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School Board Delays Block Scheduling Decision

by Katie Pyzyk — January 23, 2012 at 9:30 am 2,141 17 Comments

Parent concerns have prompted Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy to delay consideration of a plan to institute “block scheduling” at Arlington middle schools.

The change, which has been in the works since 2007, would extend core class times — for subjects like English, math, social studies, science and world languages — while reducing the number of classes per day. Longer “block” periods for sixth graders would be 76 minutes, and would increase to 93 minutes for seventh and eighth graders. Electives would remain at the current, shorter length.

An APS staff presentation to the School Board on the block scheduling plan, originally scheduled for March, has now been pushed back to May. Murphy said the delay will “provide additional time to continue to our ongoing dialogue with families.”

At Thursday night’s packed School Board meeting, numerous parents expressed concerns about the proposed schedule changes. Although block scheduling is already in place at Yorktown, Wakefield and Washington-Lee high schools, some parents don’t believe it’s the right answer for middle school students. One concern is the attention span of younger students.

“The class length is not developmentally appropriate for 12 and 13 year olds,” said a concerned father.

APS cites research showing quality of instruction and student achievement as one of the main reasons for desiring the change. Students will spend more time delving deeply into core subjects and less time switching classes, school officials say. Research also referenced classes such as science labs that would benefit from fewer stops and starts due to time constraints.

While officials say block scheduling allows for more elective choices, opponents say it would decrease the amount of time students spend in individual elective classes such as music, physical education and arts.

Many speakers at Thursday’s Board meeting insisted that the block scheduling plan would have a particularly negative impact on music classes. In addition to less class time, some parents said the plan’s reported elimination of cross-grade classes will decrease the quality of music education.

“The proposal as currently presented is deeply flawed,” said Swanson Middle School Band Boosters President Katy Banks. “The new proposal doesn’t allow for cross-grade music programs. It’s a little like if the National Symphony Orchestra were asked to select their musicians based on their age and not their ability.”

With implementation scheduled for September 2013, in time for the 2013-2014 school year, APS has until the middle of next school year to revise its block scheduling concept. The school system, meanwhile, will hold five community forums in February to give parents a chance to learn more about the plan and to provide additional feedback about the proposed changes.

More information about the block scheduling plan and the community forums is available on special ‘Middle School Design Team’ section of the APS website.

  • Wilson

    Yet another screw-up by Murphy. There are lots of pros and cons to consider on the issue of block scheduling, but the way Murphy handled it was a major blunder. His staff failed to properly explain the proposal to those most directly affected (current elementary and middle school parents), and he took the position that he could make these changes on his own, without direct approval from the school board. His autocratic, top-down approach led to the blow-up at the board meeting.

    • Burger

      So how long should they plan for it started almost 5 years ago.

      This is all about helicoptor parents.

      • Wilson

        There was community input several years ago, but nothing was implemented then. Most people who would be affected now had little to do with that.

        This would be the biggest change to APS middle schools in many, many years. You don’t have to be a helicopter parent to want to be involved in the process.

      • Current parent

        It’s not only about the helicopter parents. It’s about adequate communication and collaborative decision-making. The proposal was developed with very little input from parents, and the proposed type of block schedule appears to severely impact the arts and other electives – things which are highly valued by our community. There are many types of block scheduling. From discussions I’ve had, many people support moving to some type of block scheduling – they just want to understand the pros and cons of different options and be part of the decision.

        And how long should it take to plan? If the timeline for a real solution to the overcrowding is any model, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

      • Geri

        The only way this comment would make any sense is if you were talking about Patrick Murphy’s parents

        • Geri

          I was, of course, talking about “Burgers” name calling of the Arlington taxpayers and educators who oppose this plan. How are these citizens “helicopter parents?” That makes no sense at all

  • Loocy

    The unilateral announcement of the change was the first time anyone I knew had heard about it, and it has serious implications for music, special ed, and other programs. I’m not sure who has been discussing it since 2007, but it wasn’t discussed in any of the educational committees or groups of which I’m aware.

    My own kids really benefited from the existing schedule at their Arlington middle school (they have learning disabilities which include short attention spans and a craving for predictability) and I am certain that they would not have been nearly as well served by a block schedule.

  • Arlingtonian

    I graduated from HS in another county in 1999 and we had the block schedule. It was such a joke. Teachers didn’t have enough material for the full block, and at least half of each class was more like a social hour.

    • Maria

      That’s most assuredly not a problem with block scheduling. That’s a problem with the teachers… or, more likely, it was a problem with your perception of what you were (or were not) supposed to be doing. As a teacher with block scheduling, I can tell you there are many days my students seem to THINK they are in social hour when they are, indeed, supposed to be doing work :)

  • Ballston

    They instituted block scheduling while I was in my middle school. It was absolutely awful. Trying to sit through an hour and a half of class at 13 felt like torture. The time spent milling in the hallway between classes was necessary to allow you to relax and focus on the next class.

  • Geri

    Thank you, ArlNow, for running this article. The only way Patrick Murphy gets away with things is that he believes he can ram his awful ideas through, tell some lies, and bully people. Arlington parents cannot be fooled for long.

  • Somewhere in Arlington

    Some of my colleagues in APS served on the Block Scheduling Committee. They offered up several options that were ignored by the Superintentent. Over and over again I have heard its a “done deal.” and that our opinions did not matter. I am glad that parents are fighting back against the lack of transparency. All the recommendations from the staff and even the expert Arlington brought in are clearly not in this plan. PE for sixth graders is being cut down. Time for core classes is not being extended but just being blocked together. The superintendent is saying that because Spanish is becoming a core class, it counts as “extending instructional time”……eyeroll.

  • Schoolwatcher

    And tonight at the County Council of PTA meeting, watch Murphy shove Margaret Gilhooley, who is new to her job, in front of the oncoming train of parent complaints rather than field them himself. His way of dealing with controversy is to never take responsibility himself.

  • ArlingtonParent

    Thanks to Arlington Now for covering this. The Superintendent may have to find another way to leave a lasting mark on the system, and (dare I say) his resumé.

    Parent concerns are diverse and well-thought-out, as captured in further detail in the Mercury article:

    http://arlingtonmercury.org/articles/parents-protest-block-schedule-for-middle-schools

  • Sully

    It would be interesting to hear from any parents who support this move. Most of the quotes seem to be from strong opponents, but I can not imagine that many people are not supportive of this change.

    • Geri

      You’re wrong

  • treewalker

    Superintendent Murphy’s plans for middle school block scheduling in 2013-14 are hand-in-hand with yet another increase in class size this coming year. Community concerns are hardly about helicoptering parents but about whether teachers are going to be able to effectively teach in 76 – to 93 minutes blocks in classrooms where more and more students are being seated every year. Not to mention it would effectively reduce language arts for 6th graders as well as cut their PE time in half and drastically reduce band time. I suspect there might be another hidden class-size increase along with the block scheduling but the staff disputes that. Already, next year, Murphy has proposed an across the board increase in class size by one, every class, every grade. This will save the county schools almost $3.5 million but at the expense of some 38 full time teachers.
    If you care about this issue, please speak up because some school board members are apparently underwhelmed by the level of community concern. Go to http://www.apsva.us/middleschool or attend one of the scheduled forums with Murphy and staff.

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