What issues are School Districts Faced with for the upcoming School Year?
As if the pandemic crisis wasn’t enough, USA Today reports that one in five teachers say they won’t come back in the fall if their classes physically re-open, and six out of ten parents would rather pursue virtual learning options next school year. As a result of this, many districts who are already in a financial crisis will have to address this issue as well. School Districts everywhere are trying to make the safest transition back to school for everyone, so as a solution they are creating alternative schedules. So begins the debate on Alternative/Block scheduling for many schools as they prepare to open in a couple of months for the 2020-2021 School Year.
What is Alternative/Block Scheduling?
Wikipedia defines block scheduling or blocking as a type of academic scheduling used in schools in the American K-12 system in which each pupil has fewer classes per day. It is more common in middle and high schools than in primary schools. However, each class Is scheduled for a longer period than normal (e.g. 90 minutes instead of 50). Take a look at the video on block scheduling.
Districts across America are considering and even advocating for an Alternative/Block Schedule due to safety reasons and especially for filling in gaps in student learning that have occurred because of the Coronavirus pandemic. School Districts believe that keeping students contained to four classes a day versus seven or eight classes a day would assure compliance to the CDC guidelines in maintaining the Coronavirus contained. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued an outline suggesting tips for School Districts to consider which range from encouraging schools to create smaller classroom sizes with more space in between the areas of study to keeping movement to a minimum to help from spreading the virus once again. Also, it was suggested that schools not allow all students back at once, but to create a different type of schedule for different grade levels to come at certain times. As a result this, block scheduling as suggested. Block scheduling provides alternative days for students to attend, and would lower the risk of the infection to reoccur. The CDC went on to suggest that all personnel, community members, and students need training on social distancing. All members of a school body should implement social distancing techniques. Train staff With the CDC strongly encourages social distancing and space as a key to keeping the virus from spiking again. To meet these requirements districts are considering alternative scheduling, also known as block scheduling. Block Scheduling can help to reduce the number of contacts a person has per day for social distancing purposes.
The question arising among educators around the conversation about block scheduling is “what about social learning?”, not to mention the missed instructional time that has been lost during school closures this past year? Educational Agencies are reporting that many schools throughout the United States want to adopt block scheduling, at least for the 2020-2021 school year. Block Scheduling involves blocking out more time during the school day but it requires innovative approaches to teaching.
The benefits to block Scheduling
Students learn at different paces in different subjects, so allocating instructional time can help teachers accommodate these differences, which can lead to higher student achievement if done correctly. Teachers see fewer students during the day, giving them more time for individualized instruction. With longer teaching times, teachers can assign longer cooperative learning activities which can be completed in one class period. Also, scholars will have more time for reflection, which has proven a practical methodology for student learning. It also allows teachers to have extended time for planning, which is a critical part of teaching.Block Scheduling encourages a variety of instructional strategies that address multiple learning styles. There have been many studies that have shown that block scheduling programs establish higher bonds between teacher and student, which has a significant impact on academic studies with fewer discipline problems.
In similar research written by Charles Williams Jr., he wrote his thesis called "The Impact of Block Scheduling on Student Achievement, Attendance, and Discipline." Mr. Williams found that a schedule in and of itself cannot facilitate an increase in student achievement, attendance rates, or a decrease in discipline referrals. It takes everyone involved in the School. For block scheduling to be successful for any school, the Administrators and teachers must be well trained on how to make every moment count and not allow for wasted time. More extended class periods help students prepare for college. The classes mimic the length of college classes, which, depending on the number of the courses you take each week, can range from one to two hours. Mr. Williams highly recommends that teachers be trained on enhancing their teaching styles; also, professional development must focus on how to implement the program in practical ways. In a similar study by the Department of Education in the state of Oregon, the research showed that student GPA's were higher, lower dropout rates, and a decrease in failure rates can be attributed to such a schedule for some students. According to the Department of Education, block scheduling is a popular method for attempting to meet the needs of gifted and at-risk students. Also, it has helped to improve student test scores, reduce student discipline problems, and to help students learn due to the additional time they have to create bonds with their teachers, which is a proven method for creating student achievement and learning. In 1995 a study by Carl Glickman, a University of Georgia professor, reported that of 820 high schools (11,000 students) the schools where teachers had plenty of professional development on student learning styles, and that put them into practice effectively showed that those students scored higher on National Assessments. Those higher achievement scores were attributed to Block Scheduling.
The Challenges of Block Scheduling
Consider the other side of block scheduling. The research has suggested that many challenges come from Block Scheduling. One of the most frequent complaints from students and teachers is that this increase in time will result in increased distractedness and lack of productivity. If students are having issues with their attention span, it would be better for them to get used to longer classes now instead of in college, when each credit costs hundreds of dollars. Block scheduling programs have to be created correctly. Also, teachers and parents have complained of a lack of continuity in learning, which makes it difficult for students to learn effectively. Another issue is when scholars are absent for two or more days of instruction during block scheduling, it makes it very difficult for students to catch up with their missing assignments that equal two times per day that they have been absent. Another argument raised is that it is tough to cover all the necessary material for Advanced Placement courses in the time allotted.
As pointed out in the article "Why Block Scheduling is a Horrible Idea" by Tomas Connolly, editor for Round Table School Newspaper, he states that block scheduling allows for more students to graduate because they are given more opportunities to retake classes they have failed. He argues that schools create a cushion or band-aide for students to graduate, and by doing so, it creates student dependency on the district, which will not be given to them at the college level. Mr. Connolly continues by explaining that for current seniors, the class of 2020 needs 20 credits to graduate; however, if they take seven classes a year for four years, they could graduate with 28 courses, which means that seniors could fail eight classes and still graduate. He expresses that Schools should be raising the bar for students, not lowering the bar making it easier to complete high school. Mr. Connolly asked, "Does allowing students to fail nearly two classes a year prepare them for college and the real world?" Furthermore, he states, less than one-third of students are "college-ready," meaning they have a higher than 1050 on the SAT. So then if the districts implement a block schedule poorly without thinking through the curriculum of instruction, the schools will be faced with more significant gaps in student learning.
Fundamentally for block scheduling to be effective, the school districts will have to redesign the curricular process if there is to be a success with such a program. The challenges range from not meeting with students daily, which can lead to students falling through the cracks. Not all teachers are competent in thematic units or project-based learning, which provides students with a variety of engaging activities. Also, since the end of course exams make less sense when it comes to project-based learning or "hands-on learning," all these changes in the curriculum must be considered. Teaching practices and assessments will require time to plan, as well as teacher professional development. No matter how well a teacher has planned their lessons, many days, the teacher can end up with 10 to 15 minutes of extra time, where students often begin their homework. When all this time is added up at the end of the semester, the students lose valuable time and instruction.
How can districts create a smooth transition
The move to block scheduling has sparked controversy where critics say that block scheduling is a faddish approach that fails to enhance academic performance. The division between advocates and opponents of block scheduling become entrenched, making it challenging to find a compromise between the two groups. Research has shown districts that have experienced a smooth transition to block scheduling, the administration has generally dealt with internal opposition that might exist among the staff and brought teachers on board before going to the public. Although there have been significant debates about alternative/block schedules, there has been no conclusive evidence that demonstrates that one model is better than the other. Most experts agree that the success of the program is dependent on the school's buy-in, the student demographics, proper professional development training for teachers and administrators, practical implementation of the program, and program evaluations. So, the bottom line is the implementation of the schedule, and a lot of professional development for all educators on pacing, instructional strategies, flexibility, creativity, effective classroom management, and the freedom to share ownership of teaching and learning with the students.
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