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Expert touts block schedule format for schools

September 30, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Changing school schedules won't work without community support, Robert Lynn Canady told the Washington County Board of Education.

A University of Virginia professor emeritus, Canady is considered an expert on the subject of school schedules. He discussed the topic with a group of administrators and School Board members last week.

"I think there are concerns about being mandated to change," he said.

The scheduling guru advocates a mixture of "block" and "alternate-day" schedules. He said a mix decreases tardiness and disciplinary problems and can lead to higher student achievement. But the changes are hard to implement.

"There is always resistance," Canady said. "What you typically get is, 'if it isn't broken, don't fix it.' I always say, 'you don't have to be getting a divorce to improve your marriage.'"

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High schools and middle schools across the country are opting out of the traditional six- to eight-period day and turning to block schedules in which students meet daily for four 90-minute classes.

Block schedules allow students to take 32 courses in four years while a seven-period day permits a maximum of 28 courses. Williamsport, North Hagerstown and South Hagerstown high schools use block schedules, according to Director of Curriculum Frank Finan.

Hancock Middle/High School and Washington County Technical High School use the A/B or alternate-day schedule, a variation of the block schedule in which students take four different courses on odd and even days.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said he wants all schools to move to the same schedule. But principals, parents and other parties involved have to reach a consensus.

"All of the benefits will be lost if we start to force communities to do things they don't believe are good for them," he said.

Block schedules don't increase the amount of school time, but proponents believe longer periods improve the quality of education. Canady said his research shows the students who improve most in a block schedule are not top achievers.

"If you're going to measure by student achievement, it's the middle third who are helped most," he said.

Generally, failure rates and dropout rates will decline and graduation rates will increase, he said.

Canady said he can almost guarantee teaching will improve with a block schedule. Computers will be used more, attendance will increase and the school day becomes less stressful, he said.

Canday warned the School Board there would be resistance to implementing a 4/4 block schedule. He gave examples of arguments that some may use to oppose it.

"The four-four has a lot of political issues that can give you grief if you're not ready for it," he said.

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