Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Block vs. The Eight Period Day

Over a decade ago, the Hudson Community School District made significant changes to the instructional schedule in the high school.  During the intervening years, our school district (specifically the high school) has used what is referred to as a block schedule.  In a block schedule, students take eight classes over a two day period, and each class is around 86 minutes in length.  The theory behind this type of teaching is that it provides longer periods of instructional time for teachers to work with students.  For some classes like biology, physics, and some agriculture classes, it is a benefit [particularly on days] when a lab is scheduled.  A key disadvantage of this type of schedule is that classes don't meet every day, and any disruption to the calendar can cause unplanned and extended gaps in instruction.

The point of this evenings post isn't to debate the pros and cons of block scheduling or traditional scheduling, but merely to discuss possible changes that we are considering to the instructional schedule and why we believe this may be a better fit for our school district.  The facts are that you can make a very convincing case that "The Block", "The Eight Period", "The Seven Period", or "The Trimester" is the best researched and pedagogically correct way to operationally manage students' time in school.  The real litmus test is what makes sense and is the best fit for the school district.  

About a year ago, the school board asked that our Administration begin evaluating different scheduling options.  This was driven by inefficiencies in our operations, and a goal of creating additional learning opportunities for students.  We have outstanding faculty members that can, and should be teaching courses for us!  The problem is that because of the block, it makes it very difficult to share staff between middle school and high school.  Once you add in the elementary school and those shared staff, it becomes even more muddled.  So the charge from the board was to streamline the schedule, look for efficiencies, and deploy human resources in a strategic and thoughtful manner.

Another challenge that we have with our block schedule is the placement of college courses in relationship to other high level and advanced courses.  Too often we are forcing our students to make a decision on a course that they want to take, but another equally important course is being offered at the exact same time.  Because we are a smaller school, it is not uncommon to have only one section of these courses.  So, that is another consideration we wanted to address in this study.

At the beginning of the school year, I delegated to Mr. Dieken the task of heading up a Task Force to evaluate our schedule with these priorities in mind, and prepare to a recommendation for me to take to the school board for approval.  Since September, this Task Force made up of district educators has been meeting to debate different scheduling options.  They have narrowed their work down to an eight period day, which is currently being vetted by the Administration.  At this point, it has been determined that a schedule like this is both viable for our school district, and provides many positive features.
However, I should point out that this work was done once before, several years ago.  The Administration got to the final stage of vetting the schedule when unmovable forces within that schedule became impossible to overcome. 

Finally, it should be pointed out that for over a decade, the block schedule has served our district well.  We are evaluating our options only in an effort to meet challenges that have become more prevalent as our district enrollment has decreased.  The arguments made in this post should not be seen as an indictment of the block, but merely to create an understanding of the rationale this effort is being undertaken.  If you have specific questions about the work surrounding this initiative, please feel free to contact Mr. Dieken or myself.

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