Even if you might be in favor of block scheduling …

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March 1, 2017 by stoptheblockhvrhs

A parent in Canaan sent us a link to an article that contains information pertaining to an issue we’ve been reluctant to bring up: the time table for this implementation.

The reason we have not discussed this is because our primary focus is stopping this misguided program completely, and talking about problems with the hasty implementation might make it sound like we would consider a delay to be acceptable.  But we have to face reality: not everybody is going to share our opinions.  Some might be swayed by the arguments being made in favor of block scheduling.  So if you are not convinced, like we are, that the modified 4×4 block schedule is a bad idea for HVRHS, this is for you.

The article sent to us is called Are Block Schedules the Stress-Buster Students Need? and was published by neaToday in 2016.  In the article, author Tim Walker interviewed Michael Rettig, founder of School Scheduling Associates, LLC (the consulting firm that employs Robert Canady, the scheduling consultant brought in by assistant superintendent Pamela Vogel).  Walker points out that skeptics of block scheduling argue against students’ ability to focus for long class blocks, the danger of falling behind after being out sick a couple days, and that retention of math and languages is worse under a block schedule.  Because not everyone in the community buys into block scheduling, “It is these and many other concerns, says Michael Rettig, that require all stakeholders – the administration especially – to see to it that districts carefully evaluate whether a block schedule is in fact the right solution. The process to create and transition to the new schedule must be deliberative and transparent. According to Rettig, a two-year process is optimal.

An article titled Block Scheduling by Karen Irmsher  cites a 1995 paper by Robert Lynn Canady (our scheduling consultant) and Michael Rettig as suggesting the following actions take place:

  • A general presentation regarding the pros and cons of various models of block scheduling
  • Visits by teachers, students, parents, and school board members to schools having block schedules
  • Faculty discussion meetings, leading to a vote or concensus
  • Staff development focused on the appropriate design of curriculum and use of extended blocks of time for instruction

This echoes the advice of other advocates.  James Allen Queen, another author/expert on block scheduling authored a widely cited paper titled “Block Scheduling Revisited“.  Mr. Queen starts off by saying that the success of block scheduling is often limited by poor implementation.  90 minute blocks often contain only 60 minutes of actual instruction and problems are made worse “by a grave lack of training for teachers new to the field and the model.”  (The paper makes for interesting reading.  While Queen is an advocate of block scheduling, he acknowledges pitfalls – many of which are concerns of ours –  acknowledges that it is not right for all schools and states that “Block scheduling was not designed to affect student achievement directly.”)  The paper goes on to describe several case studies that point out that where block scheduling worked, teachers were well trained in strategies for dealing with the issues of attention spans and making maximal use of 90 minute blocks.

Block Scheduling – Innovations with Time is a paper published by The Education Alliance at Brown University that sets out to investigate whether various flavors of block scheduling can be effective by citing numerous other studies.  In pointing out both benefits and concerns, it says “The block system is doomed if teachers are not properly prepared to utilize a longer class period effectively. Adequate teacher preparation and professional development are crucial elements that are necessary for developing the use of varied teaching techniques.”  Citing another study, the authors say “To successfully introduce block scheduling, all participants (including administrators, teachers, students, and parents) should examine the strengths and weaknesses of the program already in place. Before a block scheduling model is introduced, it is important to identify the unique nature of a school community and any trends that stand out in the school’s history.” It goes on to say “Input and ownership on the part of teachers, administrators, students, and parents are vital. For the switch to a new schedule to be successful, all participants need to be involved in the transformation and feel that their voices are being heard.” And finally, “staff development is the most important aspect of this shift.”

In producing case studies, the authors interviewed personnel at schools that have implemented block scheduling, including Tolland High School principal Dr. Michael Blake.  That study led the authors to write:

One of the keys to the new schedule’s initial success was
the two years of research undertaken before the decision was
made. “We had a committee of 15 teachers and administra-
tors who were organized to look at our schedule, and they
came across block scheduling in the process. Once we knew
what we wanted, we presented it to the board and the
parents,” said Blake.

Other literature is consistent.  Implementation of a block schedule must be based on a determination by faculty, community and administration that it is appropriate and beneficial for a school if it is to succeed, followed by discussions of concerns to develop a schedule that meets the needs of the community.  Then teacher training is essential to ensure that teachers are prepared on day 1 with lesson plans and skills in a variety of teach methodologies to ensure that they maintain interest of students over 90 (or 80) minute long classes while covering the same material in 90 days that they would normally cover in a full year.

Now, let’s contrast this to what’s going on at HVRHS.  Faculty was not consulted.  (Teachers object to the plan).  Parents were not consulted.  (Many of us object to the plan).  Long term planning was not done.  The “modified 4×4” which includes A/B blocks to accommodate AP classes, band and ag was hastily thrown together within the last few weeks.  Students are expected to sign up for classes some time in the next ten days. And teachers will start teaching under this new paradigm in August.

At the information session held at the high school on Thursday Feb 23 (video available on RegionOneReport.com) assistant superintendent Pamela Vogel was asked how the school would provide the necessary training to teachers.  She replied that teachers are professionals and she trusts them to be able to do it.  She was asked repeatedly why she was rushing to implement the change so quickly.  She never did have a good answer for that.

Think twice about your support for this schedule change.  Even if you’re not convinced, as we are, that the modified 4×4 block is worse than the schedule HVRHS has in place today, the actual implementation of it promises to be a train wreck, with our children as crash test dummies.

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