LaFollette’s four block schedule: good or bad?

When the four block schedule began at LaFollette a few years ago, the MMSD praised its succeses:

Under the new “four block” schedule, La Follette High School students are missing school less, are better behaved and are taking tougher courses, all of which is adding up to better academic performance, an analysis of first quarter data shows. Press release, December 17, 1997.
La Follette High School students flourished during the first year of the school’s four block schedule, a year-end summary reports. Press release, September 9, 1998

a continuing study of the Four Block Schedule at La Follette High School reveals the innovative program has been achieving an increase in the number of students named to the honor roll, an increase in overall grade point averages, and an increase in the number of students achieving perfect attendance. The number of suspensions has decreased as well as the number of habitually truant students. The year-end survey among students, parents and teachers last May overwhelmingly reported favorable sentiments by all three groups. Board minutes, September 18, 1998

The board minutes above seem to be the last positive remarks about the four-block schedule on the MMSD Web site.
Has the MMSD done any recent analysis similar to that reported in the first year or two of the schedule? If so, what does the data show? If not, the administration seems to want to cut the four-block schedule without any basis, other than all of the high schools should be identical. And what’s the basis for saying they should all be the same?

8 thoughts on “LaFollette’s four block schedule: good or bad?”

  1. I would like to tell you that I am in strong support of the La Follette four block system. I am a recent graduate from the class of 2006. I took many advanced courses, and appreciated the amount of depth and learning that can be accomplished in 90 minutes.
    Has the implementation of the system proved to correlate with lower test scores, lower GPAs, lower attendance rates, and higher truancy rates? I believe it has not. If anything sources say there is a positive correlation to reverse these issues.
    Coming from a student perspective, I believe that switching to a 7 period day will induce increased truancy. For example, why would you want to skip a class and miss 90 minutes? But on the other hand I do understand for those who make choice to skip it could be very hard to catch up on what is missed.
    I know there are arguments about teacher compensations with being assigned to La Follette, and how they are treated differently, but shouldn’t we do what is best for the kids that are receiving the education?? It seems to me that this whole issue is being brought out because of politics, and what the the superintendent wants.
    Changing the four block system is an important decision that should have careful consideration, including forums where current students, recent graduates, parents, and teachers can actively discuss this. This is not a decision that should be made hastily without input and proof. You need to hear from EVERYONE and how they feel about it. There are teachers who come to teach at La Follette because of the 4 block. We will lose valuable teachers.
    La Follette has prepared me well for life, and my further education at the college level. My transition has been smooth- other kids got antsy in 90 minute classes, while I was already used to it. Since I never have had the opportunity to attend a seven period day, I will compare it to what I felt in middle school. I think I might have a more difficult time balancing 6 or seven classes, and remembering what is important. I like the indepth concentration of at most four classes. The system allows students to “double up” and take two science classes in a year, which enables some to go farther into AP classes and in some cases classes taught at the UW Madison. College is increasingly more competitive and LHS gives students the flexibility to be more competitive than in a 7 period system.
    How is the school district going to afford the switch over for the 4 block let alone other schools getting “redesigned”? At La Follette in most cases we only have half of the materials, and textbooks needed to teach more kids at the same time. With 4 block, only half the number of textbooks are needed since students are divided up into two separate semesters. I would think over a period of time this saves money . . . you don’t have to buy as many textbooks, or at least helps offset the cost of compensating the teacher for teaching longer. I do not have the exact the exact costs of either, but that is my first assumption.
    I understand the situation of the limited budget that the school district is working with, and I trust that you are trying to do the best job possible, but doesn’t this idea about “redesigning” the high schools mean you will spend money?? How do you plan to reevaluate them? What has occurred that makes you believe we need change? If the problem is students dropping out, and being retained, that is a larger issue that should not be solved by the school district, but by the City, State, and National Government. One key idea is class size, maybe if students have personal attention many of the current behavior, and social problems will be decreased because more students will feel like someone cares about what happens to them. I do agree the La Follette staff is incredible, and I truly appreciate the opportunity I had to recieve an education and become friends with them.
    I would like to leave you with one question to ponder: in reference to La Follette: WHY FIX SOMETHING IF IT IS NOT BROKEN??

  2. LHS 4-Block: Good Intentions Mired In Poor Implementation — Part I
    DISCLAIMER: I’m not going to post my ENTIRE response in one sitting, because this is a very complex question that requires a very elaborate answer. I’ll included part of my thoughts in this post and then return periodically to respond to other posters and add more thoughts.
    Here it goes. . .
    When I first arrived in Madison in 2001, I had interviews at another school and at La Follette. I already had a contract in hand, so these interviews were conducted to determine the “best fit” for me. I felt as if I could be a more effective teacher at LHS, since I was slated to teach a subject I love (world history) and was going to work under a variation of a block schedule.
    My student teaching experience in Miami, Florida was at a middle school under a 4-Block system (100 minutes – Every Other Day or EOD with “A” days and “B” days; and all classes meeting on Friday for 50 minutes). My 7th grade Civics students were all part of an at-risk program. It was a challenging group: mostly Hispanic with recent immigration histories, some ELL, some with special needs, and all poor. LHS demographics, though changing, are not as fluid nor as challenging as what I faced in Miami.
    Though a bit taxing at times, I enjoyed this arrangement. With over 100 minutes at my disposal, I had enough time to be able to engage my students in a wide array of hands-on activities such as role-playing, debates, and interactive lessons using the Internet and other technology. I also was able to deeply interact with more students in each period because I had more time to do so.
    However, there are many things that my student teaching experience had that LaFollette does not offer for its Four Block schedule. As a student teacher, I worked under a “team” concept with colleagues from each discipline sharing the same group of students for the entire year. At LHS, there are no “core” groupings of teachers sharing the same students, and classes only last 9 weeks or 18 weeks, depending on how many credits counted for the course. Having students for an entire year is crucial, no matter how many periods are allocated throughout the school day.
    Throughout my tenure as a student teacher, my mentor reminded me of the evolution of the block schedule in his building. But LHS has operated the same program, with little or no modifications, for the past nine years. The “studies” conducted to support the Four Block at LHS are an insult to my personal and professional intelligence.
    Moreover, as a student teacher, I received invaluable advice and guidance from my teacher mentor and my team members. They prepared me for the challenges inherent in teaching under a block schedule. But at LHS, I have not received this type of support. That’s because the schedule is not set up in a fashion that allows for teamwork and mentoring. In my time at LHS (six years), there have been no professional development opportunities geared towards improving teaching under the Four-Block. Teachers have had to go at it alone. Because of my past experiences with block scheduling, I was ready to hit the ground running. Can I say this about other instructors at LHS???
    Other things specific to LHS make the Four Block ineffective. I’ll explain these at a later date, but will provide a summary here:
    Student apathy is at an all-time high because of the lack of academic preparation middle schools are providing. Each feeder school (Whitehorse, Sennett, and Wright) have three different schedules and academic models, none are of the block schedule variety. Additionally, our ninth graders by and large do not know how to be “students”. This is coupled with a deeply-rooted school culture at LHS that short-shrifts academic pursuits in favor of other things (extracurricular activities; “fun” electives; work; social life). Many students hold unrealistic expectations and perspectives about the work ethic necessary to succeed in academic studies.
    In an ideal world, these problems with the LHS Four-Block could be fixed in order to continue the program, however, considering our economic circumstances as a district, LHS is better served with a return to the 7 period day. Is the district willing to spend $$$$$$ for professional development in the area of block scheduling? Is the MMSD willing to incorporate a year-long block schedule at LHS? What are some sources of cheap, but effective, programming that can help students transition into the four-block schedule at LHS?
    If the district isn’t willing to do these things, then the Four Block should be ended post haste.
    Please read this link for more information from someone who is more fervently opposed to the Four Block at LHS:

  3. This brings up a point that no one made so far: assistant principals not doing their job. One of them has (at least) a bunch of kids in her office, another one (a grade higher)probably doesn’t even look at referrals!

  4. I confess I really like the concept of a 4-block schedule that permits more time to focus attention on a given subject, and perhaps provides as much (or more?) true learning time in one 90-minute session as is gained from two 50-minute sessions.
    I read the link to the 2005 critique of the system. My sense is that it is the implementation of the 4-block at LaFollette that is the greater issue here, not the concept itself.
    Am I reading it right?

  5. IN response to SF I posted this on another section of this blog, and I do agree there is a HUGE problem: “In regards to the rather swift change in the La Follette atmosphere I believe students are getting away with too much. Students test administration. To be perfectly frank, assistant principles let students get away with too much. Minorities are treated differently and given more chances, and one administator in specific seems to have a zoo of kids in her office that really should be in class. I have heard people say I have “____ principal” wrapped around my finger. Maybe the punishment system is not working. Broome did not enforce MMSD policies regarding headgear, cell phones, and ipods. Yes many in high school would like to view themselves as adults, but in reality most are in limbo, or immature, and unable to make proper judgements. THEY NEED RULES TO HELP CORRECT BEHAVIOR. Honestly if administrators follow MMSD policies, treat all people equally and expect high standards, and hold true to their words- guess what? STUDENTS WILL RESPECT THEM. A superb example , and a man that deserves the head principal position is JOE GOTHARD.”

  6. Peter,
    The problem, for me, is mainly in the implementation, but I also have issues with the concept itself. In this response, I’ll discuss other aspects of the implementation of the Four Block that make this schedule unfeasible in the larger scheme of things. I’ll let other colleagues discuss the problems with the concept itself.
    I was not at LaFollette when the Four Block was implemented in 1997, but I do know there is bad blood still brewing as a result of the former Superintendent declaring the program as “experimental”, thus overriding a very close faculty vote on the schedule.
    For almost a decade, the Four Block has gone relatively unchanged, despite clamoring from the staff to make very needed modifications. Suggestions for change have basically been rejected by our administration for the past five years.
    The MOU negotiations between MTI and the MMSD have always been contentious and there are long-standing disagreements about various details. These have ranged from the number of early-release days we should have to whether guidance and other support staff should get paid the same monthly bonus ($54) as teachers in the building. Right now, the support staff don’t get the extra money, though their job duties are somewhat fundamentally changed due to the Four Block.
    During these negotiations, the MMSD always claims that the Four Block is more expensive to operate than the 7 period day, yet they don’t provide us with enough allocation to add more courses. As a result, we have hundreds of students each year in study halls, something the Four Block was not supposed to have in the first place.
    Moreover, the MMSD continues to try to cut away on our early releases, professional development time, and monthly bonuses. Some staff members don’t care about these things, as long as the Four Block stays in place. With budget cuts, jobs in the elective areas are being threatened. But these pro-block staff members don’t offer tangible proof that this system is working for ALL kids in ALL subjects. Where are the studies on this? I haven’t seen them.
    As a result, anti-Four Block staff members are resentful because they feel as if their professional lives are being determined by the whims of colleagues who don’t have to worry about NCLB mandates. So we are faced with a situation whereby a great chunk of our academic teachers feel as sacrificial lambs as a result of the internal political manuvering by pro-Four block forces.
    Also, the MMSD unilaterally changed the bell schedule at LHS to make it uniform to the rest of the district’s high schools. We used to start at 8:00 a.m. and the last class ended at 3:00 p.m., with the contractual day ending at 3:40 p.m. These forty minutes at the end of the day provided us with enough time to help students, meet within departments, or hold faculty gatherings on a regular basis.
    However, when the MMSD changed the bell schedule, it made the school day begin at 8:25 a.m. and end at 3:33 p.m. But because it changed the bell schedule after a MOU was negotiated, the contract still ended our day at 3:40 p.m. We have to show up by 8:00 a.m., which leaves twenty minutes for faculty and department meetings in the morning. We only have 7 minutes from the end of the last class to the end of the contractual day to hold meetings. That’s not feasible, because many of us stay after school to help kids or suprevise extracurricular events. So, instead, we hold faculty meetings on the dates that we should be having school-wide professional development activites, as stated in the MOU. It is an organizational disaster.
    Despite these setbacks and kinks, MOST of the faculty and staff have worked above and beyond the call of duty to make this flawed program work. But if the Four Block remains in place and we have to make more concessions, staff morale will be crushed.
    There will be more staff members chiming in their opinions on this blog during the break, at least from what they told me. So expect more responses and perspectives in the near future.

  7. Ed, the “2005 critique” is a SIS comment from last year. It’s linked above from the second comment (FO’s).
    Best wishes to all for a happy holidays!

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