The Call for Block and my 2021 Research Findings

  • How is the term “block schedule” best defined?
  • What are some of the pros and cons of block?
  • Who in America first called for a block schedule?
  • What percentage of high schools in America have responded to that call?
  • What percentage of America’s 100 best high schools plan to start the 2021–2022 school year utlizing some form of block?
  • What percentage of California’s 20 best high schools plan to start the 2021–2022 school year utlizing some form of block?
  • How have New Trier High, La Canada High, and San Marino High responded to the call for block?
  • What do the high schools that haven’t yet adopted some form of block have in common?
  • The National Center for Education Statistics at the US Department of Education.
  • The principals heading the 100 best high schools in America.
  • The principals heading the 20 best high schools in California.
  • Toby Boyd, the president of the California Teachers Association.
  • Michael D. Rettig and Robert Lynn, the authors of Block Scheduling: A Catalyst for Change in High Schools.
  • Donald D. Gainey and John M. Brucato, the authors of the book Questions and Answers about Block Scheduling: An Implementation Guide.
  • Don C. Adams and Mary E. Salvaterra, the authors of Block Scheduling: Pathways to Success.
  • J. Allen Queen, the author of Block Scheduling Revisited
  • Gary Lievre, a retired La Canada High School Social Studies teacher
  • Alice Petrossian, the past president of the Association of California School Administrators
  • Loren Kleinrock, the former superintendent of the San Marino Unified School District
  • Various past and present San Marino High School site and district leaders

The history of block scheduling in America

  1. Reduce the time teachers spend on routine administrative or classroom-management tasks — such as taking attendance, handing out and collecting materials, or preparing for and wrapping up activities — thus increasing the total amount of time students are engaged in meaningful and productive learning activities.
  2. Reduce the time students spend in the hallways moving between classes and thus increase the number of minutes available for learning.
  • Students (particularly at certain developmental stages) cannot stay focused for longer periods of time
  • Knowledge retention will be diminished if classes, math, and foreign language, in particular, do not meet every day.
  • Block scheduling, for it to prove effective, often requires significant changes in the way lessons are structured and taught. This may lead to teachers resisting or disliking the call for block because they feel less confident with the new format, or they are emotionally attached to a more familiar scheduling system. If teachers from the outset are overly resistant to block, the Glossary suggests, most attempts at block are sure to fail.
  • An “A/B” or “alternating-day” block schedule in which students take eight 90-minute classes that meet every other day.
  • A “trimester” schedule in which students take two or three core courses at a time, with each class meeting daily, over three 60-day trimesters.
  • A “75–15–75–15” schedule in which students take four 75-minute classes every day and finish courses in a semester, with each semester followed by an intensive 15-day learning-enrichment course or remedial program. Another variation is the “75–75–30” schedule, which uses only a single 30-day intersession rather than two 15-day intersessions.
  • A “Copernican” schedule in which students have longer classes for core academic subjects during one half of the school day and shorter daily periods for electives such as physical education or music during the second half of the day.
  • A “4 x 4” block schedule in which students take four 90-minute classes every day and finish a course in one semester rather than a full school year
  • 80% of the 100 best high schools in America currently utilize some form of block
  • 80% of the 20 best high schools in California currently utilize some form of block.
  • Founded long before World War II.
  • Founded in a politically conservative community between 1945–1965.
  • Founded between 1965–1975 by community leaders determined to provide their students with an anti-hippie, anti-counterculture learning environment.
  • Founded after 1975 for religious reasons.

New Trier High School and its Response to the Call for Block

  • Before Covid, New Trier had never adopted any form of block scheduling, though the district’s long-term strategic planners were envisioning (in the years leading up to Covid) that the school would adopt some form of block by the start of the 2023–24 academic school year. “Covid accelerated this timeline.
  • Above all else, we decided to move to block because we believe that a block schedule has a better potential of reducing student stress levels than any traditional schedule.
  • We also believe that scheduling fewer classes per day reduces stress on the teachers.
  • Most of our teachers, as well as most of our department chairs, support the move to block. Our Science, Social Studies, and English Department Chairs most strongly support the move to block.
  • Our math teachers are a mixed bag” when it comes to the support of block. So too our Special Education teachers.
  • 2/3rds of the best schools in the Midwest have adopted some form of block, though 1/3 of these schools offer a “blended form of block.
  • We believe that our fall block schedule will help us to better achieve one of our primary goals — to have students enjoy coming to school every day and then end up viewing their time here at New Trier as a great overall experience.

San Marino High School and its Response to the Call for Block

  • “The average maturity level of our freshmen and sophomores” wouldn’t support the adoption of some form of block scheduling.
  • The call for the adoption of some form of block scheduling would need the teachers to engage in an “extensive and transformational change to instruction” and, given all the other changes that the teachers in 2016 were being called upon to make (with these changes related to the rollout of the Common Core State Standards), the timing somehow wasn’t right.
  • The adoption of some form of block scheduling would result in “the students who are involved in certain activities like athletics and speech and debate finding themselves (falling) far behind in their classes due to regular absences related to these activities.”
  • A block schedule is suited best to English, Social Studies, and some CTE — project-based learning courses. Block is not as useful in Math, Science, World Languages, PE, and Health.
  • Prior to (my having been hired here at) San Marino, I’ve taught at schools with block scheduling . . . and I really liked it . . . I think block scheduling allows for teachers to dive deeper into content/a particular lesson, instead of having to break things up into 50-minute chunks that students then have to review again the next day.
  • This is not a discussion that should be had over email.
  • Block? Over my dead body!
  • I’m for block, and I know many teachers at this school who feel the same but are afraid to say so. They fear getting their teeth kicked in if they don’t say what the anti-block teachers want to hear.
  • We say we’re a college prep high school but look at our bell schedule. How many colleges have a bell schedule like that?
  • Why are we talking about this now? We have SO MUCH on our plates just finishing the year.
  • Block scheduling is counterproductive for math learning. Students can not absorb the quantity of information we would be forced to teach in a single period if we resorted to block. I can guarantee there would be losses in Math, and possibly Science and World Languages as well.
  • This strikes me as a solution in search of a problem.
  • My block scheduling experience both as a high school student AND a high school teacher was GREAT! On both sides of the fence, I saw the benefits of block scheduling beyond the individual classroom.
  • I believe I speak for the Science Dept; we are not in support of a block schedule.
  • I’m a science teacher, and I can’t entirely agree with the statement that the SMHS Science Department teachers do not support the idea of a block schedule. I’m somewhere in the middle between those who support the call for block and those who are opposed to it. Just haven’t yet decided one way or another.
  • The survey revealed that nearly 80% of the faculty are open to block. Perhaps it’s time for the school to give block another look.
  • As the SMUSD leaves the pandemic year behind, many will no doubt be tempted to revert to pre-pandemic routines and operations. However, reverting to pre-pandemic practices without reflecting and learning from the year would be unfortunate. There is an opportunity to grow from the year and a half — to use the lessons learned to reset patterns and expectations for student learning. As a school district committed to positive growth and whole-child instruction, implementing block scheduling is an opportunity that ought to be seized to pivot to a challenging yet nurturing learning environment that puts students first.
  • Many years ago, I attended a conference where the speaker claimed that “the typical high school still operates on an instructional model that was implemented during the Industrial Age with a school calendar that is a relic from the earlier agrarian period.’” That’s how I view the traditional schedule. As a relic of the past.
  • Every high school I know, with the exception of San Marino, has some form of block schedule. That seems strange to me but what seems even more strange are the arguments I keep hearing as to why we should hold on to our nearly 75-year-old traditional bell schedule.
  • I’m agnostic when it comes to the issue of block, though if pressed to take a stand, I’d stand on the side that calls for the adoption of some form of block coupled with a serious encouragement for, if not providing of, professional development.
  • If we were to take a deep dive into the question of whether the high school should adopt some form of block in 2023–2023, we will probably find that the benefits outweigh the costs.
  • Linda Darling-Hammond has it correct when she says that “the current comprehensive high school model is an outmoded relic and incompatible with today’s workplace. Today teachers need to spend more time with their students, either through longer periods or having educators teach the same group for multiple years.” (Darling-Hammond is one of the nation’s foremost education researchers and policy analysts, a professor of education emeritus at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, and a member of the CA State Board of Education.)
  • I’ve had years of experience working with both a block and a traditional bell schedule. I give a thumbs up to block.

La Canada High School and its Response to the Call for Block

  • The school since the 1970s revised its Red and Gold (block) schedule to include three full, six-period days and two block schedule days with only three periods.
  • LCHS plans to open the 2021–2022 school year with a bell schedule that includes “one day of daily demand (all six classes) and four block days, where busy students only need to prepare for three of their subjects for each following day.”
  • “The goal here is two-fold: We think that a greater embracing of a block schedule will not only result in teachers being able to provide their students with more sustained and engaging in-depth learning activities, we also think it will lead to a reduction in student and teacher stress and strain.”

The 20 Best Schools in California and their Response to the Call for Block

  1. Agoura
  2. Calabasas
  3. Campolindo
  4. CA Academy of Mathematics & Science
  5. Cupertino
  6. Harvard Westlake
  7. Henry Gunn
  8. La Canada
  9. Lynbrook
  10. Mission San Jose
  11. Monta Vista
  12. Oak Park
  13. Oxford
  14. Piedmont
  15. Saratoga
  16. University
  17. Whitney (though my admin contacts at Whitney tell me that they will probably be adopting some form of block for 2022–23.)
  1. Lowell
  2. Palos Verdes (not PV Pennisula)
  3. San Marino

The 25 Better Known Schools in Los Angeles County and their Response to the Call for Block

  • The names of schools followed by the word “Yes” are schools where the school’s principal has confirmed that his/her school WILL begin the 2021–2022 school utilizing some form of block scheduling
  • The names of schools followed by the word “Yes-P” are schools where the school’s website suggests that this school WILL begin the 2021–2022 school utilizing some form of block scheduling, though this school’s principal has not yet confirmed.
  • The names of schools followed by the word “No” are schools where the school’s principal has confirmed that his/her school WILL NOT begin the 2021–2022 school utilizing some form of block scheduling
  1. Alhambra — Yes
  2. Azusa — Yes-P
  3. Claremont — Yes
  4. Crescenta Valley — Yes
  5. Diamond Bar — Yes-P
  6. Duarte — No
  7. Flintridge Prep — Yes-P
  8. Gabriello — Yes-P
  9. Glendora — Yes
  10. Loyola — Yes
  11. Mira Costa — Yes-P
  12. Monrovia — Yes-P
  13. Montebello — Yes
  14. Rosemead — Yes-P
  15. Palos Verdes — Yes
  16. Polytechnic — No
  17. San Gabriel — Yes-P
  18. San Dimas High Yes — P
  19. South Pasadena — Yes
  20. St. Francis — Yes
  21. Temple City — No
  22. Thousand Oaks — No
  23. Villiage Christian — Yes
  24. Walnut — Yes
  25. Westridge Yes — P

The 100 Best Schools in America and their Response to the Call for Block

  • The names of schools followed by the word “Yes” are schools where the school’s principal has confirmed that his/her school WILL begin the 2021–2022 school utilizing some form of block scheduling
  • The names of schools followed by the word “Yes-P” are schools where the school’s website suggests that this school WILL begin the 2021–2022 school utilizing some form of block scheduling, though this school’s principal has not yet confirmed.
  • The names of schools followed by the word “No” are schools where the school’s principal has confirmed that his/her school WILL NOT begin the 2021–2022 school utilizing some form of block scheduling.

The CTA and the Call for Block

For Those Looking to Create a Block Bell Schedule

The Team that Conducted this Research and Wrote the Post

Where I Stand on the SMHS Call for Block

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High school APUSH teacher with much in-class and online teaching experience. Also a blogger, keynote speaker, editor, podcast host, and conference presenter.

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Peter Paccone

Peter Paccone

High school APUSH teacher with much in-class and online teaching experience. Also a blogger, keynote speaker, editor, podcast host, and conference presenter.

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