Saturday, November 14, 2009

But then again, the block can be an enlightened way to educate

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.


Dekalbparent said...

Cere -

Are those class sizes supposed to represent the size of classes in DCSS? Even after the waiver?

I can tell you for sure that none of my kid's classes have been that small.

Cerebration said...

I'm not sure - it's just what they have as the official class size listed for DCSS at SACS. I'm surprised that your kid's classes are bigger - I was thinking 35 was quite a few for a hs class (especially if it's in a trailer).

Anonymous said...

Those are the state maximum class sizes approved for this year. They are 2 students more than they were last year.

BUT, DeKalb has applied for waivers to exceed these maximums. That's why there are so many larger classes.

Anonymous said...

I have a child with a 7 period schedule but many of his friends have block. Having talked to numerous students, parents and teachers about this issue, I think the best schedule is a modified block. It is a little harder to set up, but many of the Fulton County schools do this so there are plenty of models. The modified block allows for a few longer class periods each week. I also like that there is one period a week that can be used for extracurricular clubs so the students don't have to meet at 7:00 a.m. for math club, debate club, etc.

Parents and students ALL tell me that with the block they rarely have any homework so clearly teachers in DCSS are not using the block correctly. These students are NOT prepared for college.

Foreign lanugage, math and all AP classes need to be a full year to adequately cover the subject matter and increase retention of subject matter.

What kind of schedule do the top private and suburban high schools have? I could be wrong but I thought they have either 6 or 7 periods.

Cerebration said...

As I understand, many private schools use some kind of modified (rolling) block. In fact, Kittredge uses (or used to use) an A/B block type of schedule (they had red and blue days). If 4th graders can manage a varying daily schedule, surely high school kids can.

I like the idea of using a period for extra-curricular. That helps my concern with giving students 32 credits when they only need 24. Some things could be non-credit - but save on after/before-school time (green), which could have the positive effect of encouraging more participation (due to eliminating the need for transportation in order to come early or stay late). In fact, offering tutorial periods during the school day could be a really big plus for students who struggle in some subjects.

Anonymous said...

The information you touch on goes back to the critical missing link in the DCSS 4x4 block model: teacher training. There is a significant continuum of teacher talent at work at DHS. There are teachers who show videos, leave the classroom for extended periods of time for who-knows-what, and give students daily "study halls." Then there are teachers who use up every single moment of the class for thoughtful instruction, student discussion, collaborative student team work, and meaningful projects. The latter are few; the former are prevalent in the general ed levels. Until DCSS actually invests in quality teachers and supporting them with solid resources, the 4x4 block is a failure.

Anonymous said...

George Cassutto wrote

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.

Mr. Cassutto sounds like he is a fabulous teacher -- a teacher's teacher so to speak. At many DCSS schools, most teacher's haven't successfully transitioned to the block. The surveys that the school system use to conduct on the Block routinely showed that teachers weren't teaching this way.

For example, the survey conducted a couple of years ago showed that a bit more than 70 percent of students strongly agreed or agreed that "teachers at my school could use some training in different ways to teach students during the 90 minute class period." 78 percent of teachers agreed with the same statement.

If training could help, it should have been done early and consistently. But that is the way we generally do thinks in DCSS -- half way.

This survey data is several years old but I can tell you, at least I my children's high school, this issue still exists.

For the past week, as I further pondered the issue of block scheduling, I searched out parents of last year's high school seniors. Regardless of where their children are enrolled, from third tier public colleges to Ivy League schools, without fail, they report two things. One, college is a lot more work than last year and two, other students seem more prepared for the workload.

Anonymous said...

The block schedule uses a great deal of extra money and if you look at the test results in the county the school who perform best are the schools on a 7 period day.

The data tells the story. If your best performing schools are the ones who are not on the block schedule it is something to look at.

Cerebration said...

What was the reasoning behind starting out Arabia on the 7 period day? Anyone know? I would think that with their "academies" they might need the block for the extra courses... But they chose the 7 period day, as far as I know.

Anonymous said...

DeKalb won't look at what others do. They could learn so much from seeing what works and doesn't work in the area of RTI, math instruction,Esis, scheduling, building maintenance, etc, but it is not DeKalb's way. The same goes for training people. They don't do it well. Doing these things would make sense and would make the school district better. It doesn't appear to me that the powers that be in DeKalb want the school district to be better, as the decisions that have been made and continue to be made don't make sense to me.

The schools up North use a modified block schedule, as they learned the 4 block schedule did not work with all classes.

Anonymous said...

And let's not forget that the quality of the fine arts gets lost in the 4 x 4 block. I am one of those people who believe that we under-educate our kids because they don't all have access to the fine arts. They aren't culturally literate.
In a 4 x 4 block, performing arts programs are lost, because students can't afford the credits to take band, chorus, orchestra, etc. for 2 semesters.
But I've been trying for a while to talk people into a modified block, or pairing of classes that can and should take place year round. World languages, for instance, would be more effective if taken the entire year and paired with one of the performing arts classes. Each could be 45-50 minutes.
But we have limited creativity and problem solving skills in the Central office of DeKalb County....

Anonymous said...

I have a high schooler in an Atlanta area private school that uses a modified block schedule. They are on a rotating 7 period day for 3 days a week. Meaning periods 1-7 on Monday, periods 2-1on Tuesday and periods 3-2 on Fridays. On Wednesdays they go to 4periods and on Thursdays they go to 3 periods using the open period time as 1st period for make-up testing, clubs, etc.

Dekalbparent said...

1) Cere - My kid has hsd classes with 37 students. My kid was in three classes that were designated Gifted, but they had 32 students, so they changed the name to Accelerated.

I have heard that this switch was done at other schools too.

2) Modified block is what I have seen at the private schools (where my kids attended or had friends who attended). In my estimation, it's the best way to go.

Anonymous said...

AMAZING!! Last week one of the teachers at our school who goes in and out all day to her trailer observed the following....a county employee from the service center sat in his truck all day in our school parking lot. He had a book in front of his face to look as though he was reading a book. He was probably trying to hide his face!

Cerebration said...

Oh boy. Those last two comments are kind of depressing.

fedupindcss said...

I think I posted this before, but DCSS will not go to a modified or rolling block because of outside programs, like STT and joint enrollment. They claim they can't schedule it properly.

The nice thing about a rolling block is that you have different classes at different times every day, so for instance you don't always have math at the end of the day. My old high school uses this and (surprise) 95% of the kids go to college. DCSS goes to great lengths to make high school as much of a grind as possible, then wonders why kids drop out.

themommy said...


Arabia Mountain has a modified schedule. Here it is

I suppose since it is a choice program that perhaps those students aren't eligible for STT and other programs. Do Lakeside students get to participate in STT?

Anonymous said...

I just reviewed the questions on the DCSS website. They are incredibly biased TOWARDS the block schedule. Any first year social science major will tell you that this is an incredibly biased survey!

More important, the survey is set up so only students and parents on the block can take it. If your child goes to Arabia, Chamblee or Lakeside, you can't take the survey. This should be an unbiased survey, or a survey of non-block schedule schools should also be taken.

Great work DeKalb County.

fedupindcss said...

Mommy--as far as I know any 9th grader in DCSS can sign up for the STT lottery, Lakeside included. A bus picks them up at their school first thing and deposits them back several hours later. Arabia Mt. students are probably told they can't participate if they go there, and if they have this wonderful environmental curriculum, presumably they don't need to.

Why do we think those surveys even count? DCSS does them to keep people in central office busy so they won't otherwise do harm by actually setting educational policy.

Anonymous said...

The powers that be in Dekalb are too arrogant to look at other school systems. I wonder if they even look at the news.

Dekalb is committing some of the same mistakes Clayton did. You would think Dekalb would have started to clean its act up while all the focus was on Clayton.

Block scheduling is important, but Dekalb has bigger soon to be apparent problem that need focus.

Parents need to be focused on the things that are going to affect all of our kids on the north and the south side of town.

Minority and majority, white, black and latino will suffer.

Anonymous said...

Do not be deceived by slick talking teachers who speak "educationese", tossing out phrasess like multiple intelligences and cooperative learning as they extol the virtues of block scheduling! Trained or not, most teachers can't make the block work. Some just like it because it gives them a tiny class load and an easier day. Schools aren't there for the teachers- they exist for the needs of the kids. I've taught 4x4 and A/B blocks, and never felt I was able to effectively cover as much material as I did with a traditional schedule. It's not just teacher training- math, foreign languages, and just about everything else requires daily, year long practice to maintain continuity and appropriate instruction. Block sessions are great for labs, PE, and Art, but everything else suffers.

There's a reason why Lakeside and Chamblee rejected the block. Their teachers recognized that to properly prepare kids for college they need to develop decent work habits in high school. The 4x4 block doesn't do that. Kids often have two "real" classes- say Math and Science, and two electives in a semester. That's hardly preparation for college.

The 7 period day is not perfect, but given the varied needs of the students in DeKalb, it remains the best option. Students can still fit in things like Fernbank STT, Driver's Ed, joint enrollment and work/study. Various rolling schedules and modified blocks really are scheduling nightmares.

If a school has a homogeneous group of kids they can design the perfect schedule for their population, but our heterogeneous public schools have to figure out a way to serve everyone. Go with the 7 period day. Kids will sweat a bit, but it builds character.

Cerebration said...

Block, 4x4, rolling, modified, 7 period - these are all great things to ponder, but community and placing value and respect on students, along with supporting high expectations is what makes the difference. I watched an interview with a math teacher from Chamblee with many years of experience teaching high level math - she really valued her students and held them to a high standard.

I'm pretty impressed with Joe Reed at Lakeside too. He seems to be a solid disciplinarian, but he also shows support, love and respect for his students.

Check out his great example of leadership - from the LHS PTA email news -- I think this is great!

Are You Smarter Than....Mr. Reed?
Mr. Reed is taking the SAT on December 5th!! He plans to host a dinner in the spring at a local restaurant for every student who outscores him on the total score or any of the three sections of this December's SAT!

Students, here's your chance to beat the principal! Study hard!

Good luck to all students and to Mr. Reed!

Stay tuned for test results!

Anonymous said...

"I just reviewed the questions on the DCSS website. They are incredibly biased TOWARDS the block schedule. Any first year social science major will tell you that this is an incredibly biased survey!

More important, the survey is set up so only students and parents on the block can take it. If your child goes to Arabia, Chamblee or Lakeside, you can't take the survey. This should be an unbiased survey, or a survey of non-block schedule schools should also be taken."

Why should schools not on the block take the survey? Years ago under Dr. Brown the school board mandated that any school that wanted to use the block would have a survey and a faculty vote before January. They also required that high schools using the block repeat the survey and the vote each year. At that time some schools chose not to have the block. They were already high performing schools (and they would be high performing no matter what schedule they used).
Thus the survey is not intended for the schools that have already decided against a block schedule. Moreover, the block decision is a school by school decision (at the present). The total votes do not matter in that if one isolated school wants a different schedule there is a mechanism to get it. Just as the system let Chamblee and Lakeside avoid the block, they would allow another school to choose the block.

All this choice can be a little cumbersome and choice does involve forgoing STT if your go to Chamblee or Arabia Mt. The STT lottery is not a lottery in that all middle school students may apply in the 8th grade (usually in February) and gain admission on a competitive application. See
Most STT students make a high pass on the end of course tests. But I digress.

Teachers not only vote on the block, they take the survey before the vote. Actually the present administration has implied that they would like to move to scrap the block and go to a more traditional schedule. More than one PhD Social scientist who has seen the survey says it is ok-the 5 point Likert scale gives every respondent the chance to disagree or strongly disagree to statements like teachers need more training to make the block work; we do homework in class; etc.

Lakeside staff and parents seem happy with their schedule so why ask students, parents, and teachers to waste their time taking a survey to determine what every body already knows?

Anonymous said...

Two small points about STT: It is a magnet program, so students already in a magnet program (Chamblee or Arabia) are not eligible. Also, it is interesting to hear it described using the word "lottery." Technically the selection process was not a lottery (at least it wasn't in 2008, when my family was involved) but it is designed to be even more rigid than the 4th grade Kittredge lottery in terms of school quotas

Each high school is assigned a number of slots based on population. It's up to each middle school to choose enough rising 9th graders to fill its allocation. The selection process is supposedly based on grades, teacher recommendations, and an essay, but at middle schools where a high number of qualified and motivated students apply, the selection process feels random and subjective. If you are one of 50 A students applying for 13 slots (remember this is middle school, where A's are easier to come by than in high school), your chances depend on whether the school counselor happens to like your essay. On the other hand, if a school has more slots than motivated applicants, they will end up sending kids who don't really want to do the work.

Anonymous said...

So, does anyone know how a certain small private school was able to get almost all of their 8th grade applicants a slot in the STT program?

Anon@1:03 said...

I would like to know that also. It was said very clearly at the 2008 STT open house night that the middle school chooses students for the quota of spaces allocated to the high school. I also heard our middle school's staff say that included in the quota are students transferring from private middle schools located in the high school's district. I don't see how it is possible to conduct a selection between public and private students in any kind of reasonable way, not that the rest of the process seems fair, either.

Anonymous said...

What the heck is STT? (Acronyms can also be a "block")

Anon@1:03 said...

STT = Scientific Tools and Techniques. It is a special 1-semester hands-on science program for 9th graders at Fernbank Science Center. Students ride a bus in the morning to Fernbank, then at the end of the morning are bussed to their home school for their afternoon classes. Students study the required 9th grade biology course and also earn an earth science credit. They have very qualified Fernbank teachers and get to use the equipment and resources at the Fernbank Science center. See

By the way, I don't see why STT makes a modified block schedule impossible. The program manages to accommodate students who are on the block schedule as well as those on a 7-period day at Lakeside.

Dekalbparent said...

Re the STT selection process - it is not always impartial, as Anon 1:03 says. Sometimes, it's the kids whose parents spoke up most at middle school PTSA meetings, or who schmoozed the counselors/principal more.

Paula Caldarella said...

SST - in otherwords another program that benefits very few and should be looked to as something that could/should be discontinued.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dunwoody Mom, just because a program affects only a small number of kids doesn't mean it should be eliminated. Using that logic, advanced calculus and special programs for the handicapped would get the ax too.

STT is a great opportunity for those students who are willing to sacrifice a lot of personal time during their freshman year for a great opportunity. The only thing wrong with STT is that only a handful of kids get to take advantage of it.

I think this post is losing its focus. This issue here is the need to get schools off of the 4x4 block, not to debate the STT program. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Anonymous said...

Careful Dunwoody Mom. Your blinded by color is starting to show. I have noticed your blogs always have issues with programs that service minority students migrated or migrating to Dunwoody.

Diversity is the best preparation for college and life.

Anonymous said...

Go Mr Reid!! I like the whole concept. Others should dare to follow your lead!

Not only does it challege the students it builds good community relations.

I wish my principal was like that.

Cerebration said...

I gotta get DM's back here. First, the STT is nothing like AP Calc or special ed programs. Those are offered within the regular school and much of Special Ed is paid for with federal dollars. STT is a very special program that uses a lot of resources for just a few students. There is really no sacrifice - it's fun! In fact, these kids get to do hands-on science instead of sitting through Biology! It's a great program, but she's correct - the transportation costs in order to serve a lucky few, are unjustifiable, IMO.

But even more absurd is the claim that there is a hint of racism in her comments. You are kidding that she is against STT because it brings minorities to Dunwoody, right? Are you aware of where Fernbank Science Center is located? Next to Fernbank ES - off Ponce - on the edge of Decatur. Nowhere near Dunwoody.

BTW - Dunwoody HS is very diverse. As is Lakeside, Chamblee and Druid Hills. In fact, those are about the only diverse high schools left in DCSS.

Paula Caldarella said...

LOL at anonymous 6:49. You know not of what you speak. Anyone who has been on this blog for a while knows that I am very hard on Dunwoody parents as far as the "diversity" issues in their schools. My children attended the most diverse elementary school in Dunwoody. And what does SST have to do with minorities anyway? Anyway who knows anything about the SST selection process knows it's about who you know and not what you know that gets you into that program.

btw, an almost 2 hour meeting at DHS with regards to the block schedule and other options.

Anonymous said...

I missed the DHS meeting tonight....can you give a quick recap?

Dekalbparent said...

I posted this on another thread, but as long as we are discussing STT:

STT is a good program - although it serves only a fraction of the students who could benefit from it (specifically 180 per year) - but again we come to transportation costs.

As I mentioned a while ago, there are 20 (twenty) buses lined up in front of the Science Center every day at 11:00 to take the kids back to their schools.

Presumably, there are also a number of buses transporting the kids TO Fernbank in the morning. Several of the buses have three kids on them.

STT serves all DCSS high schools, so some of those buses travel quite a few miles. The kids have to be back for lunch and afternoon classes, so you can't run a single bus to several high schools, or some of the kids would be late.

Can there be some sort of transportation fee required to participate (like the field trip costs), or is that not OK because this is a program theoretically open to all DCSS 9th graders? SEMAA is open to all DCSS kids, and parents have to furnish transportation - there never seemed to be a shortfall of kids at SEMAA.

I just really wonder about how much money is spent for this fairly small program.

Anonymous said...

My final STT comment- the selection process, while it may suffer from some of the usual cornyism and bias that afflict any selection process, seems largely to be based on merit. At least that is what I observed for my daughter and the rest of her group that attended. None of them were "connected", and all graduated at the top of their class.

This is a great county resource and should be upheld as something that DeKalb does right. Travel costs should be examined, but don't throw out one of DeKalb's worthy programs.

So what's the future of the block? There's something worthy of the chopping block.

Paula Caldarella said...

I understood Ms. Stepney to say last night that schools are required to have 330 minutes of instruction per day. Each DCSS school has the flexibility to discern how best to handle those 330 hours, 7 period, 4x4, A/B, "skinny" (spelling?) classes, etc. In fact there is a meeting with DCSS principals today to go over all of this with them.

At DHS last night, most of the parent discussion with regards to the 4x4 block is the lack of Math all-year round and the ability, or lack thereof, of music and fine arts. I did not get the feeling that the Traditional 7-period schedule was on the table, but some sort of "compromise", as Ms. Stepney indicated.

I know there were a couple of people who post on this blog that also attended, so they can provide feedback as well.

I also learned that when DHS went to the block schedule in 2004, the school did want to go to the A/B block schedule, but was told by DCSS this was not an option - either the 4x4 or 7-period schedule.

Momfirst said...

It seemed that they did want to listen to the "stakeholders" last night. I do appreciate what Dr. Harris is trying to do I just wish he didn't enjoy hearing himself talk so much. And, if I go to one more meeting where we have to have applause for every stinking "board member or upper level (overpaid) DCSS employee" I may throw up. I don't get applause for doing my job :0. Overall good meeting - hopefully they can come up w/ a modified block that could take advantage of both. Shorter periods or quarters for electives like PE, etc were brought up - good idea - does my son really need 90 minutes of PE every day when he goes directly from PE to his sport workout?
Another point that was not brought up is that seniors who may not qualify for joint enrollment are stuck taking home ec or some other silly elective because they have to be there.... even though they have enough credits to graduate. My senior year I went 1/2 day and then went to a job for work experience...wouldn't a senior be better served with something like that then 90 minutes of Home Ec a day?

Paula Caldarella said...

Yes, Momfirst, I loved that idea of electives have shorter hours with more instruction time - maybe not 90 minutes, but more along the 60 timeframe for the core subjects. The school council meets tonight to go over all of the feedback from last night. I think they heard a lot of good ideas from parents and it seemed Ms. Stepney was quite open to those ideas.

Cerebration said...

The block (or a modified version) can provide a lot of exposure to career choices, but it also requires more teachers, many with interesting specialities, and a very creative AP and master schedule. It seems that now, we are asking teachers "what else can you teach?" instead of asking our students, "what would you like to learn?" or asking employers, "what skills do we need to provide training in?"

So if we're going to offer so many extra credits (32 credits in total) - let's make sure these classes are worthy of a life skill. No "fill-ins". And beef up the art, music and technology offerings - students who choose to should leave high school with a really great portfolio. I'm not seeing much of that.

Actually, we as parents, don't get to see much of the big picture at all. Why can't our high schools publish a course catalog online - with in-depth descriptions - of what is offered at their school? If colleges can do this, certainly high schools can.

Dunwoody publishes the course syllabus under each teacher's name, which is a cumbersome way to peruse your choices, but at least it's accessible. A course catalog would help students with long-range planning and courses with a connection and purpose, rather than the current method of "fill in the blank with an elective". That has been my experience with counselors.

Momfirst said...

Completely agree cere. We're trying to figure out what to fill my son's day w/ for his junior year. For him, it's just a shot in the dark - FILLER as you say - for sure. The technology would be better if you knew what teacher you might have. He had computing as a freshman and the teacher taught for 20 minutes maybe and then they were told to work on their own.... Hello, give my kid the internet and 70 minutes - he's going to go surfing! Would love for him to really learn web design but it should not be a independent learning environment.

Paula Caldarella said...

The "Zero Period" concept was interesting - I have not heard of that before. Basically, the Band/Orchestra teachers have suggested that students can attend music class from 7:15 to 8:10 each morning and obtain a 1/2 a credit. So far, they have had about 42 students indicate interest. I did not hear if this had been approved or not, though.

Anonymous said...

Is it not possible (on the block) to take band/orchestra during the school day? My daughter currently plays in the orchestra in middle school, but I'm positive that she will not be interested in getting to school at 7:15 for a class.

Paula Caldarella said...

Band and orchestra are offered as electives. The problem occurs when your child has to choose between taking AP courses, and other honors classes as electives. With a 4x4, there are not enough "slots" to take care of all that.

The "zero period" was an idea to allow those students to take band/orchestra who would normally, because of their class selections, not be able to - or at least that was my understanding.

Momfirst said...

Anon - I don't completely understand because my son no longer does band - but it's my understanding that they would have to give up either AP classes and/or other electives consistently to keep band/orchestra.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to make a quick comment on STT. It is an absolutely fantastic program and like a previous poster said, one thing that DCSS does right. As far as transportation goes, right now they pick up each child at their street and take them to Fernbank and then back to their high school. If they had one hub stop at each high school, they could save a lot of money. The route the bus driver takes is absolutely ridiculous. I've tried to approach both the driver and transportation to suggest a much, much quicker route through the neighborhood, but was basically ignored. Many parents I've talked to would be willing to drive their kids to the high school in the morning to be picked up.

Cerebration said...

Here's a link to a good example of a course description catalog from my hometown- I wish we had documents like this in our high schools -

Check out the section about Penta County - their tech school (like HSTN - but sooooo much better). Here's a link to the school - (there's a waiting list!)

Penta Career Center


Since 1965, Penta Career Center has provided career-technical training programs for high school students in our member school
communities. Penta offers a focused, career-oriented education for students who wish to achieve success in a chosen career, in college, in
the military, or wherever their paths may lead. In addition, students will learn what is expected in the world of work. Students benefit from
hands-on training in programs grouped under six career clusters: Arts & Communications; Business, Management & Information Technology; Environmental & Agricultural Systems; Health Services; Human Services; and Industrial & Engineering Systems.

Academics at Penta
Penta Career Center prepares students for careers and post-secondary education by offering challenging academic courses in an 85-minute
block format. The courses are aligned with Ohio’s K-12 academic content standards. Through their academic courses, students participate
in a variety of project-based learning experiences. Some of the academic courses offered include: English; American History; Government; World Issues; Earth Science; Anatomy & Physiology I & II; Environmental Science; Physics; Chemistry; Algebra I, II & III; Geometry; Pre-Calculus; and Ohio Graduation Test readiness classes.

High Schools That Work & North Central Association
Penta Career Center utilizes High Schools That Work (HSTW) as a model for school improvement. The HSTW initiative promotes a curriculum that emphasizes rigorous career-technical training along with relevant academic studies. A close working relationship between the career and academic studies creates an environment that motivates students to succeed.

College Tech Prep
Penta offers a growing number of College Tech Prep programs designed to meet current and emerging labor market needs by preparing
students for “high tech” occupations of today and tomorrow. These offerings integrate high academic expectations with challenging career- technical programming and provide post-secondary linkages with related majors at two and four-year colleges. Some of these programs enable students to earn college credit while still in high school.

Sophomore Exploratory Program
The Sophomore Exploratory Program is designed for students who are interested in investigating career-technical fields on Penta’s campus.
In this year-long program, sophomores will explore two career clusters, earn academic credits, and receive small group and one-on-one
career and life skills counseling. At the conclusion of the program, students will have the tools and knowledge to make informed choices
regarding their future educational, career and life plans. For more information, see your high school counselor.


Actually - Arabia offers a very nice example of a course description catalog!

Arabia Course Catalog

Anonymous said...

Stepney referred to "skinnies," a modified A/B block within a 4x4 block, as a viable alternative to the DHS schedule. My son experienced that experiment last year, when he took AP World History on alternate days with World Literature. (The teachers found out the Friday before school started that they would have to amend their lesson plans.) This experiment was terrific for super-achiever students and a disaster for our son. Basically, students have half the number of teacher contact days, double the amount of homework. The reading alone was overwhelming. I am not thrilled about this kind of scheduling (alternating math and science in the same period) because it really does not do what our students are missing: provide daily, continuous instruction in core academics.

Anonymous said...

One of the more interesting aspects of the DHS schedule meeting was the contrast between Stepney (former DHS principal) and Harris (current DHS principal). She was articulate, knowledgeable, willing to admit there are flaws in the 4x4 block, and open to letting parents share concerns.

Harris was in full defensive mode, directing parents not to share their concerns with anyone but him ("Dr. Harris is the principal, not Mr. Redovian, not Mr. Mosely." - he often refers to himself in the 3rd person.) And I agree with the earlier poster - he talks and talks and talks, but there's little clarity.

I learned more from Stepney than I have in the past year + with Dr. Harris.

Anonymous said...

There are course descriptions in the High School Planning Guide on the DCSS website
(it's linked from the DCSS "DeKalb High School Services" page, if your browser doesn't show these long links well)

I find the most useful thing is for students to talk with older peers. Our two high schools also held AP open house nights last year. It was a terrific opportunity to get the scoop on courses by talking with teachers. High schools should publicize these nights better, and they should be careful to hold them before students have to turn in their course selections.

Momfirst said...

Anon 151 - Agreed - glad Stepney handled the bulk of the meeting. My son was not there under her so didn't have a feeling but obviously she's a good egg!

Cerebration said...

An aside -- we've discussed "differentiated teaching" here before - and I wanted to share an email I received that has a pretty good definition -- see what you think.

Dionne Upton brought a bag of trash to class and turned it into gold.

Introducing the concept of inference to her 3rd graders at East Brainerd Elementary School, one item at a time Upton produced an Ace bandage, a Lean Cuisine box, a Carnival cruise billet and various other receipts and magazines to help her class speculate about the nature of the trash's owners. She encouraged students to discuss each item with a partner, then called on various pairs to give their conclusions - based on their background knowledge and the evidence produced.

Hands were flying the whole time we were in her classroom, with students so eager to participate that they could hardly sit still - a sure sign of an engaged class. But Upton doesn't just call on the ones who know the answer. She keeps track of who is responding and who's not, and makes sure she calls on every student, gently coaxing him or her to think about the question at hand. This technique, called "differentiated instruction," is one trait of an excellent teacher. Differentiated instruction is hard. Instead of writing a lesson that targets the middle, a teacher tailors her lesson to an appropriate level for each child. Questions are simplified or re-worded for children who are struggling to understand, and children who grasp the concept quickly are encouraged to think farther on a more challenging level. Upton does this smoothly and constantly as she moves through her lesson.

That is one reason that Dionne Upton is the lead literacy teacher at East Brainerd. As a lead teacher (also known as a model classroom teacher), Upton teaches a class of children during the morning, then spends the rest of the day supporting and offering advice to other teachers in her building. The lead math teacher at East Brainerd, Lori DeCordova, does the same thing on a reverse schedule. It's a powerful system for spreading excellence to every classroom.

We had a great time in Dionne Upton's class. Join us for a sneak peak at

Anonymous said...

Has anyone heard that high school counselors are now required to use a script during their advising sessions?

Can anyone confirm this?

I have heard that they have a checklist to go down and they can not vary from the "script" regardless of the student's needs.

This sounds like a way to justify some central office person's job.