Princeton University

Does the Implementation of the Block Schedule Have an Effect on Student Behavior

Does the Implementation of Block Scheduling

Have An Effect on Student Behavior?It was a cold night on the Siberian plains. Russian soldiers were huddled together in an attempt to keep warm on this, the beginning of their third consecutive month of duty. The commander of the Russian Army arrived just before the changing of the guard. There was much excitement as the word spread that the commander had an important announcement to make.

“I have some good news and some bad news,” said the Commander. “First, the good news…Today, everyone in this army troop will get a change of underwear!”

The crowd erupted into boisterous cheers.

“But now for the bad news…Boris, you must change with Ivan, and Mikahl, you must change with Nikki.”

Since the late 1950’s and the work of James B. Conant on the comprehensive high school, change in education has been much the same as this scenario in Siberia. In many cases, the name has changed, but the ideas remain the same. In order for one to determine the extent to which school structure influences the behavior of students, one must first find some area of the school environment that has changed enough to test this difference.

Looking back to the same time frame when Conant published his first book, one may find the seeds to an issue that has been a robust conversation in education over the last ten years, the institution of the block scheduling model. Since the idea of changing traditional school schedules emerged on the scene, there have been passionate proponents, opponents, and many studies that attempt to prove a particular way of thinking about time and how it relates to student performance. The change, to many schools buying into block scheduling, has been gradual over the past fifty years, and now there may be a swing of the pendulum for many of those same schools to revert back to the traditional schedule.

In 1959, J. Lloyd Trump proposed eliminating the traditional high school schedule and instituting classes of varying lengths in accordance with the instructional needs of students. The Trump Plan allowed for a class to meet for a 40 minute lecture, a 100 minute lab, and a 20 minute help session each week, whereas other classes could be short periods of 20 to 30 minutes. Trump encouraged teachers using his design to experiment with a variety of instructional strategies (Queen, 2000).

This was to be the impetus of the block scheduling concept that continues to divide educators across the United States and Canada . As in most situations, it seems that both sides of the issue produce valid arguments and studies to support their viewpoint.

Since Trump’s work in 1959, creative scheduling practices were a “hit-and-miss” proposition. It was not until A Nation at Risk in 1983 challenged educational leaders to look for alternative strategies that would increase student achievement that the real “thinking” on block scheduling truly began. In 1993 Tom Donahoe argued that the restructuring of schools should include the formal rearranging of the use of time in order to promote an active culture that would improve student learning (Donahoe, 1993). In 1994 the National Commission on time and learning  published its report, Prisoner of Time, which warned that schools must be reinvented to focus on learning, not time (NCTL 1994). This government document seemed to be a mandate for educational leaders to change the traditional school schedule to accommodate a different type of education in the schools of the time.

The over-arching question emerged, How would educational institutions arrange their time? The term “block-scheduling” became the “catch-phrase” for the strategy; however, it had several different meanings that were reflected in a myriad of schedule options and the subject of many academic studies.

In general, block scheduling organizes a course around one semester of 90 minute classes instead of two semesters of 50 minute classes. Various forms of block scheduling have been developed from this concept: the straight forward four 90 minute periods per semester (4X4); a two day rotating system with students completing eight classes during the year (A/B) or two to three 90 minute blocks and a variable or split 45 minute class (modified block). These classes can be scheduled in various combinations according to the subject content or desired flexibility (Canady & Rettig, 1995).

In most institutions, change is difficult. Educational institutions are no different in many ways as those in the world of business. Those who are in favor of some form of block scheduling base their support on more than just student achievement. Proponents of block scheduling argued that an impersonal environment was created by the “assembly-line, single-period day schedule” and the disciplinary problems were exacerbated by schedules that release thousands of students into hallways six to ten times a day for 3 to 5 minutes of noise and stress (Canady & Rettig, 1995).

The detractors point toward a lack of data to prove increased student achievement as well as many peripheral items as well. The American Federation of Teachers in their September 1999 publication listed five pitfalls of block scheduling:

1.   Cognitive science shows that regular review, spaced out over a long period of time, is beneficial to long-term memory of subject matter. Block scheduling diminishes opportunities for review, especially where “year-long” courses are compressed into a single semester. Thus, the practice may actually serve to diminish student performance.

2.   Ninety minutes is a long time to hold students’ attention, and few teachers or other instructional staff has been trained in how to use this period of time effectively.

3.   Student transfers to and from schools with block schedules can be highly problematic; in some subjects, an entire year’s curriculum is lost through a mid-year transfer.

4.   Missing one day of school under block scheduling can be like missing almost a week under traditional scheduling. For students who miss a week due to illness or other problems, catching up may be almost impossible.

5.   Some block schedules actually result in less instructional time. A 55 minute class that meets five times a week gives the instructor 550 minutes every two weeks, for example, whereas a 90 minute meeting on alternating days for two weeks only gives the instructor 450 minutes.

Imposing a scheduling model on a school will not ensure success.  The research recommends that a minimum of two years planning time should be considered before implementation is suggested (Northwest Regional Educational Lab 1990). Part of that planning would have to include studying how the new block may effect achievement, the ability for students to take the necessary courses to graduate on time, and the training for teachers that is imperative to a block schedule’s success.

There have been many studies completed since the days of J. Lloyd Trump. Studies using surveys to assess teacher attitudes toward block scheduling have often been positive (Pullen, Morse, & Varrella, 1998; Sessoms, 1995; Tanner, 1996). There have also been many studies conducted that looked at how block scheduling affected grade point averages (Buckman, King & Ryan, 1995; Edwards, 1993; Holmberg, 1996; Schoenstein, 1995). Most of these studies support the longer traditional schedule over the 4X4 block schedule in science, for example, yet support the 4X4 block schedule in math and social studies. (Veal & Schreiber, 1999).  Graduation rates have also been reported to benefit from the 4X4 schedule (Carroll, 1995; Monroe, 1989; Sessoms, 1995). The findings of these studies have been inconsistent, sometimes reporting gains for students on block scheduling, sometimes reporting no differences, and sometimes reporting losses compared with students on traditional scheduling (Veal & Schreiber, 1999).

The largest study ever done on the block scheduling issue in the United States was conducted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in the mid-1990’s. The study compared students across the state that were part of a block scheduling school (usually 4X4) to traditionally scheduled students. This study looked at the impact on state mandated end of course assessments. According to the literature, most of the schools on block schedules came from “poor and traditionally low achieving areas” so the results had to be adjusted. According to the adjusted figures, in 1995, the first year of the study, the block students were outscoring the traditional students in most subjects tested. But that edge was “whittled” over time so that by 1998, students from both types of schools were scoring comparably on tests in four of five subjects (Viadero, 2001).

The North Carolina study also pointed out several additional factors that seem to have some significance. The study showed that the block schedule resulted in students being in class for fifteen fewer hours over the course of a semester. Surprisingly, these students performed just as well as they had before with the traditional schedule. The study also pointed out that the block schedule did allow students to enroll in additional classes and practically doubled teacher planning time.

On the other side of the issue, and the border for that matter, was a study completed in Canada in which more than 30,000 students participated. The results of the survey indicated that the 4X4 block schedule had a slightly negative impact on students in both math and science. This study, directed by Dr. David J. Bateson at the University of British Columbia sorted the math and science scores of 10th graders according to the “type” of school attended. The study looked at schools that were year-round, semester based, and quarter organized. Batesman himself acknowledged design problems in the study due to the test which was conducted in May. According to analysis of the study, the May test date meant that year-round students had yet to receive three to seven weeks of instruction which is the equivalent to six to fourteen weeks for semester students and twelve to twenty-eight weeks for quarter students. Although the study was not designed to address the effects of block scheduling, many researchers felt that the relationship between a “timetable pattern” and academic achievement gave the strongest relationship.

Dr. Robert Lynn Canady, a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and a well-known proponent of block scheduling criticized the study. Canady reported that Canadian classes ranging from 60 to 80 minutes in length were shorter than in most US schools using the same sort of schedule, teachers got less time than US teachers for professional development or lesson planning, and that the researchers failed to account for any socioeconomic differences among the schools studied (Viadero, 2001).

In what almost seemed a response to the Canadian study, in 1994 Coventry ( Ohio ) local schools decided to find out for themselves if this block scheduling concept truly would make a difference. The impetus for this study was the conflicting results of so many studies that had been previously completed. 

The structure of the school schedule made for fertile research grounds. Virtually the entire student population attended classes taught in both the traditional and block formats. Most students choose a mixture of block and traditional formats for their core courses. Course content for core courses was the same whether taken in block or traditional format. It was assumed that students taking English at the sophomore level should experience the same course content in both the traditional and block formats. It was hypothesized that some of the variance in performance on subject tests could be accounted for by the style of scheduling over and above other significant variables (Hess, Wronkovich, Robinson 1999).

The students involved in this study were given “pre” and “post” test to determine progress within the type of schedule assigned.  Significant results were discovered in both English and biology where the type of schedule, block or traditional, significantly predicted how well the student would do on the end-of-course assessment. Block scheduling seemed to be the common denominator to better success in these subjects. Other areas lacked a significant correlation.

In 1998 David Hottenstein surveyed 24 high schools in several states and discovered additional positive results of block scheduling ( Hottenstein, 1998). In

his research he was able to collect data both before and after a block schedule model was implemented. He used surveys given to students, teachers, and administrators to measure any differences. Prior to block scheduling, only 33% of respondents supported extended class schedules. Once implemented, however, 80% said that longer classes were better than shorter classes. Teacher satisfaction with block scheduling increased from 52% to 87% (Queen, 2000).

  There are many who criticize Hottenstein’s results due to the sample of the survey. These detractors point out that 150 schools in Virginia , Pennsylvania , Maryland , Alabama , North Carolina , South Carolina , and Colorado were solicited with only 24 responding. To make matters worse, none of the surveys returned obtained a 100% response rate to every question. It is the critic’s contention that the sparse return of the information places serious limitations on the validity of the study.

A 1995 study by Carl Glickman, a University of Georgia professor, looked at 820 high schools and 11,000 students. He found that in schools where active learning methods were predominant, students had significantly higher achievement as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. This was connected to block scheduling studies because teachers at schools with block scheduling may use longer instructional periods to engage students in experiments, writing, and other forms of active learning, as opposed to merely lecturing students (Education World, 1997).

Also in 1995, a study by Donald Hackmann seems to relate to the active learning issue. Hackmann’s study reported that the first year on block scheduling was the most challenging for teachers and principals (Hackman, 1995). This research points to the absolute necessity of training teachers to use the time given in the most efficient manner possible.

Although this study was limited to the entire student body of just one school, the results were nevertheless interesting. The results of the surveys given showed that 47 percent liked the block schedule (42 percent preferred it over the traditional daily schedule), but one in four students did not like the new schedule. It was noted that 62% of the students found the longer periods helpful for elective courses, but only 35% of the students preferred longer periods for core academic subjects. Teachers approved of the block schedule at a 77% satisfaction rate. Almost all teachers said they had made changes in their teaching strategies, and 63 percent said they were covering less content (Hackman and Waters 1998).

Perhaps one of the most convincing studies available was done by Laura C. Stokes and Joe W. Wilson who are both professors of education at the University of North Alabama , Florence .  This study, “A Longitudinal Study of Teachers’ Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Block Versus Traditional Scheduling” compared teachers’ perception of the block schedule after one and two years to the perceptions of those same teachers at the end of the third and fourth years. The samples for both studies were the same four high schools and only teachers who were employed during the first study were questioned in the second survey.

The study formed two research questions:

1.   After an extended period of use (three or four years), what are teachers’ perceptions of block scheduling as they relate to its effectiveness, factors critical to implementation, advantages of block scheduling, measurable outcomes, and factors critical in maintenance?

2.   What are teachers perceptions of the block schedule after an extended period of use (three or four years) as compared with their initial perceptions as measured in the 1996-97 school year after one or two years of block scheduling?

To structure data analysis in answering the second research question, three research hypotheses were formulated:

Hypotheses 1   There will be no significant relationship between teachers’ initial perceptions of the effectiveness of block scheduling and their perceptions of its effectiveness after extended use.

Hypotheses 2   There will be no significant relationship between subject areas taught and teachers’ perceptions of the effectiveness of block scheduling after extended use.

  Hypotheses 3   There will be no significant relationship between years of teaching experience and teachers’ opinions of block scheduling after extended use (Stokes and Wilson 2000).

The results of this study found that teachers at these particular schools favored block scheduling to be more effective both at the end of the two-year study as well as the four year study. Teachers once again pointed to increased planning time, greater expectations for student achievement, and greater opportunities to gain credits toward graduation to be the most attractive features of the block schedule. The passage of time seemed to solidify the perceptions of the schedule rather than detract from its effectiveness.

One of the difficulties in trying to make sense of the research on block scheduling lies in the multiple possibilities of block scheduling that exists. There are many studies that have been done on small segments of the population that causes one to wonder about the external validity of the work that has been done. As previously discussed, the few larger studies that have been completed have several limitations as well.

So the question remains…To what extent does school structure influence the behavior of students? The research points to block scheduling as a part to the whole picture. Areas such as curriculum, student discipline, and teacher training must be addressed at the same time as the type of schedule under consideration.

After a review of much of the available literature, one would probably be safe to say that there is a bulk of evidence to unequivocally state that changing to a block schedule will not have a negative effect on the students involved. It seems much more difficult to say that the change in schedule will definitively raise student achievement.  There is little argument, however, as to the effects of block scheduling on students as it relates to discipline issues. The question that permeates this discussion, however, is whether the child’s behavior is affected or does the schedule not place the student in as many situations where trouble may occur. Since a very large portion of disciplinary referrals occur during the change of classes, less class changes should and do have an obvious impact. Attached to this argument are those studies that report fewer discipline referrals should correlate to greater student achievement.

Perhaps the greatest impact on student behavior as it relates to achievement is the manner in which the time is used. In a 1996 article by Cunningham and Nogle, it was reported that the most useful instructional practices in block classes included warm-up games, cooperative learning groups, large group discussions, interactive lectures coupled with discussion, peer teaching, guided practice activities, discovery method, creative projects, and the use of games and puzzles (Cunningham & Nogle, 1996).

As one studies the implementation of any new structure in a business or school, one must look at a complete package of strategies that are inherent to the entire concept. Just as in the Siberian plains, it doesn’t do much good to change underwear just for the sake of changing. For if the change is just for the sake of change, one may end up in a situation that is not as beneficial as the one in which he currently exists. Block scheduling certainly does have an impact on student behavior, however, the extent of that change depends on many other factors that are critical to its success.

REFERENCES

 

Buckman, D.; King, B.; and Ryan S. (1995) Block Scheduling: A Means to Improve

  School Climate, NASSP Bulletin, 79, 9-18.

Canady, Robert L., and Rettig, Michael D. (1995) Block Scheduling: A Catalyst for

Change in High School, Princeton, NJ : Eye on Education.

Carroll, J.M. (1995) The Copernican Plan Evaluated: The Evolution of a Revolution. Phi

 Delta Kappan, 76, 104-110, 112-113.

Cunningham, Daniel, and Nogel, Sue Ann (1996) Implementing a Semesterized Block

 Schedule: Six Key Elements, High School Magazine, 63, 29-33.

Donahoe, Tom (1993) Finding the Way: Structure, Time, and Culture in School

Improvement,  Phi Delta Kappan, December, 298-305.

Education World (1997) Block Scheduling: A Solution or a Problem?, School

Administrators Article.

Edwards, C. (1993) The 4X4 Plan, Educational Leadership, 53 (3): 16-19.

Hackman, Donald G. (1995) Ten Guidelines for Implementing Block Scheduling,

Educational Leadership, November, 24-27.

Hackman, Donald G., and Waters, David L.(1998) Breaking Away from Tradition: The

Farmington High School Restructuring Experience, NASSP Bulletin, March 1998, 83-92.

Hess, C., Wronkovich, M., and Robinson, J. (1999) Measured Outcomes of Learning

 Under Block Scheduling, NASSP Bulletin, December, 1999, 87-95.

Holmberg, T. (1996) Block Scheduling versus Traditional Education: A Comparison of

Grade-Point Averages and ACT Scores, Unpublished doctoral dissertation,

  University of Wisconsin , Eau Claire .

Hottenstein, David S. (1998) Intensive Scheduling: Restructuring America ‘s Secondary

Schools Through Time Management ( Thousand Oaks, CA : Corwin Press)

Monroe, M.J. (1989) BLOCK: Successful Alternative Format Addressing Learner Needs,

Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Teacher Educators,

St. Louis, MO.

National Commission on Time and Learning (1994) Prisoners of Time ( Washington, DC :

US Government Printing Office, 1994).

Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Rural Education Program (1999) Literature

Search on the Question: What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Various Scheduling Options for Small Secondary Schools (High Schools and Middle Schools)?, Portland, Oregon , 329-385.

Pullen, S.L., Morse, J., and Varrella, G.F. (1998) A Second Look at Block Scheduling,

Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the National Association of Science Teachers, Las Vegas, NV .

Queen, J. Allen (2000) Block Scheduling Revisited, Phi Delta Kappan, 82, 214-222.

Schoenstein, R. (1995) The New School on the Block Schedule, The Executive Educator,

17(8): 18-21.

Sessoms, J.C. (1995) Teachers Perceptions of Three Models of High School Scheduling,

Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Virginia , Charlottesville .

Stokes, Laura C. and Wilson, Joe W. (2000) A Longitudinal Study of Teachers’

Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Block Versus Traditional Scheduling, NASSP

Bulletin, 84(619), 90-98.

Tanner, B.M. (1996) Perceived Staff Needs of Teachers in High Schools with Block

Schedules, Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Virginia , Charlottesville .

Does the Implementation of Block Scheduling

Have An Effect on Student Behavior?

 It was a cold night on the Siberian plains. Russian soldiers were huddled together in an attempt to keep warm on this, the beginning of their third consecutive month of duty. The commander of the Russian Army arrived just before the changing of the guard. There was much excitement as the word spread that the commander had an important announcement to make.

“I have some good news and some bad news,” said the Commander. “First, the good news…Today, everyone in this army troop will get a change of underwear!”

The crowd erupted into boisterous cheers.

“But now for the bad news…Boris, you must change with Ivan, and Mikahl, you must change with Nikki.”

Since the late 1950’s and the work of James B. Conant on the comprehensive high school, change in education has been much the same as this scenario in Siberia. In many cases, the name has changed, but the ideas remain the same. In order for one to determine the extent to which school structure influences the behavior of students, one must first find some area of the school environment that has changed enough to test this difference.

Looking back to the same time frame when Conant published his first book, one may find the seeds to an issue that has been a robust conversation in education over the last ten years, the institution of the block scheduling model. Since the idea of changing traditional school schedules emerged on the scene, there have been passionate proponents, opponents, and many studies that attempt to prove a particular way of thinking about time and how it relates to student performance. The change, to many schools buying into block scheduling, has been gradual over the past fifty years, and now there may be a swing of the pendulum for many of those same schools to revert back to the traditional schedule.

In 1959, J. Lloyd Trump proposed eliminating the traditional high school schedule and instituting classes of varying lengths in accordance with the instructional needs of students. The Trump Plan allowed for a class to meet for a 40 minute lecture, a 100 minute lab, and a 20 minute help session each week, whereas other classes could be short periods of 20 to 30 minutes. Trump encouraged teachers using his design to experiment with a variety of instructional strategies (Queen, 2000).

This was to be the impetus of the block scheduling concept that continues to divide educators across the United States and Canada . As in most situations, it seems that both sides of the issue produce valid arguments and studies to support their viewpoint.

Since Trump’s work in 1959, creative scheduling practices were a “hit-and-miss” proposition. It was not until A Nation at Risk in 1983 challenged educational leaders to look for alternative strategies that would increase student achievement that the real “thinking” on block scheduling truly began. In 1993 Tom Donahoe argued that the restructuring of schools should include the formal rearranging of the use of time in order to promote an active culture that would improve student learning (Donahoe, 1993). In 1994 the National Commission on time and learning  published its report, Prisoner of Time, which warned that schools must be reinvented to focus on learning, not time (NCTL 1994). This government document seemed to be a mandate for educational leaders to change the traditional school schedule to accommodate a different type of education in the schools of the time.

The over-arching question emerged, How would educational institutions arrange their time? The term “block-scheduling” became the “catch-phrase” for the strategy; however, it had several different meanings that were reflected in a myriad of schedule options and the subject of many academic studies.

In general, block scheduling organizes a course around one semester of 90 minute classes instead of two semesters of 50 minute classes. Various forms of block scheduling have been developed from this concept: the straight forward four 90 minute periods per semester (4X4); a two day rotating system with students completing eight classes during the year (A/B) or two to three 90 minute blocks and a variable or split 45 minute class (modified block). These classes can be scheduled in various combinations according to the subject content or desired flexibility (Canady & Rettig, 1995).

In most institutions, change is difficult. Educational institutions are no different in many ways as those in the world of business. Those who are in favor of some form of block scheduling base their support on more than just student achievement. Proponents of block scheduling argued that an impersonal environment was created by the “assembly-line, single-period day schedule” and the disciplinary problems were exacerbated by schedules that release thousands of students into hallways six to ten times a day for 3 to 5 minutes of noise and stress (Canady & Rettig, 1995).

The detractors point toward a lack of data to prove increased student achievement as well as many peripheral items as well. The American Federation of Teachers in their September 1999 publication listed five pitfalls of block scheduling:

1.   Cognitive science shows that regular review, spaced out over a long period of time, is beneficial to long-term memory of subject matter. Block scheduling diminishes opportunities for review, especially where “year-long” courses are compressed into a single semester. Thus, the practice may actually serve to diminish student performance.

2.   Ninety minutes is a long time to hold students’ attention, and few teachers or other instructional staff has been trained in how to use this period of time effectively.

3.   Student transfers to and from schools with block schedules can be highly problematic; in some subjects, an entire year’s curriculum is lost through a mid-year transfer.

4.   Missing one day of school under block scheduling can be like missing almost a week under traditional scheduling. For students who miss a week due to illness or other problems, catching up may be almost impossible.

5.   Some block schedules actually result in less instructional time. A 55 minute class that meets five times a week gives the instructor 550 minutes every two weeks, for example, whereas a 90 minute meeting on alternating days for two weeks only gives the instructor 450 minutes.

Imposing a scheduling model on a school will not ensure success.  The research recommends that a minimum of two years planning time should be considered before implementation is suggested (Northwest Regional Educational Lab 1990). Part of that planning would have to include studying how the new block may effect achievement, the ability for students to take the necessary courses to graduate on time, and the training for teachers that is imperative to a block schedule’s success.

There have been many studies completed since the days of J. Lloyd Trump. Studies using surveys to assess teacher attitudes toward block scheduling have often been positive (Pullen, Morse, & Varrella, 1998; Sessoms, 1995; Tanner, 1996). There have also been many studies conducted that looked at how block scheduling affected grade point averages (Buckman, King & Ryan, 1995; Edwards, 1993; Holmberg, 1996; Schoenstein, 1995). Most of these studies support the longer traditional schedule over the 4X4 block schedule in science, for example, yet support the 4X4 block schedule in math and social studies. (Veal & Schreiber, 1999).  Graduation rates have also been reported to benefit from the 4X4 schedule (Carroll, 1995; Monroe, 1989; Sessoms, 1995). The findings of these studies have been inconsistent, sometimes reporting gains for students on block scheduling, sometimes reporting no differences, and sometimes reporting losses compared with students on traditional scheduling (Veal & Schreiber, 1999).

The largest study ever done on the block scheduling issue in the United States was conducted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in the mid-1990’s. The study compared students across the state that were part of a block scheduling school (usually 4X4) to traditionally scheduled students. This study looked at the impact on state mandated end of course assessments. According to the literature, most of the schools on block schedules came from “poor and traditionally low achieving areas” so the results had to be adjusted. According to the adjusted figures, in 1995, the first year of the study, the block students were outscoring the traditional students in most subjects tested. But that edge was “whittled” over time so that by 1998, students from both types of schools were scoring comparably on tests in four of five subjects (Viadero, 2001).

The North Carolina study also pointed out several additional factors that seem to have some significance. The study showed that the block schedule resulted in students being in class for fifteen fewer hours over the course of a semester. Surprisingly, these students performed just as well as they had before with the traditional schedule. The study also pointed out that the block schedule did allow students to enroll in additional classes and practically doubled teacher planning time.

On the other side of the issue, and the border for that matter, was a study completed in Canada in which more than 30,000 students participated. The results of the survey indicated that the 4X4 block schedule had a slightly negative impact on students in both math and science. This study, directed by Dr. David J. Bateson at the University of British Columbia sorted the math and science scores of 10th graders according to the “type” of school attended. The study looked at schools that were year-round, semester based, and quarter organized. Batesman himself acknowledged design problems in the study due to the test which was conducted in May. According to analysis of the study, the May test date meant that year-round students had yet to receive three to seven weeks of instruction which is the equivalent to six to fourteen weeks for semester students and twelve to twenty-eight weeks for quarter students. Although the study was not designed to address the effects of block scheduling, many researchers felt that the relationship between a “timetable pattern” and academic achievement gave the strongest relationship.

Dr. Robert Lynn Canady, a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and a well-known proponent of block scheduling criticized the study. Canady reported that Canadian classes ranging from 60 to 80 minutes in length were shorter than in most US schools using the same sort of schedule, teachers got less time than US teachers for professional development or lesson planning, and that the researchers failed to account for any socioeconomic differences among the schools studied (Viadero, 2001).

In what almost seemed a response to the Canadian study, in 1994 Coventry ( Ohio ) local schools decided to find out for themselves if this block scheduling concept truly would make a difference. The impetus for this study was the conflicting results of so many studies that had been previously completed. 

The structure of the school schedule made for fertile research grounds. Virtually the entire student population attended classes taught in both the traditional and block formats. Most students choose a mixture of block and traditional formats for their core courses. Course content for core courses was the same whether taken in block or traditional format. It was assumed that students taking English at the sophomore level should experience the same course content in both the traditional and block formats. It was hypothesized that some of the variance in performance on subject tests could be accounted for by the style of scheduling over and above other significant variables (Hess, Wronkovich, Robinson 1999).

The students involved in this study were given “pre” and “post” test to determine progress within the type of schedule assigned.  Significant results were discovered in both English and biology where the type of schedule, block or traditional, significantly predicted how well the student would do on the end-of-course assessment. Block scheduling seemed to be the common denominator to better success in these subjects. Other areas lacked a significant correlation.

In 1998 David Hottenstein surveyed 24 high schools in several states and discovered additional positive results of block scheduling ( Hottenstein, 1998). In

his research he was able to collect data both before and after a block schedule model was implemented. He used surveys given to students, teachers, and administrators to measure any differences. Prior to block scheduling, only 33% of respondents supported extended class schedules. Once implemented, however, 80% said that longer classes were better than shorter classes. Teacher satisfaction with block scheduling increased from 52% to 87% (Queen, 2000).

  There are many who criticize Hottenstein’s results due to the sample of the survey. These detractors point out that 150 schools in Virginia , Pennsylvania , Maryland , Alabama , North Carolina , South Carolina , and Colorado were solicited with only 24 responding. To make matters worse, none of the surveys returned obtained a 100% response rate to every question. It is the critic’s contention that the sparse return of the information places serious limitations on the validity of the study.

A 1995 study by Carl Glickman, a University of Georgia professor, looked at 820 high schools and 11,000 students. He found that in schools where active learning methods were predominant, students had significantly higher achievement as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. This was connected to block scheduling studies because teachers at schools with block scheduling may use longer instructional periods to engage students in experiments, writing, and other forms of active learning, as opposed to merely lecturing students (Education World, 1997).

Also in 1995, a study by Donald Hackmann seems to relate to the active learning issue. Hackmann’s study reported that the first year on block scheduling was the most challenging for teachers and principals (Hackman, 1995). This research points to the absolute necessity of training teachers to use the time given in the most efficient manner possible.

Although this study was limited to the entire student body of just one school, the results were nevertheless interesting. The results of the surveys given showed that 47 percent liked the block schedule (42 percent preferred it over the traditional daily schedule), but one in four students did not like the new schedule. It was noted that 62% of the students found the longer periods helpful for elective courses, but only 35% of the students preferred longer periods for core academic subjects. Teachers approved of the block schedule at a 77% satisfaction rate. Almost all teachers said they had made changes in their teaching strategies, and 63 percent said they were covering less content (Hackman and Waters 1998).

Perhaps one of the most convincing studies available was done by Laura C. Stokes and Joe W. Wilson who are both professors of education at the University of North Alabama , Florence .  This study, “A Longitudinal Study of Teachers’ Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Block Versus Traditional Scheduling” compared teachers’ perception of the block schedule after one and two years to the perceptions of those same teachers at the end of the third and fourth years. The samples for both studies were the same four high schools and only teachers who were employed during the first study were questioned in the second survey.

The study formed two research questions:

1.   After an extended period of use (three or four years), what are teachers’ perceptions of block scheduling as they relate to its effectiveness, factors critical to implementation, advantages of block scheduling, measurable outcomes, and factors critical in maintenance?

2.   What are teachers perceptions of the block schedule after an extended period of use (three or four years) as compared with their initial perceptions as measured in the 1996-97 school year after one or two years of block scheduling?

To structure data analysis in answering the second research question, three research hypotheses were formulated:

Hypotheses 1   There will be no significant relationship between teachers’ initial perceptions of the effectiveness of block scheduling and their perceptions of its effectiveness after extended use.

Hypotheses 2   There will be no significant relationship between subject areas taught and teachers’ perceptions of the effectiveness of block scheduling after extended use.

  Hypotheses 3   There will be no significant relationship between years of teaching experience and teachers’ opinions of block scheduling after extended use (Stokes and Wilson 2000).

The results of this study found that teachers at these particular schools favored block scheduling to be more effective both at the end of the two-year study as well as the four year study. Teachers once again pointed to increased planning time, greater expectations for student achievement, and greater opportunities to gain credits toward graduation to be the most attractive features of the block schedule. The passage of time seemed to solidify the perceptions of the schedule rather than detract from its effectiveness.

One of the difficulties in trying to make sense of the research on block scheduling lies in the multiple possibilities of block scheduling that exists. There are many studies that have been done on small segments of the population that causes one to wonder about the external validity of the work that has been done. As previously discussed, the few larger studies that have been completed have several limitations as well.

So the question remains…To what extent does school structure influence the behavior of students? The research points to block scheduling as a part to the whole picture. Areas such as curriculum, student discipline, and teacher training must be addressed at the same time as the type of schedule under consideration.

After a review of much of the available literature, one would probably be safe to say that there is a bulk of evidence to unequivocally state that changing to a block schedule will not have a negative effect on the students involved. It seems much more difficult to say that the change in schedule will definitively raise student achievement.  There is little argument, however, as to the effects of block scheduling on students as it relates to discipline issues. The question that permeates this discussion, however, is whether the child’s behavior is affected or does the schedule not place the student in as many situations where trouble may occur. Since a very large portion of disciplinary referrals occur during the change of classes, less class changes should and do have an obvious impact. Attached to this argument are those studies that report fewer discipline referrals should correlate to greater student achievement.

Perhaps the greatest impact on student behavior as it relates to achievement is the manner in which the time is used. In a 1996 article by Cunningham and Nogle, it was reported that the most useful instructional practices in block classes included warm-up games, cooperative learning groups, large group discussions, interactive lectures coupled with discussion, peer teaching, guided practice activities, discovery method, creative projects, and the use of games and puzzles (Cunningham & Nogle, 1996).

As one studies the implementation of any new structure in a business or school, one must look at a complete package of strategies that are inherent to the entire concept. Just as in the Siberian plains, it doesn’t do much good to change underwear just for the sake of changing. For if the change is just for the sake of change, one may end up in a situation that is not as beneficial as the one in which he currently exists. Block scheduling certainly does have an impact on student behavior, however, the extent of that change depends on many other factors that are critical to its success.

REFERENCES

 

Buckman, D.; King, B.; and Ryan S. (1995) Block Scheduling: A Means to Improve

  School Climate, NASSP Bulletin, 79, 9-18.

Canady, Robert L., and Rettig, Michael D. (1995) Block Scheduling: A Catalyst for

Change in High School, Princeton, NJ : Eye on Education.

Carroll, J.M. (1995) The Copernican Plan Evaluated: The Evolution of a Revolution. Phi

 Delta Kappan, 76, 104-110, 112-113.

Cunningham, Daniel, and Nogel, Sue Ann (1996) Implementing a Semesterized Block

 Schedule: Six Key Elements, High School Magazine, 63, 29-33.

Donahoe, Tom (1993) Finding the Way: Structure, Time, and Culture in School

Improvement,  Phi Delta Kappan, December, 298-305.

Education World (1997) Block Scheduling: A Solution or a Problem?, School

Administrators Article.

Edwards, C. (1993) The 4X4 Plan, Educational Leadership, 53 (3): 16-19.

Hackman, Donald G. (1995) Ten Guidelines for Implementing Block Scheduling,

Educational Leadership, November, 24-27.

Hackman, Donald G., and Waters, David L.(1998) Breaking Away from Tradition: The

Farmington High School Restructuring Experience, NASSP Bulletin, March 1998, 83-92.

Hess, C., Wronkovich, M., and Robinson, J. (1999) Measured Outcomes of Learning

 Under Block Scheduling, NASSP Bulletin, December, 1999, 87-95.

Holmberg, T. (1996) Block Scheduling versus Traditional Education: A Comparison of

Grade-Point Averages and ACT Scores, Unpublished doctoral dissertation,

  University of Wisconsin , Eau Claire .

Hottenstein, David S. (1998) Intensive Scheduling: Restructuring America ‘s Secondary

Schools Through Time Management ( Thousand Oaks, CA : Corwin Press)

Monroe, M.J. (1989) BLOCK: Successful Alternative Format Addressing Learner Needs,

Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Teacher Educators,

St. Louis, MO.

National Commission on Time and Learning (1994) Prisoners of Time ( Washington, DC :

US Government Printing Office, 1994).

Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Rural Education Program (1999) Literature

Search on the Question: What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Various Scheduling Options for Small Secondary Schools (High Schools and Middle Schools)?, Portland, Oregon , 329-385.

Pullen, S.L., Morse, J., and Varrella, G.F. (1998) A Second Look at Block Scheduling,

Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the National Association of Science Teachers, Las Vegas, NV .

Queen, J. Allen (2000) Block Scheduling Revisited, Phi Delta Kappan, 82, 214-222.

Schoenstein, R. (1995) The New School on the Block Schedule, The Executive Educator,

17(8): 18-21.

Sessoms, J.C. (1995) Teachers Perceptions of Three Models of High School Scheduling,

Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Virginia , Charlottesville .

Stokes, Laura C. and Wilson, Joe W. (2000) A Longitudinal Study of Teachers’

Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Block Versus Traditional Scheduling, NASSP

Bulletin, 84(619), 90-98.

Tanner, B.M. (1996) Perceived Staff Needs of Teachers in High Schools with Block

Schedules, Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Virginia , Charlottesville .

Veal, William R., and Schreiber, James (1999) Block Scheduling Effects on a State

Mandated Test of Basic Skills, Education Policy Analysis Archives, 7(29), 1-13.

Viadero, Debra (2001) Changing Times, Education Week

Does the Implementation of Block Scheduling

Have An Effect on Student Behavior?

 It was a cold night on the Siberian plains. Russian soldiers were huddled together in an attempt to keep warm on this, the beginning of their third consecutive month of duty. The commander of the Russian Army arrived just before the changing of the guard. There was much excitement as the word spread that the commander had an important announcement to make.

“I have some good news and some bad news,” said the Commander. “First, the good news…Today, everyone in this army troop will get a change of underwear!”

The crowd erupted into boisterous cheers.

“But now for the bad news…Boris, you must change with Ivan, and Mikahl, you must change with Nikki.”

Since the late 1950’s and the work of James B. Conant on the comprehensive high school, change in education has been much the same as this scenario in Siberia. In many cases, the name has changed, but the ideas remain the same. In order for one to determine the extent to which school structure influences the behavior of students, one must first find some area of the school environment that has changed enough to test this difference.

Looking back to the same time frame when Conant published his first book, one may find the seeds to an issue that has been a robust conversation in education over the last ten years, the institution of the block scheduling model. Since the idea of changing traditional school schedules emerged on the scene, there have been passionate proponents, opponents, and many studies that attempt to prove a particular way of thinking about time and how it relates to student performance. The change, to many schools buying into block scheduling, has been gradual over the past fifty years, and now there may be a swing of the pendulum for many of those same schools to revert back to the traditional schedule.

In 1959, J. Lloyd Trump proposed eliminating the traditional high school schedule and instituting classes of varying lengths in accordance with the instructional needs of students. The Trump Plan allowed for a class to meet for a 40 minute lecture, a 100 minute lab, and a 20 minute help session each week, whereas other classes could be short periods of 20 to 30 minutes. Trump encouraged teachers using his design to experiment with a variety of instructional strategies (Queen, 2000).

This was to be the impetus of the block scheduling concept that continues to divide educators across the United States and Canada . As in most situations, it seems that both sides of the issue produce valid arguments and studies to support their viewpoint.

Since Trump’s work in 1959, creative scheduling practices were a “hit-and-miss” proposition. It was not until A Nation at Risk in 1983 challenged educational leaders to look for alternative strategies that would increase student achievement that the real “thinking” on block scheduling truly began. In 1993 Tom Donahoe argued that the restructuring of schools should include the formal rearranging of the use of time in order to promote an active culture that would improve student learning (Donahoe, 1993). In 1994 the National Commission on time and learning  published its report, Prisoner of Time, which warned that schools must be reinvented to focus on learning, not time (NCTL 1994). This government document seemed to be a mandate for educational leaders to change the traditional school schedule to accommodate a different type of education in the schools of the time.

The over-arching question emerged, How would educational institutions arrange their time? The term “block-scheduling” became the “catch-phrase” for the strategy; however, it had several different meanings that were reflected in a myriad of schedule options and the subject of many academic studies.

In general, block scheduling organizes a course around one semester of 90 minute classes instead of two semesters of 50 minute classes. Various forms of block scheduling have been developed from this concept: the straight forward four 90 minute periods per semester (4X4); a two day rotating system with students completing eight classes during the year (A/B) or two to three 90 minute blocks and a variable or split 45 minute class (modified block). These classes can be scheduled in various combinations according to the subject content or desired flexibility (Canady & Rettig, 1995).

In most institutions, change is difficult. Educational institutions are no different in many ways as those in the world of business. Those who are in favor of some form of block scheduling base their support on more than just student achievement. Proponents of block scheduling argued that an impersonal environment was created by the “assembly-line, single-period day schedule” and the disciplinary problems were exacerbated by schedules that release thousands of students into hallways six to ten times a day for 3 to 5 minutes of noise and stress (Canady & Rettig, 1995).

The detractors point toward a lack of data to prove increased student achievement as well as many peripheral items as well. The American Federation of Teachers in their September 1999 publication listed five pitfalls of block scheduling:

1.   Cognitive science shows that regular review, spaced out over a long period of time, is beneficial to long-term memory of subject matter. Block scheduling diminishes opportunities for review, especially where “year-long” courses are compressed into a single semester. Thus, the practice may actually serve to diminish student performance.

2.   Ninety minutes is a long time to hold students’ attention, and few teachers or other instructional staff has been trained in how to use this period of time effectively.

3.   Student transfers to and from schools with block schedules can be highly problematic; in some subjects, an entire year’s curriculum is lost through a mid-year transfer.

4.   Missing one day of school under block scheduling can be like missing almost a week under traditional scheduling. For students who miss a week due to illness or other problems, catching up may be almost impossible.

5.   Some block schedules actually result in less instructional time. A 55 minute class that meets five times a week gives the instructor 550 minutes every two weeks, for example, whereas a 90 minute meeting on alternating days for two weeks only gives the instructor 450 minutes.

Imposing a scheduling model on a school will not ensure success.  The research recommends that a minimum of two years planning time should be considered before implementation is suggested (Northwest Regional Educational Lab 1990). Part of that planning would have to include studying how the new block may effect achievement, the ability for students to take the necessary courses to graduate on time, and the training for teachers that is imperative to a block schedule’s success.

There have been many studies completed since the days of J. Lloyd Trump. Studies using surveys to assess teacher attitudes toward block scheduling have often been positive (Pullen, Morse, & Varrella, 1998; Sessoms, 1995; Tanner, 1996). There have also been many studies conducted that looked at how block scheduling affected grade point averages (Buckman, King & Ryan, 1995; Edwards, 1993; Holmberg, 1996; Schoenstein, 1995). Most of these studies support the longer traditional schedule over the 4X4 block schedule in science, for example, yet support the 4X4 block schedule in math and social studies. (Veal & Schreiber, 1999).  Graduation rates have also been reported to benefit from the 4X4 schedule (Carroll, 1995; Monroe, 1989; Sessoms, 1995). The findings of these studies have been inconsistent, sometimes reporting gains for students on block scheduling, sometimes reporting no differences, and sometimes reporting losses compared with students on traditional scheduling (Veal & Schreiber, 1999).

The largest study ever done on the block scheduling issue in the United States was conducted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in the mid-1990’s. The study compared students across the state that were part of a block scheduling school (usually 4X4) to traditionally scheduled students. This study looked at the impact on state mandated end of course assessments. According to the literature, most of the schools on block schedules came from “poor and traditionally low achieving areas” so the results had to be adjusted. According to the adjusted figures, in 1995, the first year of the study, the block students were outscoring the traditional students in most subjects tested. But that edge was “whittled” over time so that by 1998, students from both types of schools were scoring comparably on tests in four of five subjects (Viadero, 2001).

The North Carolina study also pointed out several additional factors that seem to have some significance. The study showed that the block schedule resulted in students being in class for fifteen fewer hours over the course of a semester. Surprisingly, these students performed just as well as they had before with the traditional schedule. The study also pointed out that the block schedule did allow students to enroll in additional classes and practically doubled teacher planning time.

On the other side of the issue, and the border for that matter, was a study completed in Canada in which more than 30,000 students participated. The results of the survey indicated that the 4X4 block schedule had a slightly negative impact on students in both math and science. This study, directed by Dr. David J. Bateson at the University of British Columbia sorted the math and science scores of 10th graders according to the “type” of school attended. The study looked at schools that were year-round, semester based, and quarter organized. Batesman himself acknowledged design problems in the study due to the test which was conducted in May. According to analysis of the study, the May test date meant that year-round students had yet to receive three to seven weeks of instruction which is the equivalent to six to fourteen weeks for semester students and twelve to twenty-eight weeks for quarter students. Although the study was not designed to address the effects of block scheduling, many researchers felt that the relationship between a “timetable pattern” and academic achievement gave the strongest relationship.

Dr. Robert Lynn Canady, a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and a well-known proponent of block scheduling criticized the study. Canady reported that Canadian classes ranging from 60 to 80 minutes in length were shorter than in most US schools using the same sort of schedule, teachers got less time than US teachers for professional development or lesson planning, and that the researchers failed to account for any socioeconomic differences among the schools studied (Viadero, 2001).

In what almost seemed a response to the Canadian study, in 1994 Coventry ( Ohio ) local schools decided to find out for themselves if this block scheduling concept truly would make a difference. The impetus for this study was the conflicting results of so many studies that had been previously completed. 

The structure of the school schedule made for fertile research grounds. Virtually the entire student population attended classes taught in both the traditional and block formats. Most students choose a mixture of block and traditional formats for their core courses. Course content for core courses was the same whether taken in block or traditional format. It was assumed that students taking English at the sophomore level should experience the same course content in both the traditional and block formats. It was hypothesized that some of the variance in performance on subject tests could be accounted for by the style of scheduling over and above other significant variables (Hess, Wronkovich, Robinson 1999).

The students involved in this study were given “pre” and “post” test to determine progress within the type of schedule assigned.  Significant results were discovered in both English and biology where the type of schedule, block or traditional, significantly predicted how well the student would do on the end-of-course assessment. Block scheduling seemed to be the common denominator to better success in these subjects. Other areas lacked a significant correlation.

In 1998 David Hottenstein surveyed 24 high schools in several states and discovered additional positive results of block scheduling ( Hottenstein, 1998). In

his research he was able to collect data both before and after a block schedule model was implemented. He used surveys given to students, teachers, and administrators to measure any differences. Prior to block scheduling, only 33% of respondents supported extended class schedules. Once implemented, however, 80% said that longer classes were better than shorter classes. Teacher satisfaction with block scheduling increased from 52% to 87% (Queen, 2000).

  There are many who criticize Hottenstein’s results due to the sample of the survey. These detractors point out that 150 schools in Virginia , Pennsylvania , Maryland , Alabama , North Carolina , South Carolina , and Colorado were solicited with only 24 responding. To make matters worse, none of the surveys returned obtained a 100% response rate to every question. It is the critic’s contention that the sparse return of the information places serious limitations on the validity of the study.

A 1995 study by Carl Glickman, a University of Georgia professor, looked at 820 high schools and 11,000 students. He found that in schools where active learning methods were predominant, students had significantly higher achievement as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. This was connected to block scheduling studies because teachers at schools with block scheduling may use longer instructional periods to engage students in experiments, writing, and other forms of active learning, as opposed to merely lecturing students (Education World, 1997).

Also in 1995, a study by Donald Hackmann seems to relate to the active learning issue. Hackmann’s study reported that the first year on block scheduling was the most challenging for teachers and principals (Hackman, 1995). This research points to the absolute necessity of training teachers to use the time given in the most efficient manner possible.

Although this study was limited to the entire student body of just one school, the results were nevertheless interesting. The results of the surveys given showed that 47 percent liked the block schedule (42 percent preferred it over the traditional daily schedule), but one in four students did not like the new schedule. It was noted that 62% of the students found the longer periods helpful for elective courses, but only 35% of the students preferred longer periods for core academic subjects. Teachers approved of the block schedule at a 77% satisfaction rate. Almost all teachers said they had made changes in their teaching strategies, and 63 percent said they were covering less content (Hackman and Waters 1998).

Perhaps one of the most convincing studies available was done by Laura C. Stokes and Joe W. Wilson who are both professors of education at the University of North Alabama , Florence .  This study, “A Longitudinal Study of Teachers’ Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Block Versus Traditional Scheduling” compared teachers’ perception of the block schedule after one and two years to the perceptions of those same teachers at the end of the third and fourth years. The samples for both studies were the same four high schools and only teachers who were employed during the first study were questioned in the second survey.

The study formed two research questions:

1.   After an extended period of use (three or four years), what are teachers’ perceptions of block scheduling as they relate to its effectiveness, factors critical

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