Block Scheduling: It May Be A Large Mountain That Your Child Will Have to Climb

Argumentative Essay

By Matt Scholl

    As block scheduling is being implemented in more schools around the country, parents are finding that they are becoming interested in a part of life that they have long passed.  Why? They are hearing about the negative effects block scheduling can have on their children’s education.  Sure, their children are benefiting through less time lost in the halls, and more time for student-teacher interaction, but problems are arising with attention span limits, retention, transferring, and academic performance.

    The school day has been restructured from the typical six to eight period day to a day that involves only four periods.  Classes in the block schedule are much longer than the traditional 40 to 50 minute period.  Courses are taken for half a year instead of the whole year.  An optimist may say that block scheduling will lessen the stress on students and provide teachers with the option to invent new teaching styles and methods.  That is a positive outlook though.

    It is true that at first glance block scheduling looks like a good idea to most students.  I can vouch for this from my experience with block scheduling.  My friends and I immediately thought that block scheduling would be much easier to handle than the normal eight period schedule that had been used at our high school, Whitehall High School.  At the time we were unaware of the problems associated with the new type of scheduling.  The only information we had provided to us was looking through a positive perspective.  However, after one grading period of the block scheduling the problems were apparent to most participants.  Susan Johnson, a member of the class graduating in 2001 from Whitehall High School, provided an interesting story.   Johnson said, “the new type of schedule was talked about in such a positive way when it first started that I actually made fun of my friends that didn’t attend a school that had applied the schedule.  By the end of one grading period of the new scheduling I found myself complaining to the same friends that I had made fun of for not having the schedule in their school." 

    Jeff Lindsay, a concerned father of three and an author of his own website that includes information and opinions about block scheduling, states that, “longer classes are incompatible with the attention spans of most students.”  According to Lindsay, who has been recognized by for having one of the best block scheduling sites on the web, the natural tendency in block scheduling is to water down the material instead of trying to cover more.  Movies, games, and homework are being used in classrooms to fill in the down time.  In classes like math and science it is the hardest to water down material and students often find these type of classes the most difficult to pay attention in (Lindsay “Summary of Problems” 1).   Peter Bugby, a German teacher at Whitehall High School, says, “I have taught German in many different schools.  Since block scheduling has been implemented at Whitehall High School I have covered less material than I ever did in the other schools I taught in.  The kids just can’t make it through eighty minutes of German class.  The more advanced German classes are better but German one and two have so many kids that lose interest.  When I feel the students are out of my grasp I will pop in a stupid German video.  I’m sure they don’t pay attention to that but at least I’m not in front of the class talking to myself.”   Watered down material and attention span limitations are likely to make learning less effective.

    On almost all college applications there is a spot for SAT and ACT test scores.  Block scheduling brings up a significant problem when it comes to student performance on the SAT and ACT test.  Lindsay points out that students taking courses like English, Math, and Science in one semester can have a gap of eight to thirteen months before they have the next course in the series.   He says, “The long gaps in learning a particular topic may translate into poor retention and the need for more remedial review.”  Students who take the SAT or ACT test at the end of the school year may not do that well because of the amount of time that has passed since they took a course in the first semester (Lindsay “Summary of Problems” 1).  In an interview Cristina Dauscher, a 2000 graduate of Whitehall High School, said, "I had Algebra 2 in the first half of my sophomore year.  I took my SAT's in November of the next school year.  I had 9 months of time without any math class before I took my SAT's.   The math part of the exam seemed like it was written in a different language.  I just couldn’t remember anything because it had been so long since I took math."

    Imagine what it would be like to transfer to a new school in the middle of the school year. It is a tough task for any student to tackle.  Now imagine transferring from a block-scheduled school to a non-block scheduled school or from a non-block scheduled school to a block scheduled school.  Lindsay says that a student transferring from a school without block scheduling to one with block scheduling may have missed up to a half a year of material that is required.  Students may also “needlessly repeat” half of a year of material for courses already taken (Lindsay “Summary of Problems” 1).

    Block scheduling has been proven to decrease grades.  For many years experts in favor of block scheduling denied that any studies were being done in Canada.  The reason for this is because the Canadian studies were finding that block scheduling did not improve test grades.  In fact, the studies showed a decline in test scores.  According to tests done in 1996 by British Columbia, tests for the 12th grade showed a diminished performance in all subjects for students in block scheduling. For example, the study found that 8.2% of full-year students got A’s on an exam, while only 5.9% of the block scheduled students got A’s on the same test. 

    According to Lindsay, “the block scheduling bandwagon continues to roll, sometimes in spite of the children playing in the road.” (Lindsay “The Debate…” 1).  Many schools around the country have implemented the non-traditional type of schedule.  On his website Lindsay includes one of the many comments that he has received from parents and teachers:

A city administrator gave all secondary schools the directive to implement the block in the fall of 1999.  Now all junior/senior high school counselors are reporting a real mess.  We have more schedule conflicts than ever before when we had traditional seven period day.  The science teachers do like the longer periods, but we are discovering students are not retaining the material.  And we have been told to cut 20% of the curriculum.  This is silly…why cut 20% if you have more time???  Someone is not looking at the total minutes.  We are on an every-other-day block (8X2) and students are forgetting their homework, and not retaining material when taking tests.  Grades in core classes are way down.  Each student has four core classes and four electives.  So even though they fail a core class, they can still get an A in ‘basket weaving 101’ or ‘making balloon doggies 102’, and pass to the next grade.  Talk about an inflated GPA.  And our performing arts teachers are really mad (Lindsay “The Debate…” 1).

    From my knowledge of educational development I know that the United States is behind the development of some other nations.   Is the non-traditional block scheduling the way to go in order to bring United States education to the level of country’s that our ahead of them right now?   Block scheduling has not been proven to increase test scores.  Studies done to evaluate a countries educational development involve calculations of test scores.  If block scheduling is not proven to increase performance on test scores than how can it help the United States climb to the top of the educational ladder?


Works Cited

Lindsay, Jeff. Pros and Cons, Alternatives.  1 October 2000.  Online.  Available:

   21 November 2000.

Lindsay, Jeff.  The Debate on Academic Harm.  1 October 2000. Online.  Available:

   21 November 2000.

Johnson, Susan. Personal Interview. 19 November 2000.

Dauscher, Cristina.  Personal Interview. 20 November 2000.

Bugby, Peter.  Personal Interview.  19 November 2000.