Block Scheduling School
If you haven’t had to deal with block scheduling, there’s a good chance you will. As of 1996, more than 50 percent of American secondary schools had changed or were considering changing from traditional scheduling to block schedules (Silver, Strong, Merenbloom & Moirao, 1996, p. 7).
As the improvement of test scores becomes more important, school districts are looking at various approaches to accomplish this goal. One such way is to switch to block scheduling. In our paper, we will explore the history, the types, the methods of implementing, and the pros and cons of block scheduling.
The problem of how to best structure instructional time in secondary schools has been an ongoing topic of discussion (Canady & Rettig, 1995; Kruse & Kruse, 1995). In a traditionally scheduled school day, abbreviated time allotments often interrupt the teaching and learning process.
There is the belief that the problems within the public school setting are most likely to be problems with the structure of the organization than with the people who are working (teachers) (Goodman, 1995). Changing the school schedule may not add time to the day, but the quality of time can be greatly improved on. The schedule is a valuable yet untapped resource for school improvement (Canady & Rettig, 1993).
In recent years, time-on-task has come under an increasing amount of scrutiny in debate over time utilization. Topics ranging from year-round schools to lengthening the school day to restructuring the school day have surfaced with greater frequency in almost every city and school district across the country.
Amazingly, the amount of time that is spent in school has changed very little over the past 50 years given the increased amount of responsibility being placed on the schools due to requirements of present day society (Canady & Rettig, 1993). Just as amazing is the similarity of the current school day when compared to the school day 50 years ago (Canady & Rettig, 1993). Increased responsibilities placed on schools and the notion of time as one the final, unexplored frontiers in the school reform movement have brought about a call for restructuring the school day to better meet the needs of today’s youth.
Increasingly, schools are being deemed successful or unsuccessful based on the test scores of their pupils. These test scores typically represent some form of the student’s knowledge in math, social studies, science, and language arts. Using these scores in comparison to other schools and predetermined standards (set at the local, state or national level) in combination with the percentage of students who graduate, attendance records and average grade point average, schools are judged as to how well they are meeting the needs of their students.
A variety of reform initiatives have been instituted over the past 20 years because of these test scores. New strategies in education or desired goals that are adopted by schools abound (Donahoe, 1993). These include school-based management, shared decision making, schools-within-school, integrated curriculum, and authentic assessment, to name a few.
All have been touted as restructuring that part of the educational system that will produce the greatest amount of change in student achievement. When these have been implemented, there has been little is any difference made in the manner in which schools functions. “What has been missing is an adequate consideration of the crucial relationship in schools between structure, time, and culture” (Donahoe, 1993, p. 298). The restructuring of the school day is an idea that has become a reality in secondary schools across the country. What is the traditional schedule as opposed to a restructured schedule?
The Traditional Schedule
The current schedule is the result of the linear view of time and learning, shaped by the Carnegie Standard, which equates subject mastery to students seat-time (Kruse & Kruse, 1995). Sometimes referred to as the ‘traditional block’ (Kruse & Kruse, 1995), a traditionally scheduled school, the day is typically divided into seven periods. The seven periods meet an equal amount of time-typically 45 to 55 minutes. Teachers teach six periods and have one period for preparation/planning each day throughout the school year.
Teachers are typically responsible for 120 to 160 students throughout the entire year. Students usually take seven classes, each meeting on a daily basis. Typically, this will mean that each student will see seven different teachers in a formal classroom setting on each day. Between each period, students must move from one class to another in similar fashion to an assembly line - adjusting to a new set of controls, disconnected content, different class rules and expectations and limited opportunities to develop higher level thinking skills and problem solving skills (Buckman, King, & Ryan, 1995).
The school climate under the traditional schedule is characterized as hectic, fast paced, face paced - meaning somewhat impersonal. This leads to what is thought to be a greater sense of frustration on the part of the students and teachers, an increased likelihood of disciplinary incidents (due both to the frequency of class changes), and a greater possibility of students feeling alienated do to the lack of personal relationship development (Mistretta, 1997; O’Neil, 1995; Shortt & Thayer, 1999).
Since the industrial revolution, the traditional school schedule has been modeled after the factory. The day has moved along like a steady assembly line. This, despite research that indicates that the length of the class period and the credit received for minutes of attendance have little correlation with what a student learns during an academic grading period (e.g. Canady & Rettig, 1993; Carroll, 1990; Huff, 1995; Moskowitz, 1995).
Today’s master schedule, controls characteristics of the school day such as use of space, grouping of students and the role of staff members in the learning process (Kruse & Kruse, 1995). The inadequacies of the current structure have been recognized by U.S high school principals since the early 1990’s. In recognizing the need for change, school leaders have been searching for a better use of time. In this search, block scheduling has been found and is being redefined to meet today’s needs (Shortt & Thayer, 1997).
Restructuring the school day is an effort to overcome the traditional schedule’s shortcomings is often referred to as ‘block scheduling’. Block scheduling essentially implies a restructuring of the school day to allow for fewer periods during the course of a day. Each of these periods will be substantially longer than in the traditional schedule (e.g. Carroll, 1990; Huff, 1995; Shortt & Thayer, 1997; Wilson, 1995). Some schools have chosen a schedule to allow for increased graduation requirements; others have chosen it as a way to change teaching methods so as to increase student learning.
The idea behind this type of scheduling is to address curriculum fragmentation and to allow for the boundaries between curricular areas to become blurred - nonlinear (Fullen, 1999). Complexity theory claims that the link between cause and effect is difficult to trace. All change unfolds in nonlinear ways with paradoxes and contradictions abounding. Creative solutions arise out of interaction of conditions of uncertainty, diversity, and instability. While complexity theory is about learning and adapting under unstable and uncertain conditions, evolutionary theory of relationships raises the questions of how humans evolve over time, especially in relation to interaction and cooperative behavior (Fullen, 1999).
The types of block scheduling being used throughout the country are numerous. To address each of the numerous variations is beyond the scope of this review. The schedules being presented here were selected based on two criterions. One, because of the particular schedule’s wide spread use in high schools currently utilizing a block schedule. Second, because the particular schedule represents a marked departure from past practice which research has shown is necessary for lasting change to take place (e.g. Carroll, 1990; Fullan, 1999; Goodman, 1995). Any of the schedules presented here meet one or both of these criteria.
The Copernican Plan
Developed by Joseph Carroll (1990), nearly all of the basic systems within a high school would be restructured under the Copernican Plan. The fundamental change is the change in scheduling which will allow teachers to concentrate on the learning of individual students, which is the key to better instruction and improved student performance. The basic assumption with the Copernican Plan is that many practices identified with more effective instruction will be implemented if the schedule for student and teachers is restructured.
There are two alternatives that are proposed by the Copernican Plan. First, students would enroll in only one four hour class each day for 30 days (for a total of six the entire year). In the second alternative the student would enroll in two two-hour classes lasting for 60 days. A school could offer a combination of both. In both of the Copernican models would have the student spend the afternoons in seminars that help students integrate knowledge across traditional discipline lines.
Along with the change in the daily schedule, the Copernican plan encourages changes in other fundamental ways (Carroll, 1990):
- Mastery-based credits versus letter grades - The current grading system does not account for all levels of positive achievement and is a major contributor to non-promotion. A substitute for the traditional A-F system is proposed that will award mastery credits instead of letter grades. “Evidence indicates that students should master about 25% more information under a mastery system” (p.363).
- Mastery of course objectives - Teachers certify mastery. Basic objectives of current courses are not changed. Objectives for each course must be clearly identified and divided into roughly 10 equal parts. Credits are then awarded as follows: mastery of less than 100% of the work results in the appropriate number of mastery credits; I-credits for the interest/issues seminars are awarded for attendance, participation and attitude; phys. ed., health, band, chorus are offered opposite seminar time. They would operate on the mastery credit plan. Half-credit courses - Courses that meet for a semester in the traditional schedule can be scheduled in a variety of ways and given a value of 5 mastery credits as opposed to 10. “There is considerable flexibility in a macro-scheduled school year” (p.364).
- Differentiated diplomas - Five diplomas are proposed - Academic Honors; Academic; Occupational Honors; Standard; and Completion Diplomas. Each student’s transcript identifies the diploma awarded and diplomas available. ‘I’ credit and mastery of academic material requirements (mastery credits) is different for each of the diplomas offered.
The 4X4 Block
Schools currently using a seven period day can easily convert to the 4X4 without necessarily requiring an increase in staff, class size or facilities. Though to maintain class size however, it is typically necessary to increase the staff size by about 10% (Canady & Rettig, 1993). The 4X4 schedule breaks the school year into two semesters.
The school day is comprised of four blocks each lasting 90 minutes. By essentially doubling the duration of each class period, students complete the equivalent of a traditional 180-day course in 90 days. Therefore, under the 4X4 plan, a student would take four classes the first semester (90 days) and a new set of four classes the second semester (90 days) (Wilson, 1995).
For teachers, this schedule has them preparing for three classes each semester as opposed to six, providing instruction for 75 to 90 students as opposed to 120 to 160 students, and 25% of each day to planning and preparation. For students, this approach offers a simpler and more practical approach (Canady & Rettig, 1993; Queen & Gaskey, 1997). By the end of a student’s four-year high school career, there are a total of 32 credits that could be earned under this plan as compared to 28 credits under the traditional plan.
With greater opportunities to take courses, a student who fails a required course will be able to make it up and remain on track for his/her scheduled graduation (Edward, 1995). Students also have only three classes to study and prepare for on a daily basis thus providing for a greater amount of focus. With the extended daily class time, teachers and students have the opportunity to explore the subject material in greater depth thus students develop a greater understanding of the subject matter.
Alternating Day Schedule
Also referred to as the flexible block schedule and eight-block schedule, the daily class arrangement is similar to that of the 4X4-block schedule (Huff, 1995; Queen & Gaskey, 1997). Classes (typically) meet for 90 minutes, students attend four classes per day, and teachers teach three classes per day with one block of time used as a planning/preparation period. The difference lies in that classes meet on an alternating day basis, generally for the entire year.
While providing for increased daily class time, this schedule allows schools to maintain the course offerings used under the traditional format without completely restructuring them while simultaneously allowing for extended blocks of time on a daily basis for in-depth investigation of subject material.
The 75-75-30 Plan
Canady and Rettig (1993) put forth a plan where the fall and winter term is made up of 75 days each and a spring term consisting of 30 days. The 75-75-30 plan divides the school year into three blocks of time. During the 75-day terms, the school day is divided up into three 112-minute classes, one 48-minute yearlong class, 24-minute lunch, and 12 minutes for passing times.
During the fall and winter terms, students are enrolled in two academic classes and physical education or an elective. The 30-day spring term offers student the chance to study one or two subjects intensively. Community service projects, accelerated studies and repeating a failed course are just some of the possibilities during the spring term.
Boarman and Kirkpatrick (1995) implemented a hybrid plan utilizing parts of the 4x4 block (Wilson, 1995) and the traditional schedule. The plan placed students into double mod periods in English, mathematics, science and social studies - taking two one semester and two the next semester. The remainder of the day was under the conventional schedule. In this way, the needs of specific classes can be met without forcing all classes to fit into the same mold (Boarman & Kirkpatrick, 1995).
Kruse and Zuloski (1997) reacting to the controlling elements of the graduation credits and using the Copernican model as a backdrop implemented the flexible block model. The flexible block provides time for interdisciplinary teams of teachers in math, English, social studies, science and special education to share a common set of students and a common daily team-planning period. Each team ‘owns’ a large block of time during the school day to use as it sees fit in delivering the core subject material. This allowed the team of educators to tailor the large block of time as the needs of the students dictated.
With the common planning time, the teams could discuss student learning issues and curricular issues. Students with the team could be grouped and regrouped as the needs of the students dictated. “Integrating concepts from across the traditional disciplines would allow teams to embed facts and skills into interdisciplinary units … thereby inserting more relevance and meaning in the curriculum” (Kruse & Zuloski, 1997, p. 19).
In the typical secondary school, teachers are typically assigned a group of students whom they are responsible for during the school year. The following school year, students are assigned a new teacher. Typical of every new school year, there is a varying period of adjustment for student and teacher alike as they get to know one another.
Academically, there is a significant amount of time spent by the teacher in determining what was taught, not taught, and/or not retained from the year before. Looping (Burke, 1997) addresses these issues in the traditional schedule - looping groups a set of students with a team of teachers. This group remains together for multiple years. Teachers are given control of a block of time each day that they may utilize, as their students' needs dictate.
Implementing the Block Schedule
If your school district is considering switching to one of the forms of block scheduling, careful steps should be taken. J. Allen Queen and Kimberly G. Isenhour (1998), in their book The 4x4 Block Schedule, recommend a seven-step implementation plan. The stages include the faculty, instruction, transitions, community, students, teacher inservice, and pitfalls and promises.
In the first stage, The Faculty, Queen and Isenhour state that the first step in switching from a traditional schedule to a block schedule is motivating the faculty. They suggest starting by “taking a poll or informal survey during a faculty meeting” (Queen and Isenhour, 1998, p.31). Additional discussion should also be held to address any preconceived impressions of block scheduling.
The next step of the first stage is to choose a committee of supportive teachers to present the information to the faculty. However, Queen and Isenhour state it is important for the administration to point out the supportive reasons for switching and get behind the idea. The final step in stage one is to get teacher acceptance of the move.
The authors believe that by having a team of teachers push the plan, resistant teachers will be more likely to accept it. “Many times, allaying fears that teachers have about their feelings of insecurity or about making a fast move can be accomplished by reassuring teachers that the change process will occur in a slow and orderly fashion,” they write. “Teachers will need the constant reassurance of the administration and the committee that their hesitancy is understood and that their fears will be addressed” (Queen and Isenhour, 1998, p.36).
The first step of the second stage, Instruction, is curriculum alignment. “The first three elements in curriculum alignment from our perspective are scope, sequence, and scheduling,” write Queen and Ishenhour (p. 39). Because time is actually lost in block scheduling and class periods are longer, teachers need to change how much material they plan to cover and the methods of instruction they plan to use. Steps two and three - instructional pacing guide and instructional strategies - address this matter.
Since the periods are longer - usually ninety minutes in length - a teacher needs to utilize several different methods of presenting the material. “A popular misconception among teachers is that block scheduling provides more time to teach,” writes Harvey Silver, Richard Strong, Elliot Merenbloom and Dan Moirao. “The fact is that the time is the same, and in some instances is even less. The time, however, is more intensive because each block is longer in duration. This frees teachers to use a variety of instructional strategies and types of assessments to engage students in in-depth active learning” (1996, p. 17).
They suggest designing daily lesson plans in four divisions: review, orientation, processing and evaluation. Reviewing covers previously-taught material. Orientation introduces the new material to be covered in that period. Processing is the actual teaching of the material, and evaluation lets the students demonstrate their knowledge.
Some activities that can be used because of the longer period include group work, demonstration, discussion/class participation, guided practice, multimedia, independent work and lab work (Marshak, 1997). “Teachers have a much larger space, a broader and deeper stage, and it on such a stage that they create their new practice,” writes Marshak. “And if they don’t, students are much more likely to move beyond boredom into anger and active rather than passive resistance” (p. 3).
The third stage involves transition. Queen and Isenhour state that it is important not to proceed with block scheduling until proper training has been conducted. This, they say, can take up to one to two years. “During these planning years,” they write, “various opportunities for training should include mastering at least six major instructional strategies, realigning curriculum for instructional pacing, and establishing a schoolwide discipline program to ensure a safe school.
A different option for transition would be to move at a slower pace and blocking one grade at a time” (1998, p. 51). They also state that maintaining effective communication with the faculty and monitoring are also important steps in the transition process.
The fourth stage is gaining acceptance with the community and parents. Queen and Isenhour suggest making several presentations of the plan to various audiences in order to reach a larger number of people. They also state that is very important to keep the media well informed.
At the same time the fourth stage is taking place, is important to implement the fifth stage, which deals with the students. Just like the parents and community, it is important to present the plan to the students and gain their support. “When trying to educate students and persuade them to see the benefits in block scheduling, success all comes down to the presentation,” Queen and Isenhour state. “Focus on making the transition and the new schedule fresh, futuristic, exciting, and personally beneficial” (p. 75).
The sixth stage is to conduct teacher inservices. It is important to hire “professional trainers (who) are well researched and have skills in presenting this information” (Queen and Ishenhour, 1998, p. 79). The final stage is to prepare and adapt to any problems that may arise in the first year of implementation. Semester exams should be given before Christmas break. Most importantly, keep track of improvements in scores, attendance, and discipline referrals.
Although it may rough at the beginning, all parties involved in implementing the block schedule will become more comfortable with it.
The Pros of Block Scheduling
Block scheduling has many positive effects on education. Block scheduling has been shown to increase students’ GPAs, increase the number of students on the honor roll, lower the number of students on the D/F list, raise attendance rates, lower dropout rates, lower disciplinary referrals, and increase the number of instructional methods that teachers use.
Surveys have also showed that both teachers and students prefer block scheduling after it has been instituted. Block scheduling has also improved the relationships between students and teachers and improved the overall learning environment for everyone involved.
Block scheduling has had a positive effect on the number of students achieving honor-roll status. A study by Evans (2002) showed that the number of students on the honor roll increased under block scheduling by 9% at three schools. Evans also showed that the three schools increased the percentage of students on the high honor roll from 6% to 9%. Eineder (1997) also found that 9th graders on the honor roll increased by 92% at Philo High School in Ohio.
Studies in Colorado have found more students in block scheduling on the honor roll as well. A study by Gruber (2001) found an increase of 5% to 10% of students on the honor roll when they were changed to a block schedule. Lare (2002) also found an increase of students on the A honor roll after the block schedule was implemented. A study by Dow (1998) found that 50% of students on the block schedule in Florida made the honor roll, compared to 27 % on a seven-period day schedule.
Block scheduling has also been shown to increase the number of As and decrease the number of Fs for students. Evans’ study showed that students receiving a D or F in three schools decreased by 7%. Eineder's study showed that the number of students with Fs decreased by 15%, while the number of students with As increased by 24% in block scheduling.
The three schools studied by Evans also had a decrease of 8% to 5% for students with multiple failures. Gruber’s study found that the number of students making an A in Math and Science went up 15% under block scheduling. Lare’s study found that the number of students receiving D and F grades decreased slightly after a school moved to block scheduling.
It has also been found that block scheduling can improve student GPAs. A study by Thomas (2001) showed that 54% of the students in block scheduling in Florida earned higher GPAs. Thomas’ study also found that the Wisconsin Association of Foreign Language Teachers experienced higher GPAs and fewer failing grades. In addition, a study by Gruber also showed improvement for student GPAs under block scheduling.
Block scheduling has improved many standardized test scores. Lare reported a significant increase in the mean verbal score on the PSAT for students a year after block scheduling was implemented. Gruber found that block scheduling improved student scores for social studies on the California Achievement Test, and means for 4 of 6 achievement tests were higher along with final course averages in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. A study by Evans found that in 345 schools, block scheduling improved student scores on math assessments.
Evans also showed that 25% more students completed Advanced Placement courses and that SAT scores increased by 14 points. Veal (2001) found that block students scored significantly higher on a test of mathematics computation. A study by Hess (1999) indicated that students in block scheduling had significant higher post-test scores, while students in traditional scheduling had significant lower post-test scores. He also reported that students in block scheduling had significant gains in English test scores, while students in traditional scheduling showed no significant gains or losses.
Statistics have also proven that block scheduling can improve the discipline of a school, increase attendance rates, and lower dropout rates. Rettig (2003) found that school management problems are reduced because students spend less time in highly congested areas, such as hallways and dressing rooms. Evans believes that fewer class changes per day will result in decreased disciplinary problems under block scheduling.
He also believes that students are more settled in their classrooms in block scheduling, resulting in fewer student behavior problems and fewer detentions. Evans’ study found that certain schools with block scheduling had a decrease in the number of detentions by up to 50%, and that attendance rates for three schools using block scheduling increased from 92.4% to 94.1%.
A Chi-Square Test performed by Eineder showed that the number of students involved in fights reduced by 40% under block scheduling. Einder’s Chi-Square Test also showed reductions in the frequency of discipline referrals, tardies, in-school suspensions, and out-of-school suspensions. Eineder found that dropout rates decreased for students in block scheduling from 4.6% to 4%. Attendance rates were also found to improve in block scheduling from 93.7% to 94.7%.
A study by the Center for Innovative School Scheduling (1998) found that when one Florida school switched to block scheduling, their number of school referrals decreased by 50%, and there was evidence that their number of in-school suspensions declined as well. This study also found that block scheduling sometimes reduced the number of discipline referrals to the office by 25% to 35%.
The Center for Innovative School scheduling also reported that in one middle school, aggressive student behavior was reduced substantially after three years on block scheduling. Dow found that a school on block scheduling had a dropout rate of 1.1%, among the lowest in Florida. Dow also found that discipline referrals to the dean’s office have been cut in half and that daily attendance went from 88% to 95% under a block schedule.
Another positive aspect of block scheduling is that it allows teachers to use a number of teaching strategies and techniques. Rettig feels that teachers make better use of technology and engage students in more active learning strategies in block scheduling. Evans said that the block schedule afforded teachers the opportunity to include various teaching activities in their lessons, allowing students to explore concepts more deeply.
Evans also found that block scheduling allowed for more student collaboration and individualized learning. Evans found that block scheduling led to more problem-based and project-based learning activities. Teacher interviews conducted by Evans showed that teachers used more independent projects and presented the results of these projects in block scheduling.
Veal also found that there was a greater variety in teaching methods in the block schedule. Veal found those teachers in block scheduling used individualized instruction and more group activities more than teachers on a traditional schedule. The study by the by the Center for Innovative School Scheduling found that teachers in block scheduling lecture less and engage students in more active learning activities.
This decrease in lecturing in the block system gives the students more ownership in the learning process. Queen (2000) found that 75% of students reported that teachers varied instructional methods. Queen also found that teachers spent 70% of classroom time engaging students in interactive instruction. Direct observations by Queen indicated that 84% of teachers were able to vary instruction effectively. A study by Dow supports Queen, finding that 98% of the teachers in a school said that block scheduling encouraged more creative and innovative teaching methods.
Jenkins (2002) says that extensive research exists on the merits of using a number of teaching strategies. Jenkins found in a study involving North Carolina, that block scheduling engaged students in active teaching strategies that require more time than a traditional schedule has to offer. Jenkins’ study found that block schedule teachers used coaching and peer tutoring more than teachers on a traditional schedule.
Jenkins also found that there were significant higher appropriations for projects under block scheduling. In Jenkins’ study, it was found that cooperative groups work well in block periods because the longer periods give the groups the time they need to be effective and that group work is a key learning activity in block periods. Eineder found that 91% of the teachers and 77% of the students reported that more cooperative learning took place in block scheduling.
Block scheduling allows schools greater flexibility and a greater variety of curriculum offerings. Lare found evidence that positive changes had occurred in schools because of block scheduling. Schools offered a rich curriculum that gave students numerous choices that might not be available in a school utilizing a traditional schedule. Queen also found that students were able to take a broader array of courses and there were an increased number of students completing Advanced Placement courses.
Evans found that block scheduling gives students a greater opportunity to take a variety of courses, academic electives, and Advanced Placement courses. Dow found that there has been a big increase in dual enrollment with local community colleges and that block scheduling offers more English and Math courses for students. The American Federation of Teachers found that block scheduling offered extended and variable instruction for students who may need additional support.
This study also found that teachers work with fewer students at a time in block scheduling, which allows for more personalized instruction. Davis-Wiley (1996) found that block scheduling made it easier to schedule individualized special programs and allowed students to take additional courses. Deuel (199) found that block scheduling gives more students the option of early graduation and allows students to earn more credits per year. Rettig said that the number of courses students take may increase under block scheduling if a change is made from traditional scheduling.
Block scheduling has had a positive effect on the attitudes of teachers and students, and improved the relationship between the two groups. A study by the Center for Innovative School Scheduling found that the majority of teachers are favorable to block scheduling and so are students after experiencing it for two or more years. This study also found that there is evidence that teachers that have more experience and are in the block longer, have a stronger preference for block scheduling.
Deuel found that after switching to block scheduling, 95% of the teachers and 80% of the students felt that student-teacher relationships had improved. Eineder also found that 95% of the teachers and 80% of the students felt that student-teacher relationships had improved in the second year of block scheduling. Rettig found that stress is reduced for both teachers and students because they meet fewer classes during any one school day or term.
Student attitudes have changed because block scheduling makes the life of a student easier. Deuel found that students have fewer classes to make up if they’re absent and students have to attend and prepare homework for fewer classes. Eineder found that fewer transitions in block scheduling means that teachers and students gave more time for interpersonal communication. Eineder also found that teacher and student relationships improved because of smaller student class loads and the fact that the students had fewer teachers to satisfy.
Teachers have also been able to improve their relationships with students. Veal found that with a decreased number of students, teachers had time to develop rapport, identify strengths and weaknesses, and implement effective instructional strategies. Evans found that teachers’ attitudes have improved because of block scheduling as well because they had fewer projects and papers to grade because teachers had a lighter student load than that of a teacher on a traditional schedule.
Deuel found that teachers have better attitudes because they have fewer classes to prepare for and more planning time in block scheduling. Deuel’s study also found that if given a choice at the time, 80% of the teachers surveyed preferred to stay with block scheduling. Eineder found that at Philo High School in Ohio, 97% of the teachers preferred block scheduling. Queen found that 80% of respondents liked longer classes compared to shorter classes, and that teacher satisfaction increased from 52% to 87% after block scheduling was implemented.
Block scheduling has many positive effects on education. Block scheduling has been shown to improve the attitudes of teachers and students, and improve the relationship between teachers and students. Research has also shown that more students make the honor roll on block, more students get As, and fewer students get Fs on block scheduling. Block scheduling has also been shown to improve students’ GPAs and test scores.
It has also been found in current research that block scheduling can reduce referrals and detentions, improving the discipline of a school. Block scheduling also improves attendance and lowers dropout rates. One of the biggest positive effects of block scheduling might be that teachers use more of a variety of instructional methods and strategies. This has been shown to improve student achievement and engage students more in the learning process.
The Cons of Block Scheduling
There are several disadvantages administrators and board members need to take into consideration before deciding to implement any type of block scheduling. Limited attention span, retention problems, transferring from school to school, problems with specific courses, general academic performance, and difficulty when school is missed are some of the cited disadvantages (Lindsay, 2005).
Common sense would tell most administrators 90 minute classes are too long. Few teachers or other instructional staff have the training to use this time efficiently (American Federation of Teachers, 1999, p. 9). Adolescents’ attention span has commonly been cited to be about 20 to 25 minutes. According to a parent, Ann Marie Yoregensen (Personal Communication; September 13, 2005), students have complained about the added length of the class time.
The students were able to stay focused for about an hour but the additional time period makes it difficult to focus. Making classes twice as long does not always enable twice as much material to be covered. Problems are especially severe for learning-disabled children. According to a principal, Chester Pulaski (personal communication; September 16, 2005) LD students have a serious problem with limitations of attention span. A parent reported her son attended a middle school that used block scheduling. Her son was diagnosed ADD and took 20 mg of Adderall XR (extended release capsules) each morning (Lindsay, 2005). Her son’s medication was not enough to maintain his attention for a 95-minute class period.
This, also, created a problem since some of the teachers lectured the entire time, or their lessons were delivered in monotone. The mother reported her son did well in the “active” classes such as band, computer technology, and PE. The academic classes such as science, math, and language arts became a problem for him. The boy’s grades dropped drastically.
Some teachers who tend to be lecture oriented have been found to have difficulty in keeping students attention during the block schedule time frame. In an attempt to improve the attention span instead of trying to cover twice as much material in the longer class periods, the tendency has been to water down the material presented to maintain interest. Teachers and other instructional staff replace movies, games and doing homework in class with lectures.
Retention of core academic classes is a common concern of parents and students on block schedule versus those on traditional schedule. The concern centers on foreign language and Advanced Placement classes. A student may elect to take a second year of foreign language in semester one of his or her ninth-grade year and the third year of the language is not offered again until semester one or two of the students tenth-grade year. Critics have asked if this succession will create a problem with retaining the information necessary for the student to excel (Davis-Wiley and Cozart, 1996).
Students voiced very similar concerns. Students are allowed to take Advanced Placement courses to earn college credit while still in high school. The problem arises for block schedule students when the AP classes are offered during the fall semester, but the test to award the college credit is not given until the end of the spring semester. With common form of block schedule, students would take an entire year of classes in one semester. Another full semester could pass before they would take another important college entrance ACT exam.
Students, also, felt that teachers appeared to be rushing through material in order to finish before the end of the semester. Students’ comments range from “teachers cramming too much in too little time,” “not getting the full information they would in a full year class,” and “impossible to take class in fall and take an AP test in the spring” (Davis-Wiley and Cozart, 1996).
Parents voiced similar concerns about the difficulty of the “average” student retention under block scheduling. Their concerns were with Advanced Placement classes, language and math, correlation between sequenced classes, excessive homework, and the increased pace of instruction with regard to course material retention.
Another disadvantage of block scheduling is for the student transferring to and from schools in the middle of a school year. If the student transfers from a school with block schedule to a traditional schedule, he or she may have missed one half of a year of material in a required course or they may needlessly repeat one half of a year of material already taken (Lindsay, 2005). If a student has moved from a traditional schedule to a block schedule during the year, it has often been difficult to match courses and schedules. In some subjects, an entire year could be lost.
Block scheduling can be detrimental to many specific or specialized courses and programs. In reality, music programs require regular year-round involvement. Many opportunities for growth and performance are lost if the class is only taken one semester. A music teacher, Kevin Meidl, in Appleton, Wisconsin, surveyed music teachers in 32 high schools in 13 states (Lindsay, 2005). Mr. Meidl found that 69% of the music programs saw a decrease in student enrollment in choir, band, or orchestra after moving to block scheduling.
The teachers attributed the decrease to schedule conflicts caused by block scheduling. Students who rejoined the program after being absent for a semester or a year were significantly behind others in skill development. Another problem for music instructors under block scheduling is beginners who take their instruments home to practice and forget it the next time they have band. Students could miss up to five days of instruction. Beginning music students are, also, not able to handle the inflexibility of playing the full allotted time period required by block schedule plus not having instruction each day. Another problem mentioned was preparing for band competitions under block schedule.
One particular band ended up having one practice eight days prior to their competition (Lindsay, 2005). The band met on Monday, Wednesday was an assembly (involving the bands period), Friday was another assembly, and Tuesday was the competition. Obviously, the band did poorly because they did not have the proper preparation time.
If this same band had been under the traditional schedule, they would have had four days to rehearse. Athletic programs face similar confrontations. Many coaches want daily time with their team which can result in athletes devoting twice as many credits to athletics as before and decreasing the time they spend on other classes.
One Texas parent shared an extreme situation students faced while under block scheduling. Coaches want their teams to practice every day. In Texas, extracurricular activities, such as athletics and band, are classes that meet during the school day. Student athletes take an athletic period each day. This means athletes are taking one fewer class than each non-athlete each semester. Even during the off season, the athletes have to take an athletic period for conditioning. At the end of their four years, the athletes will have taken 24 class periods while the non-athletes will have taken 32 class periods.
This, also, raises a problem with scheduling during the athletic period. During the athletic period, 5 to 7 of the teaching faculty are unavailable to teach academic classes because they are coaching. This limits the number of times a course can be offered. Certain subjects cannot be offered during the athletic period because it would eliminate the possibility of athletes being able to take the course. The athletes have a hard time getting all the Advanced Placement courses and electives they need because of the time spend each semester with athletics.
The problem doubles if a student would try to participate in band and athletics (Lindsay, 2005). According to a district athletic director, Scott Lindgren (personal communication; September 12, 2005), he feels block scheduling is bad for some students that go a whole year without any physical activity, especially with a nation facing an obesity problem.
Schools need to consider academic performance and the limitations of block scheduling. Block scheduling has not proven to increase performance on objective tests. Dr. David J. Bateson, of the University of British Columbia, performed a study comparing 30,000 10th grade students who took science classes in semester-long block classes with students who took year-long classes (Lindsay, 2005).
The study showed the students in the year-long classes outperformed the students under block scheduling. Typical block schedules create a gap of three to thirteen months between sequential classes, with an average gap of 7 months. Dr. Dennis Raphael, of Ontario, found similar effects from a study he performed with students enrolled in mathematics courses under block scheduling and traditional full-year schedules.
Dr. Raphael, also, found students in traditional full-year schedules outscored block schedule students in biology and chemistry courses. Gordon Gore, of British Columbia, reviewed twelfth-grade provincial exams for English, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, French, history, geography and literature, comparing full-year students to quarter and semester classes. In mathematics, mean scores of full-year students were 69.4% compared to 64.63% for semester students and 62.85% for quarter students.
Looking at grades given on the mathematics exams, 24% of full-year students received A’s compared to 14% of semester students and about 11% of quarter students (Lindsay, 2005). Another limitation of block scheduling is that class time is from one full year into a semester, which means a loss of 20 minutes per day each semester. Additional course content is lost if teachers do not teach for the full 90 minutes. Some schools have had to add additional courses to the curriculum to make up for the students inability to master the required amount of material in the allotted time (Bassett, 2005). A teacher who taught the same course under two different schedules reported problems (Lindsay, 2005).
They were using a modified block schedule, so she had an opportunity to compare a group of traditional 50-minute courses that were being taught with a group of 85-minute courses being taught at the same time. The whole schedule reportedly gave her problems from the first day and turned into a planning nightmare. She ended the year convinced that the block portion of their schedule was holding everyone back. She found herself holding back the traditional classes for two or three days at a time because they would get so far ahead of the other courses.
The honors physics course was a block course while the regular physics course was on the traditional schedule and the regular students outperformed the honors group with every unit. Students stay focused on the topic for roughly 20 minutes before their attention starts to wander. On an alternative block schedule, that means they do not do the reinforcement exercises until the next night. By then, they were fuzzy on the concepts they learned in class, and could not complete the assignments.
A higher occurrence of students neglected to turn in homework or bring projects in on time as well. There are two more studies comparing the academic performance of traditional schedule to the block schedule. In North Carolina students on the traditional schedule scored significantly higher on the Algebra 1, Biology, English 1 and US History tests than students on the block schedule. A study was conducted to compare test scores in selected school subjects (Algebra 1, Biology, English 1 and US History) for students on a traditional class schedule with those on a block schedule. This research compared the academic achievement of students who received instruction on the traditional schedule to the academic achievement of student who received instruction on block schedule.
Assessment instruments used to collect the data were the North Carolina End of Course tests. Two years of “traditional” data were used to represent achievement on traditional schedule. School years for two semesters during one school year and one semester during another school year were used to represent achievement on the block schedule. A total of 2,706 students’ scores were available for the traditional schedule and a total of 2,053 students’ scores were available for the block schedule. The mean scores on the traditional schedule were consistently higher than the mean scores on the block schedule. Algebra 1 (54.20% vs. 48.22%), Biology (39.00% vs. 34.78%), English 1 (47.47% vs. 38.67%) and US History (47.46% vs. 39.68%) each had higher traditional mean scores than the block mean scores and revealed significant statistical differences in favor of the traditional schedule.
One issue may be that many teachers do not cover as much content as they did on the traditional schedule. A teacher in Georgia cites that there are fewer total instructional hours for each class on block schedule, it is difficult to expose students to the material they need in order to pass the state administered end of course exams (Grubner and Onwuegbuzie, 2001). Student performance in Grades 12 and 13 were reported to be significantly lower for students in block-scheduled classes than for those students in year-long classes. A study was conducted in the state of Georgia of students who graduated under two different academic schedules.
The first group, consisting of 146 students, graduated in 1997 under the traditional six-period schedule. The second group, consisting of 115 students, graduated in 2000 under the 4x4 block schedule. The 2000 graduating class had received instruction under the block schedule for three years.
Comparing these two groups of students was justified because the students appeared to be similar with respect to no notable change in the curricula in the years for which the achievement data was collected, there was no significant number of students moving into the school district during the time period of the research, teacher turnover during this time period remained constant and the racial composition of students remained stable as did the gender composition. Traditional-schedule students had statistically higher scores on the language arts (539.94 vs. 530.21), mathematics (528.78 vs. 514.63), social studies (517.29 vs. 505.39), and science (508.64 vs. 499.48) than did block-schedule students.
Missing school, whether due to illness or weather, can be a major disadvantage for students under block scheduling. If the missed classes are challenging, content-based courses like math, or foreign language, catching up may be extremely difficult for a student. A student on A/B block schedule who misses class on Wednesday will not be in class again until Friday and was last in class the previous Monday. Students who have attention difficulties missing four days can quickly get them behind.
For the past 150 years, American public schools have held time constant and let learning vary. The rule voiced is simple: learn what you can in the time we make available (Lawrence and McPerson, 2000). As educators seek to match instruction to the needs of the learner; block scheduling may not be the answer (Grubner and Onwuegbuzie, 2001).
As we have indicated, there are plenty of pros and cons concerning block scheduling. In this paper, we have documented the history of block scheduling, described the different types of block scheduling, explained how to implement block scheduling, and noted the pros and cons of block scheduling. After doing so, we have concluded that there is no conclusive evidence that it either works or doesn’t work.
We also discovered that there is little quantitative evidence to support either side. Like anything else in education, block scheduling is beneficial for certain people and detrimental for others. It is not the solutions to all problems, but many feel it is a step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see how many schools switch to block scheduling in the next decade, and how many schools that have switched choose to change back. Only time will tell.
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