Why a brand-new master schedule isn’t the solution

white and black weekly planner on gray surface
Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

Note to readers: I try to post every week, but a summer full of PD workshops has turned out to be busier than the school year! I hope you’re having a restful July. 

In the past few weeks leading AP summer institutes for Macro/Micro teachers, I’ve had a lot of discussions about the “school day.” Meaning: How long is your class period? How often does class meet each week? How long is your quarter/trimester/semester?

Nearly every one of the 30+ teachers I have met is on a different schedule.

Some schools have an eight-period day, with 42-minute periods.

Others (like me) have a six-period day, with 57- minute periods.

Others have seven 48-minute periods. Or block scheduling, with some 45-minute periods and other 85-minute periods. Or a modified block — I don’t even know what that means.

We have quarters, trimesters, semesters. I honestly think no two districts in the U.S. run on the same schedule. Why? What are we gaining with all of this local control and experimentation?

I can tell you what we’re losing — the ability to actually share lesson plans with teachers in other districts. The opportunity to develop best practices and collaborate, across districts, on implementation. I might have a fabulous, coherent, well-organized lesson, but no one else can pick it up and use it because they don’t have 57-minute periods.

I was curious whether all this experimenting has led to actual quantifiable gains, so I spent some time this week researching to find out if anyone knows what schedule is best for kids’ learning or mental health. The answer, sadly, is no.

Despite all of the time and money we’ve put into up-ending student schedules, it’s all moving chairs on the Titanic.

A number of doctoral candidates have actually done intensive research on this, believe it or not. Jay Roland Dostal, who got his Ed.D. from the University of Nebraska, wrote the best (most comprehensive) thesis I found.

His topic was “alternative scheduling and its effect on science achievement.” He compared disciplinary reports and science achievement at high schools with seven-period days and four-period block schedules — with extensive pre-testing, post-testing and statistical analysis.

His findings (in short): “The reality is, that changing the school scheduling vehicle in and of itself doesn’t have a direct impact on student achievement according to the results of this study.”

Well that’s disappointing.

In the long run, Dostal concludes, the quality of instruction matters more than than the format of the school day. Frustrating, isn’t it? We should be putting our time and money into improving instructional strategies, but instead many districts keep changing schedules, eager to jump on the next bandwagon.

My high school, for the record, hasn’t changed the basic makeup of our six-period day in the 21 years I’ve taught there. I guess they had the right idea all along.

Martha Rush is a teacher, blogger, author and speaker. Visit NeverBore.org or join the NeverBore LLC Facebook group for more information. @MarthaSRush