Fighting over school fad with meager results

Jay Matthews:

Fads rule much of American education. A good example is block scheduling. In most high schools in the Washington area — and much of the rest of the country — that innovation has replaced the traditional 45-minute daily class periods with classes that meet every other day for as long as 90 minutes each.
The block approach, influenced by the work of University of Virginia school administration expert Robert Lynn Canady, swept through this area in the 1990s. I had to explain it in several stories then. It was not easy. The array of colors and numbers used to distinguish each class was bewildering.
Still, about three-quarters of this region’s high schools, and many middle schools, have stuck with block schedules, even though many educators have a difficult time explaining why. Studies say neither block Arlington County schools Superintendent Patrick K. Murphy (Arlington County schools) nor regular schedules make much of a difference.

2 thoughts on “Fighting over school fad with meager results”

  1. Here in Madison, LaFollette High uses a block schedule. Unlike the example Mr. Mathews cites, LaFollette has each class meet 5 days/week, so a normally year-long high school class is completed in a semester. If a student has a strong interest in a subject area, s/he can take two classes in a year (e.g. calculus AB and BC can be completed in a year, as they would be in college, or a student could study more than one non-English language during high school).
    My son took a lab science class at LaFollette and thought the longer class period was an advantage. Set up and take down of a lab consumes enough time to make it hard to complete the lab in a 53 minute period (39 minutes on early release days). He wasn’t so sure it would be an advantage for all courses, but the rest of his course work was done at East.

  2. I also thought immediately of LaFollette and how they have implemented block scheduling, Steve. The idea appeals to me strongly, for exactly the reasons that science classes and foreign (or “world”) language classes give for 90 minute classes working better than 50 minute ones. And LaFollette has found a solution that still allows them to meet every day for a student’s current classes. But I also wonder how hard that makes it for students coming in partway through a year? How much harder is it if they come in at mid-year from outside Madison versus another Madison high school? MMSD is much more “mobile” than it used to be, with a significant percentage of students across the district moving between school attendance areas – within a school year, as well as in the summer break. Having different systems in different schools would seem to make that more discombobulating. If you were taking 10th grade biology at Memorial, and you move to LaFollette’s attendance area in December, now what do you do? And families living in the lower half of Madison’s socioeconomic continuum have arguably far less control of when they have to move residences: whether because of rising rents, month-to-month leases, job loss or gain with transportation issues, or for whatever other reason. Does it hurt students who are more mobile? Can anyone here share personal experience with it, or give numbers from any MMSD data?

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