduling is to prepare students for taking end-of-grade/end-of-course standardized tests used to measure student achievement (and in some school districts, teacher pay and school funding). Another is social--to foster cooperation among students. This is done by having students work in groups (called "cooperative learning") to help them learn from each other, rather than have classes that focus on teacher-delivered content, as some experts believe that students learn better from peers than from professionals.

There is other research out there but most I see is negative.


Cerebration said...

Count me "not a fan" of the block. My children have been educated in both environments and I've come to the conclusion that the 7 period day is more steady and "rigorous" (to use a popular word). Really, the best schedule was the old 6 period day - but alas - that one will never be returned as it now leaves no room for error.

Proponents of the block have some strange reasons for their enthusiasm. I've heard that the block offers more chances to recover from failed courses and it cuts down on discipline problems, as the classes only change 4x per day. I would imagine that Dunwoody HS really doesn't need to worry much about those issues. In fact, Forsyth County, along with others, has returned to the 7 period day after using the block for several years.

A modified block is an interesting option - say you have 4 regular periods and 2 longer periods per day per semester - so that you could offer art, music, video production, chemistry - classes that could benefit from a longer lab time - as one choice per day. But by and large, classes like English, mathematics, languages and social studies can be appropriately covered in a 50 minute per day session. In fact, it's probably best to have steady lessons - every day - all year. Especially in mathematics.

Then - there's just the simple cost issue. Logistically, it calls on some creative resources to offer a schedule of 32 credits per high school student when they each only need 24 to graduate (including electives). With the block, we are effectively forcing students to take 8 credits more than necessary for a high school diploma. What sort of classes are they taking? Are they worth the time, effort and money it costs?

Think about it - on the block, we have to supply 8 courses per student per year over four years. If you have 450 students in a grade level (we'll say freshmen) - and 30 students per classroom - that amounts to 15 classrooms full of 30 freshmen during each period.

If we do this 7 times per day, it requires at least 105 classes per day for the freshmen. However, on the block - this will require those same 450 students divide among 8 choices of classes per day. The result is to offer more choices of courses with less students per class - say - only 25 students per classroom x 18 classes. That's an addition of at least 3 teachers, classrooms, textbooks and supplies per grade (at least 12 more teachers and classes over 4 years than necessary).

With the budget in the mess it is and projected to take a serious nose-dive for 2010-11 this is one of the most prudent choices to not only save money - but deliver exactly the education our children need.

Paula Caldarella said...

Thanks John for making a separate entry on this issue and thanks to cere for her input.

It's important that current DHS parents and future DHS parents attend this meeting.

I admit upfront that I was a proponent of the block schedule when my child first started at DHS, but after her freshman year I did a total 360 on this issue. One of my issues, as stated in a previous post, was the fact that she is going an entire year without Math. She took Math her first semester last year and will not take Math again until next semester. There seem to be teachers that do not know how to teach for an entire 90 minutes - as happened with my child's Math teacher last year. That was a huge waste of time. And although, she did very well , (probably because she took the Accelerated Math in 8th grade), I have to wonder, was all the material covered in one semester?

Mike said...

As an assistant principal, the biggest issue with blocks is teacher training. Most teachers were trained to present effective 50-60 minute lessons, and they have limited experience with 90 minute blocks. The result is often lots of "busy work." With the right teachers, however, blocks are a great instructional option.

John Heneghan said...

The comments below are via e-mail from a Momof3.

I have been working as a high school math tutor for the last 6 years. I have worked with students from DHS on the block schedule as well as students from other schools who are on a block schedule. I also taught for 9 years, on a modified block schedule at one school and on a traditional schedule of 7 or 8 periods at other schools. I am definitely NOT in support of the block schedule as it currently exists at DHS.

From a math perspective...the kids at DHS can take mathematics in the fall of 9th grade and then not see math again until spring of 10th grade. Can that really be considered best practice, at least from a math (and probably foreign language) standpoint? We ask our students to retain information in mathematics from year to year...but then they go for an entire calendar year without working on mathematics. The amount of remedial work that a teacher would need to do to get the students "up to speed" would be overwhelming, in my opinion.

Also...I think that asking young students, especially 9th grade students, to sit in any class for 1 1/2 hours is asking a lot in terms of their ability to focus and concentrate.

Strong students, in my opinion, can weather any schedule at any school. The strongest students at DHS may be disappointed that they cannot fit more classes--and AP's--into their schedules. I understand that frustration, but I think that a student with 12-14 AP classes on their resume will really be as competitive nationally for college acceptances as students with 15 or 16 AP classes.

The block schedule can really hurt students who are not strong in a particular content area...with the amount of material that a teacher needs to cover in a one semester class makes it really difficult if a student falls behind. Additionally, what happens if a student is sick and misses a week of school? On the DHS block, missing a week is equivalent to missing 2 weeks of material for a "normal" school year. That is a lot of work to make up.

Some schools, like North Springs, work their 7 periods into a modified block system--a normal 7 period day on Monday, Thursday, and Friday, and block scheduling on Tuesday and Wednesday (4 classes one day, 3 the other with free time for help from teachers). I think that would work MUCH better if teachers still want the ability to lengthen a class and go in-depth with some lessons.

DunwoodyD said...

Over the past few years, the DHS administration and PTO have conducted surveys of parents, teachers, and students regarding the block schedule. The raw data has not been shared with parents, but reportedly indicates that parents have consistently indicated that they are NOT in favor of the 4x4 block.

Monday evening, we'll have yet another opportunity to tell the DHS administration that we really, really don't want the 4x4 block schedule. Yet the principal has already announced to the DHS School Council that he wants the 4x4 block to continue and that this is his decision to make.

It's imperative that parents participate in this process because otherwise it looks like we don't care one way or the other. Whatever a parent's opinion, sharing it in a civil, proactive manner during Monday evening's forum can only benefit our students.

GaryRayBetz said...

Our experience with having four children completely educated in the DeKalb County / Dunwoody school system (i.e. Chesnut, Peachtree Middle School, & Dunwoody High School -the only exception was that my oldest daughter attended kindergarten in Chicago-) since we moved to Dunwoody North from Chicago 17 years ago has been that block scheduling was most indeed desideratum for our younger three children after our oldest brooked beneath the yoke of the 7-period day.

The block scheduling system allowed my son to give priority and additional time to the more consequential subjects, and with the mathematical acumen he acquired from Dunwoody High School he was able to test out of calculus at the University of Georgia at Athens in his pre-med studies there.

I still have two daughters in the DHS block scheduling system that are thriving.

I'd be very careful what you wish for as other folks might have had other experiences. So, just please ensure that due diligence is performed in your analysis of the block scheduling program.

Thank-you much!

Anonymous said...

I graduated from DHS in 1999. The school hours were 8:15/8:30 to 3:15 if memory serves. I remember having block scheduling on Tues-Thurs. I know my experiences there were from another era, but the implications might still be relevant.

50 minutes didn't "feel" long enough for certain subjects depending on the curriculum and whether or not one's classmates would settle down quickly enough.

Math class seemed to go on forever in a 50 or 70 minute time frame. Speaking of which, I was required to take a math class every year until I was a senior (times have changed it seems!).

I looked forward to certain block days because I knew I'd have an extra day to finish up an essay or to study for a test. Moreover, my brain enjoyed the exercise of having one day without science/math (as a junior and sophomore).

If logistic issues are resolvable, perhaps there could be some iteration of block scheduling that could complement the preferences, intellectual interests, and scholastic strengths and weaknesses of as many students as possible.

Cerebration said...

So, above I gave you my long-standing argument against the block. Today, I wrote a post at the DeKalb School Watch blog with a bit different insight.

This is a difficult decision and if Dunwoody does stay with the block, I hope the leaders will listen to parent's concerns and "re-implement" the block in a new, enlightened way - incorporating teacher training in the intended methodology of the block - it actually can be quite successful - if treated much differently than simply a longer class time version of the standard 7 period day.

Anonymous said...

I am a graduate of a high school that opened its doors as a block school. I transferred there in my senior year, so I was also accustomed to the six course schedule, as well. As a student, I am very disappointed I was not able to go to a block school all four years of high school. Imagine how much better equipped a student could be with eight courses a year than six. As some pointed out, high school graduation requirements are fewer than what can be accomplished in the block schedule, thus they may not be taking worth-while classes. I think the student and/or parent should really be held accountable for that because they are the ones choosing those courses. Think of how accelerated a student has the potential to become on this schedule: the student does not have to wait an entire year to take another math class; rather, they can take two in a single year and move to a higher level in the next. Courses like art and science could greatly benefit from the larger time frame. An AP course on block scheduling is also typically taken for the entire year (with a few exceptions), so the student is given the equivalent of two school years to be taught a college course and prepare for the exam, while they are essentially competing against students who only prepared for a single school year, as scores are based on the comparative performance of the students in that testing year. Additionally, students could actually become fluent in a foreign language if they were to take more than the required graduation amount of a foreign language and even more than the six course schedule would allow. It really should not be about what courses are required, but what can go beyond that to enrich their education.

I would admit that a con of the block schedule, however, is that students care less about failing a particular class because they know there is plenty of time to make it up and still graduate on time. I think a solution to this is to make more rigorous graduation requirements so that they are not able to slack in the system, if that is at all possible to do. In essence, with a few regulations, the block schedule is a very positive system, but if left to the autonomy of a poorly disciplined student, may not be as successful.

joggerdavew said...

Block scheduling -- i.e., delving into a smaller quantity of academic subjects intensely in a shorter period of time -- is definitely the way to go. Juggling 4 classes, 4 sets of tests, and 4 sets of homework assignments is challenging enough for the teenage mind. Besides: Do you know what it's like to lug 7 huge textbooks back and forth, school to home, all the time? Intensive, comprehensive study of a a subject is far preferred. Those 50-minute classes in a 'traditional' schedule come to an end far too fast, and just when the lecture or class discussion or questions and answers get intereseting ... RING RING GOES THE BELL. Sorry, you'll have to get that question answered TOMORROW, when you've already fallen behind! Four subjects is plenty to handle, especially when you consider these DHS kids are very involved in their extra-curriculars. John, wait until your kids are actually in high school and then you can speak more intelligently on the subject. A lot of that so-called "research" on the subject comes from the same labs and guys in white coats who recommend giving drugs to kids as a solution to study.