Ok, so most of you know that I have been pretty vocal about my distaste of the block schedule. My main issue with the DeKalb system has to do with the fact that students are actually taking 32 credits over four years in high school, when they only need 24 to graduate. I think at some level, the block is offering unnecessary classes and keeping students in class when they should in fact, be working or attending college half-days or volunteering. Also, not all teachers are properly trained in utilizing the block schedule to it's fullest and intended potential. (It is not supposed to serve as a regular class with a short study hall at the end to do homework.)
That said, I was sent an interesting chart by one of our regular contributors that gave me pause. Click on the chart below to see an enlarged version, but basically the chart shows the size of classes in DCSS for the 2009-2010 school year. This is straight from the SACS web site.
The contributor shared the following concerns: "Let's look at 6 - 12 remedial with no para. On the 7 period schedule (5 teaching and 2 planning), one teacher could see max 5 * 20 = 100 students per day. Now let look at the same thing on the block (3 periods teaching and 1 planning): 3 * 20 = 60 students per day. Now, with only 60 students per day, the block teacher could tailor their lesson plans more to the student and could probably catch more problems with the student more than one could teaching 100."
"The workload is out of balance between the systems. Teachers see two more more classes per day on a regular schedule than a 4x4 block schedule. Yet, they are held to the same high standards as a block. Then when you get to PE and Chorus and Band - it appears that those teachers need help with crowd control. But for example, let's look at PE: 3 *42 = 126 (Block) 6 * 42 = 252 (Specials teachers only have 1 prep class per day so see 6 groups of students). They also have many extra duties that core teachers do not have, but they still have the same paper work."
George Cassutto, middle school civics teacher in another state has written some interesting essays about the block schedule, which he very much favors. I would suggest reading his online essays, as he makes some very cogent arguments for the block. I was enlightened by much of what he has written. Below are some excerpts.
When a teacher makes the transition from teaching on the 45-minute period to the extended block, a transformation takes place. The entire atmosphere of the classroom upgrades itself toward one of cooperation, collegiality, and connectedness. The teacher knows that the extended time frame calls for new strategies, and the students usually respond in a positive manner if challenged appropriately. The primary shift involves a transition from teacher-centeredness to student-centered activities. The result of this shift is that students are more involved, more engaged, and they develop a greater stake in their own educational process.....
The block schedule leads the teacher to rely on all the resources at his or her disposal. The teacher will rely on traditional tools such as the textbook, audio-visual resources, and the computer, but a new dimension enters the mix as well. The teacher must set a positive tone for learning. The teacher must enunciate a reasonable rationale to the student for wanting to be engaged. And the teacher must model the desire for acquiring new skills and knowledge that will resonate within the student in the form of higher levels of inquisitiveness and motivation. Most importantly, the increased time in class will allow the teacher to build positive relationships with the students, even behaviorally and academically challenging ones. In fact, it is the at-risk population from which the renewed teacher-student relationship can most benefit.....
The world in which we teach is constantly experiencing accelerated change. The diversity of the population that we teach continues to grow, and teachers must help push the educational establishment along so the needs of that diverse population are being met. With longer class periods, the teacher can put a wider variety of approaches to work, allowing all students to succeed without regard to ethnic background or nationality or handicapping condition. The movement toward inclusion and English as a second language will find itself more at home within a school schedule that allows for greater one-on-one interaction between teachers and students. As my new school starts its service to the population of our county, so will its staff become aware of the value of the block schedule as well as its ancillary methodologies such as cooperative learning, multiple intelligences, and technology integration. These teachers are, for the most part, already veterans in their subject areas. It will be a refreshing and fascinating school year as we watch the staff coalesce and make learning a fascinating experience for the young people that will enter their doors.
And finally, the University of Pittsburg shares their succinct explanation for focusing on a new curriculum in the Chemical Engineering school as, “The shift in curriculum is from short, (primarily) disconnected courses with little "integrated" insight until late in the curriculum, to a more thoroughly integrated curriculum involving longer classes which take advantage of Block Scheduling.
So, it seems that the block can be highly effective, with proper teacher training and a deep, integrated curriculum. The block is not meant to offer time to do homework, or as simply a longer version of the same class, it is meant to offer time for teachers to gain more understanding of their (hopefully smaller) groups of students and to discover the best ways they each learn as individuals. With the proper focus, industrious use of time and inspired teaching techniques, the block schedule has the ability to greatly enhance learning.
There are pros and cons to the block and I know that each of our high schools, and specifically Dunwoody at their meeting Monday evening, will go with the system that will best suit their style.