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Click Here to Downlaod An Analysis of Block Scheduling In Stafford Schools

The Public and the School Board Were Hoodwinked About Block Scheduling

The Hidden Perils of Block Scheduling


In 2005 the Stafford County School District adopted block scheduling at three out of five of its high schools: North Stafford, Mountain View, and Brooke Point. The other two high schools, Colonial Forge and Stafford High Schools, remain on the traditional school schedule.

Block scheduling interferes with the natural learning processes of children. In block scheduling the students are required to take classes that last twice as long as traditional classes. A traditional 45 minute class becomes a 90 minute class (87 minutes to allow time between class) under the block scheduling scheme. Stafford has adopted what is known as 4X4 block scheduling where the students take 4 different courses per semester that are taught at twice the pace of a traditional class. The block scheduling students take 8 classes for the year, whereas under the traditional schedule the students take 7 classes. Studies have shown that block scheduling causes a reduction in learning that is measurable in standardized aptitude tests.

Empirical Studies

Empirical Studies that have addressed issue of block scheduling prove that block scheduling results in children learning less. The largest scientific study comparing objective student performance in block classes with student performance in full year classes involving 30,000 10th grade students in British Columbia "found that the full year (two semester) students outscored the block students on every measure."

Another Canadian study "found that academic achievement was significantly lower under block scheduling and found either adverse effects or no benefit in student attitudes about mathematics (contrary to the common claim that block scheduling improves 'attitudinal' scores). They also confirmed that block scheduling resulted in fewer hours of actual instruction. Overall, block scheduling was detrimental to student achievement."

"Gordon Gore has also examined extensive data from British Columbia and found further evidence of harm caused by block scheduling. One recent report found at, reviews twelfth-grade Provincial examination results in 1996 for English, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, French , history, geography, and literature. Full-year (conventional timetable) classes are compared to semester and quarter classes. Testing was done at the end of each course, regardless of which timetable students were on. Full-year students outperformed block scheduling students (semester or quarter) IN EVERY SUBJECT.

For example, in mathematics, mean scores of full-year students were 69.41% compared to 64.63% for semester students and 62.85% for quarter students. Looking at grades given on the mathematics exam, 24% of full-year students received A's, compared to 14% of semester students and about 11% of quarter students. While performance dropped significantly for the quarter students, this was not necessarily reflected in the marks students received in their courses. Grade inflation appears to occur in schools on the block - an important factor to remember when administrators claim that the block works because of the higher grades that students receive."

American Research Studies

Supporters of block scheduling are quick to dismiss the Canadian studies because they are not studies of American schools. However, studies of American schools show the same detrimental impact of block scheduling. An objective empirical study published in the Journal of Instructional Psychology involving a statistically significant sampling of hundreds of high school students from North Carolina, found that those students subjected to block scheduling had "significantly" lower scores on standard aptitude tests, across the board . The researchers found:

"The statistical analyses on the four null hypotheses showed that in each case, the mean score for the traditional schedule was consistently higher than the mean scores for the block schedule. Based upon the results of the t-test and its application, traditionally scheduled students rather than the anticipated block scheduled students demonstrated significantly higher scores for Algebra 1, Biology, English 1, and U. S. History."

                                                                * * *

"The mean scores on the traditional schedule were consistently higher than the mean scores on the block schedule which came as a surprise. Algebra 1, Biology, English I and U. S. History each had higher traditional mean scores than the block mean scores and revealed significant statistical differences in favor of the traditional schedule."

W. Lawrence, D. McPherson, A Comparative Study of Block Scheduling and Traditional Scheduling on Academic Achievement, Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2000,

A review of the actual statistics in the North Carolina study reveals that the difference in mean aptitude scores between block scheduling and traditional scheduling as follows: Algebra I - 11% lower mean score for students instructed under block scheduling; Biology - 12% lower mean score for students instructed under block scheduling; English I - 19% lower mean score for students instructed under block scheduling; U.S. History - 16% lower mean score for students instructed under block scheduling.

AP Courses

Of any group, the least impact should be found among AP students, because as a group they should be able to adapt to block scheduling and better retain the material. Studies have shown, however, significant harm to AP students subjected to block scheduling.

The College Board, which is the group that oversees the AP tests, released a study in May 1998 titled Block Schedules and Student Performance on AP® Examinations. The College Board concluded:

"The results from the study generally suggest that students, on average, obtain higher AP grades when instruction is given over an entire year rather than in a semesterized block schedule format. These results are consistent across the four AP Examinations and are found on 15 of the 16 comparisons between year-long and semester block courses." (emphasis added)

You can read the study at:

The College Board also released a statement entitled AP and January Examination on September 19, 1996. That letter addressed requests made to offer the AP exam in January to accommodate those taking first semester block courses. In turning down the requests, the College Board made the following statement about block scheduling:

"Program staff are in the process of gathering and formulating strategies used by AP teachers who teach in block scheduling situations. It appears that the most successful by far are those who have convinced their administrations to schedule their course over a full year - apparently the majority of AP teachers. . . . Students who completed year-long courses offered only in the fall or only in the spring tended to perform poorly on AP examinations in 1995 and 1996. Of the thirteen examinations in which there were 100 or more semester intensive block scheduled students, those who took the course over a full year averaged higher scores in 77% of (20 of the 26) cases. In calculus, history, and the sciences, mean grades for block scheduled students were about 0.6 (about half a standard deviation) lower than the mean for students who took the course over the full year." (emphasis added)

One of the most surprising observations from the College Board was that the strongest opposition to block scheduling was among teachers who were then teaching under a block schedule regime. "In several surveys and meetings, AP teachers, coordinators, readers, and test development committee members overwhelmingly opposed both semester block scheduling and January examinations. The opposition appeared to be strongest among teachers in block scheduling schools." (emphasis added)

The Reason for Lower Aptitude Scores Under Block Scheduling

Why do we see such a marked reduction in aptitude scores for those taught under block scheduling? Block scheduling is a system of instruction that actually interferes with the learning process. That interference is particularly notable with young adults. Donald Lofland is a physicist, educator, and author of Power Learning: Memory and Learning Techniques for Personal Power. Lofland's theory of learning, is commonly cited and has been generally supported by research. You may be familiar with his concept that one tends to remember those things that happen at the beginning of an event or instruction (primacy effect). Dr. Lofland has also opined that one tends to remember those things that come at the end of an event or instruction (recency effect). Lofland had further found that one tends to remember more easily those events that are strange, humorous, or out of context (Von Restorff effect). Tony Buzan has identified two other learning enhancers. Buzan maintains that recollection of something is easier when it is connected to previous knowledge (linking effect). Buzan has also concluded that when a person reviews something it will become more firmly lodged in the brain (review effect).

What does this have to do with block scheduling? Block scheduling undermines several of the most important factors for learning identified by Lofland, Buzan, and other leading researchers in the field.

Studies have shown that the ability of students to learn new material drops precipitously after the first 20-30 minutes of instruction. It is important to have a short break at each 20-30 minute interval of instruction. Lengthening a class to 90 minutes (more precisely: 87 minutes) as is done in block scheduling actually makes it more difficult for children to learn.

In addition, it is also important to have a change in topic in order to regain the attention and interest of the students. To double the length of classes for children 14-18 years old will only serve to create a large block of wasted time. During class the minds of these young children will be wandering and not absorbing the material.

Karen Bennett of the University of Illinois, explains how block scheduling works to actually undermine learning:

"Classes that are shorter and more often may give students more opportunity to increase memory. There are more starts (and ends) on a traditional schedule with more frequent classes running year long. Block scheduling would provide less primacy and recency events. This may have a detrimental effect on student recall.

"Frank N. Dempster writes of a learning phenomenon he calls, "the Spacing Effect" in an article which appeared in American Psychologist in 1988. Dempster found that ‘With total study time equated, two or more opportunities to study the same material are much more effective than a single opportunity.'

"‘To summarize, more frequent use of properly spaced reviews and tests in the classroom can dramatically improve classroom learning and retention. In addition, research suggests that spaced repetitions can foster time-on-task and help students develop and sustain positive attitudes toward school and learning.' [Dempster 1988]

"Likewise, H.J. Walberg concurs with Dempster's findings. Two spaced presentations are about twice as effective as two massed presentations (concentrated, possibly in one session). The difference between them increasing as the frequency of the repetition increases. Dempster claims this effect does not apply only to rote learning and memorization, but that ‘memory is of central importance to any complex intellectual activity' and as such, the spacing effect may aid students in integrating knowledge and in constructing abstract paradigms.

"Applying this phenomenon to block scheduling, the traditional schedule would allow spaced reviews over a period of days, rather than in a single 90 minute period of time. If spacing increases recall, the block schedule may not be as effective as the traditional schedule.

"Dr. Frank Y. H. Wang agrees. Wang , President of Saxon Publishers, which publishes the Saxon Math series, expressed concern for the effectiveness of teaching mathematics under the block.

* * *

"‘Saxon publishers does not advocate the use of block scheduling. If you are considering whether to implement block scheduling, we suggest you do not. We believe that children learn most effectively when they are exposed to concepts in small, easily understandable pieces called increments and when new concepts and skills are reviewed continuously.'

"‘The frequency of students' exposure to the subject matter is much diminished from a traditional system where students meet every day.'" [Wang 1996]

Karen Bennett, Block Scheduling with a Mathematics Perspective (citing Donald Lofland, Power Learning: Memory and Learning Techniques for Personal Power),

Alleged Student Preference for Block Scheduling

Proponents of block scheduling often say that studies show that children prefer block scheduling. That is a claim which is disputed by researchers who have found the contrary result. In those studies that found a preference by students for block scheduling, that fact seems almost irrelevant. Ignoring aptitude scores and focusing on student preferences is like writing about the events at Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865 and focusing on the quality of the play Lincoln was watching. The important thing is whether the children are learning, not whether they enjoyed themselves in the process. Learning requires effort, and sometimes students do not find it an enjoyable experience. Many 14-18 year olds lack the maturity and perspective to decide what is best for them.

The following is a statement made in Effects on Students of a 4 X 4 Junior High School Block Scheduling Program,, which was cited among the materials referenced in the Stafford County School Board website as research material relied upon by the school principals who decided to adopt block scheduling:

"The results, on balance, were generally positive, but the negative findings which were reported cannot be overlooked. On the positive side, the most consistent findings that were reported were students' favorable opinions of block scheduling, particularly with teachers who found it easy to mix lecture and group-work instruction. Students also liked the fact that block scheduling seemed to reduce homework loads, although this finding would be construed as negative from other perspectives. Beyond these kinds of qualitative student opinion effects, the findings on student achievement, attendance, and behavior/disruptions/suspensions were more equivocal. Reductions in behavior problems appeared to be relatively consistent, as were increases in attendance rates, yet if a student missed a sequence of classes for any reason, it appeared more difficult to catch up with the content and make-up assignments. At-risk students in block scheduling appeared to benefit the most consistently across the curriculum, but standardized scores on mathematics examinations were consistently lower with block scheduling." (emphasis added)

Notice that the study concludes that the results on balance were positive for block scheduling. Before we accept that conclusion, lets examine what is being balanced to come out with this "positive" outcome. On the positive side we find the students' positive opinions, reduction in behavior problems, and increase in attendance under block scheduling. On the negative side we find that standardized scores on mathematics examinations were consistently lower.

Parents send their children to school to learn. Given a choice, some student would desire to idle their days away without being challenged to achieve; they will choose leisure over rigor, and recreation over education. Young 14-18 year olds simply do not have the maturity, in many cases, to decide what is good for them. It is no surprise then that some studies may show that students have a favorable opinion of block scheduling. Is that really something that should be used to outweigh evidence that the students aren't learning? I cannot imagine anything that could be balanced against the reduction in learning that would justify the adoption of block scheduling.

What is also interesting in the above study is that the same students who did worse on62-valedictorian.jpg the standardized math tests, showed an increase in their grade point averages. That is a phenomenon that is found in many of the studies done regarding block scheduling. What we see is that block scheduling results in grade inflation, but knowledge deflation. The standardized tests, which measure what a student knows, should be the primary measure of the effectiveness of any scholastic regimen. In every area of study, block scheduling has been shown to reduce learning and achievement.

Many of the studies used to show the benefits of block scheduling do so by comparing grade point averages. Such studies tend to show either no difference or a slight benefit for block scheduling, primarily due to grade inflation that is endemic in block scheduling. A publication by Joseph Carroll was cited by the Stafford County School administration as one of the authorities relied upon in deciding to adopt block scheduling at three of the high schools. One set of researchers who studied Carroll's findings discovered that their empirical research was contrary to Carroll's conclusions. They discovered the reason that their research results, which showed significant reduction in standardized scores for block scheduling students, were contrary to the Carroll's research was that Carroll based his conclusions on a comparison of grade point averages, rather than standardized aptitude tests. The researchers found:

"The results of the study did not support Carroll's findings as expected. Carroll (1994) found support for block scheduling using the students' final classroom grades for comparison. Carroll's findings may be due to the fact that classroom grades were used rather than standardized tests scores and one questions if classroom grades are more closely related to class curriculum than to class schedules." W. Lawrence, D. McPherson, A Comparative Study of Block Scheduling and Traditional Scheduling on Academic Achievement, Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2000,

There is a reason that some studies show a preference by students for block scheduling. Under the block schedule, students do what would ordinarily be homework during class. Without homework, the students find life more relaxed, because school is easier. What child would not prefer more play time? Some may call that a good thing. Others see it as dumbing down.

While children may welcome less homework under block scheduling, research has proven the benefits of homework to learning, particularly in mathematics. It is vital to learning mathematics for children to practice their newly taught skills. Homework involves active learning as distinguished from the more passive group atmosphere in a classroom. Studies have proven that homework has real and measurable benefits.

15-GiveThemAnA.jpgWith the grade inflation that inevitably follows block scheduling, more of the marginal students who would not otherwise graduate, are suddenly able to graduate high school. The higher graduation rate is not an indication that block scheduling has resulted in them learning more. On the contrary, they have learned less. The standards have just been lowered to allow them to graduate. Block scheduling is a standard lowering, grade inflating system to dumb down the students to allow more to graduate. If you lower the bar down enough, everyone will be able to graduate. Of course, we are then left with that sticky problem of having less able and educated graduates.

Dr. Mike Wronkovich, of the Coventry School District in Ohio performed a year long study on the effects of block scheduling on in the area of mathematics instruction and learning. His results, showed that students did enjoy math more under block scheduling. However, what the block scheduling advocates seem to gloss over is the consistent pattern of poor performance on standardized aptitude tests for students taught under block scheduling. Dr. Wonkovich's study found that "students who studied Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2 under block scheduling performed significantly below those studying the same subjects under traditional scheduling on a early college math achievement test." K. Bennett, Block Scheduling with a Mathematics Perspective,

Promoters of block scheduling not only focus on studies that measure "satisfaction" of students and other soft and difficult to measure criteria. They also adjust their data to fit the desired outcome. For example, we read the following from a website ( promoting block scheduling in North Carolina Schools: "The 1996 and 1997 End-of-Course (EOC) Test scores in five required subjects, adjusted for parent education level and performance before moving to a block schedule, show few statistically significant differences between block and non-blocked schools." (emphasis added) Notice that there was no benefit. The most they could do was adjust the data to show "few statistically significant differences." However, when learning and knowledge are measured it becomes clear that block scheduling is detrimental to students.

The above North Carolina Public School website offers no statistics to back up its claim. The study is mentioned, but the actual data is not published on the site. The results of the "adjusted" study allegedly showing few statistical differences are impeached by the empirical study done of North Carolina schools performed by Lawrence and McPherson. Those researchers published data showing that there was a significant reduction in scholastic aptitude scores across the board for students subjected to block scheduling. Students taught under the traditional schedule outscored the block scheduling students by a significant margin in every subject measured in the study: Alebra I, Biology, English I, and U.S. History. The study is available for review online at:

Profit Motive

Why this push for block scheduling in schools today? Dr. Jeff Lindsay explored this issue. Dr. Lindsay concluded:

"It seems that the recent Federal push for "school-to-work" programs and certificates of mastery may offer a partial explanation for direct Federal and indirect corporate support of block scheduling. (Check out the Department of Education's School to Work Web site.) [Note: the school to work website has since been completely deleted from the web.] If students are to have time for work experience or visits to work sites during school hours, then longer blocks of class time are helpful."

* * *

"Federally driven trends have probably been a major influence toward the block, though often indirectly. I have received reports of grants given to schools to help implement block scheduling, often in the context of forms of Outcome Based Education and the Goals 2000 agenda. Good ol' money probably plays a key role--not only to motivate schools to "reform," but in motivating the gurus of reform to sell their spurious wares. Certainly I was shocked to see that Dr. Robert [Lynn] Canady, one of the leading gurus of block scheduling, has block scheduling implementation materials--just two 30-minute videos, an audiotape, and a small booklet--that sell for $395. (To see an ad for this product--and to get the special sale price of just $295--visit the Web page at "" by the Video Journal of Education.) [Note: the Video Journal of Education website has since been completely deleted from the web.] I have received several reports of high lecture fees and consulting fees being received by the most noted proponents of block scheduling. Now that the block has become the rage, personal career development can motivate many to keep the bandwagon rolling. I had one school administrator tell me that if his career goal were to be a superintendent, then he had better get some experience with block scheduling in order to be competitive. He suggested that some administrators are pushing this fad with their own career in mind. But self-promotion or the profit motive still don't explain why block scheduling has become such a popular fad in the first place."

60-duncecap.jpgThe August 26, 2005 memorandum found at indicates that a three day workshop for teachers was conducted on July 25-27, 2005. The workshop was put on by Robert Lynn Canady, Jean Strebe and Jane Butler. The seminar cost the county $15,000, which included food. How much of that $15,000 was paid to the consultants?

There was a makeup session held on August 29 and 31, 2005, put on by Lynn Canady, Roger Mackey, and Harold Wright, which cost the county $4,000.What portion of the listed expenses were paid to the consultants?

In addition, Dr. Canady personally consulted with administrators of the Stafford County School system in September 2004 and in fact gave a presentation in October 2003. See Was Canady paid for those consultations?

If the majority of the listed expenses constitute the fees to the consultants, then that fact supports Dr. Lindsay's finding that there is a profit motive behind the gurus promoting block scheduling. I have no objection to someone making money. However, when they make money promoting a system of education, one should understand that one is dealing with a person who is a salesman first and an educator second. A salesman has a built in bias in promoting his product. When his system is adopted, he has established a client for future updates and seminars. Lynn Canady and his associates have a profit motive to promote block scheduling. His advocacy should be considered in that light.

School District Response to Objections by Parents

In the early fall of 2005 Stafford parents found suddenly found out that there children were being subjected block scheduling. They brought their objections to the school board. The school board in turn mandated the school district to study the effect of block scheduling on students in the three Stafford high schools.

The school district then prepared a proposed evaluation plan and submitted it to the school board for their approval. Block Scheduling Evaluation Plan, .

The action item memo for the proposed block scheduling evaluation plan was filed on October 11, 2005, which was the day of the school board hearing. Block Scheduling at Stafford County High Schools, .

Filing it so late assured that it would not appear on the agenda and had the effect of keeping the parents in the dark about their evaluation plans. The school board should be commended for seeing the danger in this and calling for a November 2, 2005, public hearing on the evaluation plan. In fact, the agenda for the for the October 11, 2005 hearing did not even mention the evaluation plan as an action item. October 11, 2005, Stafford County School Board Agenda, .

Parents immediately saw through the proposed evaluation plan. The parents realized that the evaluation plan was designed to gloss over the detrimental effects of block scheduling on academic achievement by focusing on non-academic matters.

Evaluating the Evaluation Plan

The first evaluation plan proposed by the school district contained the following statement:

In summary, more opportunities, more flexibility, improvements in the school climate, better student-teacher interaction, and more effective instruction are the positive outcomes expected as a result of changing to block scheduling. This evaluation plan which focuses on the 2005-06 implementation of block scheduling will analyze separately each of these reasons for changing the scheduling format. The primary purpose of this evaluation is to determine to what degree the expected positive outcomes were realized during the first year of implementation of the hybrid block scheduling format. Even though higher student achievement has not been a premise for the scheduling change, a secondary purpose of this evaluation is to analyze specific student academic measures (i.e. - SOL end-of-course results, SAT scores, and advanced placement results).

Hybrid Block Scheduling Evaluation Plan,

Please note the last sentence in the plan. It states that "higher student achievement has not been a premise for the scheduling change." Hybrid Block Scheduling Evaluation Plan,

That is an astounding admission! The school administration admits that the switch to block scheduling has nothing to do with improving the academic achievement of the students.

The title on the plan is misleading. The title is misleading, because the block scheduling plan in the three Stafford high schools is a 4X4 block schedule. It is not a hybrid at all.

The plan lists the alleged benefits considered by the three Stafford high schools in adopting block scheduling:

1. Students would have greater opportunities to take more courses.
2. Students who fail courses could retake the failed course the next semester, and other students could accelerate through high school.
3. School would be more personalized since teachers would have fewer students.
4. Students would engage in student centered learning rather than teacher centered instruction.
5. Improved school climate from less activity in the halls from fewer class breaks.
6. More collaborative planning time would give teachers a greater sense of empowerment and effectiveness.

Notice what is missing from the list. There is no mention of improved academic aptitude. The school administration states that those listed benefits came from "the findings from research studies during the year of planning conducted in the three high schools." Hybrid Block Scheduling Evaluation Plan,

Apparently the research did not indicate that there would be any increase in learning. If it had, the administration would certainly have mentioned it. Clearly, the administration knew before adopting block scheduling that it would not improve learning.

Furthermore, some of the alleged benefits given for adopting block scheduling are rather dubious. Should making teachers feel good by giving them a greater sense of empowerment and effectiveness be a reason for adopting a new instructional system? Shouldn't the focus be on the students? What does it mean for a teacher to have a greater sense of empowerment? How could the teachers have any sense of effectiveness when one of the benefits listed by the administration expressly states that the block scheduling model assumes that a teacher's instruction is "less effective" than having the child learn on his own? Stating that under block scheduling students would engage in student centered learning, rather than teacher centered instruction, is just a fancy way of saying that the students will do what should be homework during class. Part of the 90 minute class will turn into a glorified study hall. The teachers will teach less and the students will learn less.

It is misleading to say that the students will have more personalized instruction. The classes will not be any smaller, they will simply be longer, thus limiting the total number of students the teacher sees in a day. The cost to the taxpayers will increase, because more teachers will be needed. Each teacher will be teaching fewer students in a school day, but the class sizes will not shrink.

The school administration states that the measure of the scholastic aptitude of the students is "a secondary purpose of this evaluation." Id. It is absolutely astonishing that the primary purpose of school has become a secondary measure of the effectiveness of a teaching method!

The Stafford school district states that the criteria that is of primary importance are: "more opportunities, more flexibility, improvements in the school climate, better student-teacher interaction, and more effective instruction." Id. The school district planned on downplaying scholastic aptitude and focusing on unmeasurable, unverifiable criteria in assessing block scheduling.

One expected outcome stated by the school district is "more effective instruction." What better way is there to measure the effectiveness of the instruction than by standardized aptitude tests? Yet, the results of those tests are a "secondary purpose" of the evaluation. Apparently, the school district thinks that learning has little to do with "more effective instruction."

The school district, after listing all of the soft criteria, states: "The primary purpose of this evaluation is to determine to what degree the expected positive outcomes were realized during the first year of implementation of the hybrid block scheduling format." The one criterion that they do not list among the expected "positive outcomes" is academic achievement. Is that because they know that block scheduling lowers scholastic aptitude of students?

All of the statistically significant, peer reviewed, empirical studies show that block scheduling causes a measurable reduction in standardized aptitude tests. The Stafford school district, has spent years studying block scheduling. They certainly are aware of those studies. Is that the reason that "higher student achievement has not been a premise for the scheduling change?" Id. Could it be that the school administration fully expected that scholastic aptitude of students will suffer under block scheduling?

The school district doesn't need to study the Stafford high schools to tell them block scheduling is harmful, if they have read the published studies as they claim, they already know that. The school administration explicitly states in the proposed evaluation plan that "higher student achievement has not been an expected outcome."

No wonder the school administration went to such efforts to keep the parents in the dark about their block scheduling plans. The parents would have found out that block scheduling is not expected nor intended to help their children learn more. They knew that if the parents realized that the block scheduling emperor had no clothes, the parents would have taken steps to prevent block scheduling from being approved by the school board.

The real purpose of the proposed evaluation plan was to trumpet the "expected positive outcomes" in things such as "more opportunities, more flexibility, improvements in the school climate, better student-teacher interaction, and more effective instruction." Note that all of the expected outcomes are particularly susceptible to subjective assessment. The expected harmful impact on academic achievement will be downplayed as a secondary concern. That is not hyperbole, there is no guessing about this - they have told us so in writing!

The things that the administration plans to measure are:

1. Number of courses offered;
2. Course enrollment;
3. Promotion and graduation rates;
4. Class sizes;
5. Teacher loads;
6. Best practices audit;
7. Online opinion surveys;
8. Number of teacher preparations;
9. Attendance rates;
10. Suspension rates;
11. Referrals;
12. Academic achievement.

The first eleven criteria shrink to insignificance next to academic achievement, which is listed last. It is listed last, because the school district considers it least important. How can educators think that the primary purpose of education, academic achievement, is least important! The administration not only listed academic achievement last, they did so with the dismissive statement that: "Even though higher student achievement has not been an expected outcome, a comparative analysis will be conducted of SOL end-of-course tests, SAT, and AP results (block v. traditional)." Id.

What the school district planned to do was use subjective opinion surveys and measures of other collateral issues of lesser importance to try to explain away the deleterious effect of block scheduling. What possibly could outweigh a lowered scholastic aptitude? They have a rigged scale, on the one side there is the gold standard of measurable academic aptitude, but they plan on weighing the other side down with the lead ballast of subjective opinions and unmeasurable criteria such as student-teacher interaction, teachers' sense of empowerment, a more personalized atmosphere, and other factors which are of questionable relevance.

One measure of block scheduling that appears on its face to be valid is the graduation rate. However, appearances can be deceiving. Do not be fooled by graduation rates. A characteristic of block scheduling is grade inflation. While the children learn less, they get better grades. Consequently, a student who under traditional scheduling would fail, is able to graduate under block scheduling. Block scheduling just lowers the bar. If one lowers the standards, of course there will be an improvement in the graduation rate.

In addition, the opinion surveys can be expected to be positive for block scheduling. The students end up spending the longer class time during block scheduling doing what would ordinarily be homework. It is the rare child who would not prefer less homework. The students will look upon less homework as a good thing and the surveys will say so. The kids don't perceive the detrimental impact of the more leisurely academic pace. They do not have the maturity, in many cases, to know what is best for them.

The school district knows that most of the stated criteria for measuring the effectiveness of block scheduling are either statistically unmeasurable or invalid. The administration states in its plan: "Statistical tests for differences and levels of significance are not possible with the survey results since a true scientific research design is not the purpose of this evaluation."

If a true scientific study is not the purpose, what is the purpose? The administration has answered that question in their first proposed evaluation plan. In the plan, they stated: "The objective of the survey is to give substantial feedback regarding the relative merits of the block schedule versus the traditional schedule regarding academic opportunities, student-teacher interaction, school climate, student behavior, instructional quality, and overall satisfaction."

Notice how academic achievement is not even listed as an objective. Instead, they list "academic opportunities," whatever that means. The other measures are virtually unmeasurable. How does one measure "student-teacher interaction?" The term "school climate" is so vague as to be virtually meaningless. Even if they defined it, how would they measure it?

The school administration has told us that the plan they have set up makes it impossible to detect any difference between block scheduling and traditional scheduling because "a true scientific research design is not the purpose of this evaluation." Id. What they mean is: the fix is in. The purpose of the evaluation is not to measure, because the criteria for the most part are unmeasurable. The purpose appears to be declare a victory without winning; to trumpet block scheduling without any way for someone to verify whether block scheduling was effective or not. The real measure of the effectiveness of block scheduling, scholastic aptitude, is not even listed as an objective of the evaluation plan. It is relegated to a secondary measure, perhaps to be explained away.

There was no plan to measure the additional cost of block scheduling.

The impact of block scheduling is like a devalued currency. The result is felt, but the cause is hard to discover. In the case of money, the currency purchases less at the store. In the case of block scheduling, the student's academic aptitude has been lowered. The individual student may not realize what has happened to him; he has no way to know that he could have done better on the SAT or other standardized tests under a traditional schedule. Consequently, he does not realize that he could have gotten into the college that rejected him, or that he could have obtained the academic scholarship that he missed out on if he had not been dumbed down by block scheduling. However, just as there are ways to measure currency inflation, there are ways to measure the effect of block scheduling. The empirical studies have been done. They prove block scheduling is academically harmful to children.

Trying to Slip One Past the Parents and School Board

In response to concerns of parents and the school board regarding the proposed block 57-race.jpgscheduling evaluation plan, the school district revised the evaluation plan. However, the school district once again tried to get the school board to approve the evaluation plan without any public input. One day prior to the November 15, 2005 school board meeting, the school district filed their Revised Block Scheduling Evaluation Plan. The administration did not even post the agenda for the meeting until sometime after 11:00 a.m. on November 14th. Once the agenda was finally posted, it mentioned the evaluation plan, but it did not include a link to the revised evaluation plan until later on November 15th, the day of the actual hearing.

Filing the revised plan as late as it did and not posting it on the school board website until just prior to the hearing, assured the school administration that neither the school board nor the public would have an adequate opportunity to review the plan before the school board voted on it. Once again the school board decided that the public should have an opportunity to comment on the controversial revised evaluation plan and delayed a vote on the revised plan until the next school board meeting scheduled for December 13, 2005.

The conduct by the school district of filing the revised evaluation plan at the last possible opportunity is just one act in a pattern of similar artifices used to slip things past the public and the school board. For example, the public notices for the November 2, 2005 public hearing called by the school board were mailed out so late that one person at the hearing received his notice in the mail on the day of the hearing. On October 11, 2005, the school administration was tasked with giving notice for the November 2, 2005 public meeting, however, the school district waited approximately16 days before posting notice on the internet and mailing out notices to the parents.

As discussed earlier, the November 2, 2005 hearing had to be called in the first place to because the school district had filed the action item memo for the initial proposed block scheduling evaluation on October 11, 2005, which was the day of the school board hearing, at which the school board was to vote on the plan. Filing it so late was an attempt to assure that the parents would be kept in the dark about their evaluation plan and not give the school board sufficient time to review the plan before voting on it. In fact, the agenda for the for the October 11, 2005 hearing did not even mention the evaluation plan as an action item.

The Revised Evaluation Plan - Beyond Obfuscation

As indicated above we find on the bottom of page 3 in the first evaluation plan, the school district made the following admission:

Even though higher student achievement has not been a premise for the scheduling change, a secondary purpose of this evaluation is to analyze specific student academic measures (i.e. - SOL end-of-course results, SAT scores, and advanced placement results).

Block Scheduling Evaluation Plan,

In the revised evaluation plan that statement has been redacted.

On the bottom of page 6 of the first evaluation plan, the school administration made the following admission:

Even though higher student achievement has not been an expected outcome, a comparative analysis will be conducted of SOL end-of-course tests, SAT, and AP results (block v. traditional).

Block Scheduling Evaluation Plan,

In the revised evaluation plan that statement has also been redacted.

No explanation is given for the removal of the above statements from the revised evaluation plan. A document was handed out by the school district at a November 15th board meeting that was alleged to list "REVISIONS, CHANGES, AND ADDITIONS to Hybrid Block Scheduling Evaluation Plan." There was not any mention in that document of the deletions of the statements indicating that higher student achievement was neither the premise of block scheduling nor an expected outcome. Reading the revised evaluation plan makes it apparent why those statements were removed and why there is no mention of their redaction.

The heading on the Evaluation Design Table has been changed from "BENEFITS OF BLOCK SCHEDULING OR EXPECTED OUTCOMES (Reasons the Schools changed)" to "STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT CORRELATES OR EXPECTED OUTCOMES."

Initially the school district admitted that student achievement had not been a premise nor an expected outcome of block scheduling. Now they have removed that admission and the very same items that were not considered measures of student achievement, have mysteriously been transformed into "student achievement correlates." The administration had gone from obfuscation in their first proposed evaluation plan to outright deception in their revised plan.

Correlates are things that accompany one another or are related in some way. Correlations in the field of human response are almost always causal. That means that a given stimulus will cause a given result. In the context of the block scheduling evaluation, the school administration is suggesting that the "Student Achievement Correlates" have a causal link to student achievement, hence the title. The title "Student Achievement Correlates"in the revised evaluation plan suggests that the correlation between the listed outcomes and student achievement is positive. A school district representative repeatedly made that very point in his November 2nd presentation.

The problem with the table labeled Evaluation Design is that it assumes that the correlation is positive without any supporting authority. A school district official, during his November 2nd presentation repeated the mantra that research has shown that the listed expected outcomes improve student achievement. In addition, page 4 of the revised evaluation plan states: "The research clearly substantiates that each of these expected outcomes are correlates for indicators of student achievement such as more students taking higher-level courses, more students graduating, and higher standardized test results." Revised Block Scheduling Evaluation Plan,

Where are the studies that "clearly substantiate" a positive correlation between the expected outcomes and student achievement? If the studies are so clear, the school district administration should have been able to cite at least one; unless there are no such studies, and the assertion by the school administration is just hyperbole.

It is clear that under the evaluation plan, a positive correlation is assumed. Percieved success for block scheduling is therefore assured. All that has to be done is establish that the "Student Achievement Correlates" have occurred, and presto: block scheduling is ruled a success.

While the revised plan does have actual measures of student achievement, the revised plan makes it clear that actual student achievement is only a "complimentary objective" of the evaluation plan. The "primary purpose" of the evaluation plan is to determine the extent that the expected outcomes listed among the "Student Achievement Correlates" are realized. The primary measure of the effectiveness of block scheduling has been relegated to the status of a "complementary objective." The measure of the effect of block scheduling on the students should be through standard aptitude tests. Increasing academic aptitude should be the prime objective, not a "complementary objective."

The expected successful outcome for the "Student Achievement Correlates" simply measure the existence of the alleged correlates without actually examining what the correlation is between the alleged correlates and student achievement. If the expected outcomes listed as "Student Achievement Correlates" are actually correlates, then why is not student achievement the measure used to determine success of the expected outcomes? The answer is obvious; they are not actually correlates at all. The caption is a deception. Calling something a correlate does not make it so. Studies have shown that some of the "Student Achievement Correlates" actually have a negative correlation to student achievement or are wholly irrelevant to student achievement.

The school administration, in labeling events as correlates of student achievement when they are not really correlates at all, seems to have adopted the attitude of Humpty Dumpty. "'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'" Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6.

For example, one of the "Student Achievement Correlates" is "with 90 minute classes, students would have more opportunities to engage in student-centered learning activities, instead of the less effective teacher-centered instruction." Block scheduling results in 90 minute (actually 87 minute) classes. However, the assumed positive correlation between the 90 minute classes and student achievement does not exist. See Christina A. Samuels, Parents Want New Schedule At School, Washington Post, January 23, 1999, Woodbridge High School Principal Pamela P. Brown defended the block scheduling system by pointing out that "more students are on the honor roll and more are taking advanced placement and vocational courses." The reporter, however, put those results in context by pointing out: "At the same time, however, she acknowledges that scores on the Scholastic Assessment Tests have dropped." Block Scheduling results in grade inflation, thus more students on the honor roll. The students learn less as measured by scholastic aptitude tests. They end up being dumbed down, but they feel good about themselves because now they are on the honor roll.

Just saying there is a positive correlation does not make it so. In fact, peer reviewed, statistically significant studies which have been provided to the School Board and the School Administration show that there is a negative correlation between 90 minute classes and student achievement. E.g., W. Lawrence, D. McPherson, A Comparative Study of Block Scheduling and Traditional Scheduling on Academic Achievement, Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2000,; The College Entrance Examination Board, Research Notes, Office of Research and Development, Block Scheduling and Student Performance on AP Examinations, May 1998,; Jeff Lyndsay, The Case Against Block Scheduling, Part 1: The Nature of the Problem,

The school district administration knows that there is not a positive correlation between 90 minute classes and student achievement. They stated in the first draft of their evaluation plan that "higher student achievement has not been an expected outcome." The question then becomes, why is the school administration engaging in measuring an outcome under the false premise that a positive outcome in each of the correlates means that the students will learn more, when in fact a positive outcome in some of the correlates actually means that the students will learn less? The answer again is obvious. The study is not designed to actually measure student achievement, it is designed to justify the decision to switch to block scheduling.

Many of the other adjustments that have been made in the evaluation plan were in part cosmetic. For example, while it is better to include more parent involvement in the study groups, that fact alone will not cure the deficiencies in the plan itself. The study groups are going to be kept busy preparing and tallying survey instruments that measure the opinions of students and teachers, while the measure of scholastic achievement is relegated to a "complimentary objective." It is like spray painting a car that has been totaled in an accident without first repairing the body. The car may look a little bit better but it is still a wreck.

The Actual Evaluation

Once the actual evaluation was underway, the school district was rather heavy handed in running the block scheduling evaluation committee. Parents on the committee objected to a report being submitted to the school board that was being represented as a committee report when the committee had not voted on the report, and committee members had only seen a rough draft. As a result, the school board refused to accept the report.

The most important fact discovered by the block scheduling evaluation committee was that the SAT scores declined 3 % in the Stafford block scheduling schools within two years of adopting block scheduling. The SAT scores declined 2 % in the non-block schools over the same two years.

Singing a Different Song

When the school district submitted their initial plan to evaluate block scheduling they admitted that academic achievement was not the reason for adopting block scheduling. However, prior to submitting the first proposed evaluation plan the school district was singing a different song.

In September 2005 The school district was represented by Mountain View High School Principal Jim Stemple, who gave a presentation before the school board. During the presentation, Mr. Stemple represented block scheduling as a way to improve academic achievement.

We now know that improved student achievement was neither expected, nor was it the reason the administration adopted block scheduling. Yet Mr. Stemple, who was intimately involved with the planning for block scheduling, made the following representations in his Powerpoint presentation:

"Schools should be reinvented around learning not time"

"Time should support learning - not bind learning"

Those statements clearly indicate that the purpose of block scheduling is to improve learning. Mr. Stemple's Powerpoint presented the case for block scheduling to improve academic achievement as way to remedy the following problems:

"To reach students at-risk of not being successful"

"Children are coming to high school behind"

"We look at the scores at surface level."

"We tend to look at AYP and be satisfied if we make it"

"We have hit a plateau"

"We won't make AYP for long."

"70 students come to each high school that did not pass the 8th grade English tests.

Minority Students are doing worse"

"Minority students are being outperformed by 10 to 20 percent at each school"

"We have an achievement gap"

"Some students are coming to high school unable to pass the eighth grade tests"

"We must get 100% of the incoming high school students to graduate"

"We can leave no child behind"

"We have not been meeting the needs of the individual learner"

"We have not been challenging our students who can be challenged"

"We need to do more for our special needs populations"

According to his Powerpoint presentation, block scheduling:

"Meets the individual needs of the learner"

"Offers opportunities for remediation and acceleration"

"Students are able to learn through a variety of instructional delivery methods"

Mr. Stemple even went so far as to present graphs comparing academic aptitude of traditional schools with block scheduling schools. While the block scheduling school was identified (Fairfax), the traditional schools were not. That was odd indeed. Even more unusual was that he did not identify the study nor the measure used in the study, so there was no way to check the validity of the study.

Mr. Stemple included in his performance before the school board, the rhetorical question: "When is the last time Stafford has had a National Merit Scholar?" Melissa Nix, Blocking Out Study Time, Fredericksburg Free Lance Star, October 16, 2005,

The context in which he made that statement indicated that he was trying to convey the idea that the traditional schedule had not in recent times produced a National Merit Scholar, and perhaps block scheduling would do so through an improvement in academic achievement.

As we have seen, after Mr. Stemple's presentation the school district admitted in their first proposed block scheduling evaluation plan that "higher student achievement has not been a premise for the scheduling change," and "higher student achievement has not been an expected outcome." Mr. Stemple was chosen to make his presentation by the school district presumably because he was involved in the process leading up to the adoption of block scheduling at Mountain View High School. The school district knew when Mr. Stemple made his presentation that block scheduling would not improve academic achievement and that was not the reason for adopting it. The school district said one thing when trying to justify its decision to adopt block scheduling (block scheduling will improve student achievement) and just the opposite thing when explaining how they are going to measure the effectiveness of block scheduling (block scheduling is not expected to improve student achievement).

Parental Input Requirement

Mr. Stemple's performance before the school board was only one in a long list of 58-public.jpgmaneuvers by the school administration. From the beginning, the school administration has had a blind allegiance to block scheduling that defies reason. They were so set on block scheduling that they ignored parental notice requirements imposed upon them by the school board. That had the effect of keeping parents for the most part in the dark about the plans to implement block scheduling.

The August 26, 2005, Block Scheduling Professional Development Plan memorandum mentioned a vote taken in 1995 of the parents, teachers, and students regarding their knowledge of and desire for block scheduling. At that time, Stafford County parents were involved in the actual decision process regarding block scheduling. The parents for the respective high schools were surveyed regarding the desirability of block scheduling. That is, the parents actually voted.

What was unusual was the treatment of the parent vote in the August 26, 2005, memorandum. In the memo, the 1995 votes of the parents, teachers, and students were mentioned, but only the result of the teacher vote was given. Neither the parent nor the student vote results were mentioned. The memo only stated that the 1995 survey showed that there was not enough support for block scheduling from the "teachers."

The silence on the parent vote result speaks volumes. Certainly, the parents did not approve of block scheduling. If they did, the writers of the memo would have said so.

The present school board required that the school administration "shall solicit and consider community input regarding block scheduling prior to making a recommendation to making a recommendation to the full faculty."

This time, unlike 1995, no vote from the parents would be taken. With the vague language from the school board, only requiring "soliciting and considering" community "input," the advocates of block scheduling were home free. That requirement was unmeasurable and unverifiable. The language was so vague, the principals could do almost anything (or more accurately - nothing) and be able to satisfy the school board.

Apparently, the principals were so complacent with that prerequisite, they felt that sending out a notice letter to the parents after the school board had already granted initial approval would do the trick. The circumstances of the notice letter from Brooke Point, combined with similar practices at the other high schools, indicates that public input was not desired by the principals. The process in place required community input prior to making a recommendation to the full faculty. The notice letter, however, was not sent out until a month after the faculty vote.

Furthermore, the Brook Point notice letter was not truly designed to solicit community input as required by the board. The letter was three pages in length explaining all of the work that had thus far been put into adopting block scheduling and the supposed benefits of that scheduling scheme. The request for input appeared as a suggestion for informally asking questions or making comments, presumably over the telephone. There was no set time for a public forum or vote of the parents. By no stretch of the imagination could the letter be considered sufficient to comply with the school board's community input requirement.

Furthermore, the Brooke Point principal requested initial approval from the school board on December 14, 2004. The January 2, 2005 notice letter was not sent out until 19 days after that initial school board approval. The principal not only waited a month after the teacher vote to send out the notice letter, but she also made sure that she received approval from the school board before letting the parents know of the plan.

The notice letter went out only 9 days prior to the January 11, 2005 school board meeting, at which the school district received final approval. The notice letter documents all of the work that had gone into the decision to adopt block scheduling. Any parent would have been quite reticent at that late hour to object and no doubt would have been viewed as an obstructionist by the principal and the school board. The parents were steamrolled over in the process.

It is clear to any objective observer that community input was not sought, but instead 73-spanking.jpgwas viewed as a hurdle to overcome in the Brooke Point principal's endeavor to convince the board to approve block scheduling.

In the case of Brooke Point, it seems that the parents were simply given notice after the decision had already been made. The notice asked for their input on an informal basis. There was no veto power by the parents over the proposal, and no mechanism in place by which the parents could voice their objection before the school board.

The parents were completely bypassed in the actual decision making process. The students in the schools are our children, and yet we have had no actual voice on block scheduling. Parents are relegated to whatever input is deemed appropriate by the principal who is advocating the change.

Similar stratagems were used in the adoption of block scheduling at North Stafford and Mountain View High Schools. In the table for the August 26, 2005, Block Scheduling Professional Development Plan, there is no mention of any parental involvement until January 2005 (Brooke Point) and February 2005 (North Stafford), wherein the table indicates "letters were sent to households explaining block scheduling."

Letters to parents of students at North Stafford were sent out on March 11, 2005, notifying the parents of the plan to implement block scheduling and further notifying them of a March 23, 2005 meeting which the staff of North Stafford would "discuss any concerns or questions you may have." The parent meeting was not only after the teacher vote, but it was after the board had already approved block scheduling. Once again, the parents were kept in the dark and were not asked for input until after the block scheduling plan was approved by the board and it was in the process of being implemented.

Principal Stemple's Power Point presentation does not indicate that any input whatsoever was sought from parents until a parent meeting was held in the Spring of 2005. That was after block scheduling was already approved by the school board. That is confirmed by the Block Scheduling Professional Development Plan, which indicates that in the Spring of 2005 "Parent meetings were held at each high school to explain the block scheduling format and its benefits." The meetings with parents were scheduled to explain the "benefits" of block scheduling, after the plans had already been adopted and approved.

Although the requirement of community input was vague, it was in fact required to be performed before a teacher vote. Prior parental approval was the very essence of the approval process. The school administration simply ignored that requirement. Undocumented and unspecified casual conversations with parents certainly would not qualify as community input.

Why would the school district deliberately disobey a mandate of the school board to obtain community input? Perhaps they knew that if the parents found out about block scheduling early enough they would explore the merits of block scheduling and discover that it would harm the scholastic aptitude of their children. The parents would no doubt have lobbied the school board to vote against block scheduling.

Block Scheduling Added Costs

Under the traditional schedule the students take 7 courses during the year, while under block scheduling the students take 8 courses during the year. The extra eighth courses taken by the students require the schools to hire extra teachers to teach those courses. Statistically, that means that the block scheduling schools must increase their teacher salary budget by at least 14% just to hire the teachers needed to teach the extra courses.

Clear Creek Independent School District in Texas reported that same 14% increase in teacher cost as a direct result of block scheduling. The Clear Creek Independent School District was using AB block scheduling. The impact on the budget is the same under both AB block scheduling and 4 X 4 block scheduling. See . See also Linda Chion Kenney, Back From the Block - or Not, The Administrator, American Association of School Administrators, .

"[Citrus County School Superintendent Sandra] Himmel said that switching to the six-period day would mean a savings of about $2.6-million in payroll costs. That is because, under the block schedule, at any one time, one quarter of the teachers are in their planning periods. In other schedules, planning periods are shorter and the amount of student contact time is extended and fewer teachers are needed. 'A lot of districts are coming off of the block and a lot of it is money,' she said." Barbara Behrendt, Return to Shorter Classes Examined, St. Petersburg Times, February 28, 2005, .

"School Board president Linda Darnell said she wants costs on the options. She also wanted to know how much money would be saved by dropping block scheduling at the high school and returning to a seven-period day. [Madison Superintendent Tom] Patterson said a seven-period day allows the teaching of more subjects with fewer teachers than the four-block schedule the high school uses." Peggy Vlerebome, Patterson Offers ‘Worst-case' Budget Cut Ideas, The Madison Courier, November 20, 2005, .

A cost comparison in Stafford County between a non-block high school, Colonial Forge, and a block high school, North Stafford, resulted in a finding of a 4.6 % added cost due to the additional teachers needed to teach at the block scheduling school. North Stafford has 118 teachers for 1,626 students. That is a ratio of 13.8 students per teacher. Colonial Forge has 128 teachers for 1,847 students. That is a ratio of 14.4 students per teacher. That is a 4.6 % added cost at North Stafford for block scheduling. 

Assuming the average salary of $ 46,841 for teachers, as reported in the 2005 Stafford County School Budget, the total additional cost in teacher salary, not including benefits, at North Stafford for block scheduling comes out to $234,205 per year. Assuming a similar cost differential at the other two block scheduling schools and we arrive at a total additional costs per year in teacher salary alone for the three block scheduling schools to be approximately $700,000.

It is unclear why is the cost difference in Stafford so much less than the 14 % cost difference that has been the case in other school districts throughout the country. The Stafford school district claimed that they did not know the number of teachers they had at each high school. Consequently, it was left to a parent to sift through the master schedules and count the teachers one by one at each school. There is a possibility that there was an error due to imperfect information, which showed the cost as much less than is in reality the case.

Below are links with more helpful information on block scheduling:

The Problems with Block Scheduling

Block Schedules and Student Performance on AP Examinations


SCHOC * PO Box 1717 * Stafford * VA * 22555

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