No Block Scheduling in Middle Schools Next Year

by Katie Pyzyk June 20, 2012 at 11:15 am 4,758 42 Comments

A plan for changing the way the county’s middle schools do class scheduling appears to be on the chopping block, at least for now. The Arlington Public Schools proposal to implement block scheduling at middle schools will not happen in the 2013-2014 school year, after all.

The change would have extended core class times for subjects like English, math, social studies, science and world languages, but would have reduced the number of classes per day. Longer “block” periods for sixth graders would have been 76 minutes, and would increase to 93 minutes for seventh and eighth graders. Electives like music and arts would have remained at the current, shorter length.

Many parents fought the change, raising concerns with children of that age having to concentrate for such long periods of time, and about eliminating electives.

At last night’s School Board meeting, there was a presentation laying out what APS has learned about public reception to block scheduling and how it plans to go forward. Through means like community forums, staff meetings, online surveys and individual feedback forms, APS discovered that block scheduling largely isn’t something middle school parents are interested in. APS said it heard that parents prefer focusing on issues like providing more languages for students, maintaining electives and ensuring appropriate reading instruction.

The change has been in the works for five years, but consideration of the plan had been delayed earlier this year, due to outcry from parents. At the time, APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy said postponing a decision would allow for more time to adequately discuss the issue with families.

Although block scheduling will no longer begin in 2013, it’s not permanently off the table. The board is examining ways to make it work in the future. Of particular interest is finding alternative ways to increase the amount of time spent on core content areas. The length of schools days and start times will also come under review.

Even though the plan was nixed for middle schools system-wide, individual schools have the option of exploring their own flexible block schedules. Block scheduling is already in place at Yorktown, Wakefield and Washington-Lee high schools.

  • E

    This is huge! Interesting!

  • Pablo

    Maybe it was tabled because Dr. Murphy could never explain why it had to be done.

    • Lee-n-Glebe

      I don’t get what you’re looking for. I haven’t looked into this issue at all (meaning AT ALL), but just from the article here it seems that the reason would be to increase time spent on core subjects. Seeing as we’re being told constantly how the US in general is falling behind in education, this seems like it would at least arguably be a “Good Thing”, no?

      • SoArl

        I went to private school and we had block scheduling very similar to this. I’m kind of stunned that parents were concerned about kids concentrating for that long of a period of time.

      • Yosey

        You know how the joke goes:

        Q: How many educators does it take to change a light bulb?
        A: CHANGE??? Who said anything about change; no change!

        • Resident

          Do not lump all educators into one pot. And those who really did not want change were parents of specific populations, not “educators.”

          • Lee-n-Glebe

            Please elaborate. Seriously. I don’t know what you mean by “specific populations”. And I’m not the PC police, so please be clear.

          • Resident

            Parents of special education students. Parents of students doing band or orchestra.

    • Tired of press releases

      No, the school board realized that distracting parents with the block scheduling concept wasn’t going to have its real intended effect, which was to make the parents forget the classrooms are overcrowded. The APS plan to build schools and additions is woefully inadequate and shameful. They are building less than 2,000 seats for a projected shortage of 8,000 seats. They are asking for hundreds of millions of dollars and still can’t fix the problem.

      • Tinfoil Hat Repairman

        This reminds me, your regularly-scheduled maintenance visit is coming up soon.

    • Pablo

      All the studies showed absolutely mixed results.

      • Josh S

        As they do with most things education related. Because – people are different. One-size fits all does not work in public education. But one size fits all is the only way to manage such an institution. It’s a terrible, terrible dilemna, but everyone says “well, I came out OK” so nothing is done to address it. That, and the fact that a real solution would be practically infeasible.

  • HD

    Our schools should be more concerned with embracing online education, which is the wave of the future. Somebody needs to step aside and let progress happen.

    • Stroker Ace

      That’s totally what kids need, is to further not learn how to socialize at all.

      • D'oh!

        And to stay at home all day, forcing parents to quit their jobs. I hope HD isn’t on the school board.

        • HD

          It does not mean staying home all day. It means bringing technology into the classroom, and delivering a wider variety of course material to a wider group of children. It is not meant to be a replacement for at site learning.

          Online content delivery would allow, for example, children in classrooms at different schools to participate in portions of a course from local professor or specific Arlington teacher. Children are already socializing and networking with each other across the county using online tools, it is time for the schools to start thinking along similar lines.

          • dk

            This is already happening in APS. Many high school foreign language classes are offered through a distance learning program.


          • HD

            It needs to embrace core education as well, not just electives.

          • dk

            why? Is APS failing in its current delivery of core education courses? Is site learning not an effective means of teaching long division? Would socializing and networking beyond the classroom walls improve math comprehension?

            My children’s APS classrooms use many online tools. In what way have the schools not been thinking along these lines?

          • dk
          • dk

            from the article

            “It’s true, online learning is all the rage now. David Brooks likes it, and he’s a reliable indicator of what the chattering class is exposed to these days. MIT does indeed offer free online courses. Stanford and Harvard are following suit. Motivated students can now watch lectures from famous professors from the comfort of their own home. It’s like a TED talk, but with uglier PowerPoint.

            None of the top schools are replacing their existing curriculum, though. That’s because they’re working their way through two major hurdles. At the classroom level, online courses are only an acceptable substitute for a small set of learning objectives. Lectures and multiple choice work great online. Socratic Method, not so much. Online learning also magnifies cheating problems. Jeffrey R. Young describes the current state of affairs as ‘the gamification of education, and students are winning.'”

          • Resident

            Thank you DK! My sentiments exactly. Perhaps HD has not visited very many classrooms across APS schools to see what is actually happening.

    • dk

      University of Phoenix for all!

    • Richard Cranium

      I hear the P.E. classes are a real bee-yatch.

  • info81

    Well-to-do parents are very concerned about electives. They know their kids are going to do well in reading and math. They will hire a tutor if there is an issue. These parents are thinking beyond the basics into the work world where creativity, leadership and original thought are the keys to getting to the very top. So yes, they will talk about the need for more core studies but having a wide range of electives is critical.

    Concern about a 90 minute class is a smoke screen, it is not as if you will be doing one thing for 90 minutes.

    • dk

      I think this is true, and it speaks to the perception that many have that this was a solution in search of a problem. What was missing in the block scheduling plan was an outline of the current issues/problems and how block scheduling would help address them. Block scheduling is different, but how is it BETTER? And to the extent that it is better, is the improvement worth the cost to music instruction and foreign language?

    • Andy

      Where I work, creativity, leadership, and original thought are not the keys to getting to the very top. In fact, they will very likely get you fired.

      • Richard Cranium

        You work in the Federal Government?

  • increased time sitting in uncomfortable chairs is not going to improve understanding (unless they have an awesome teacher). In fact, they should increase things like Music and PE in order to prevent burnout.

    • D'oh!

      and childhood obesity

  • info81

    BoredHouseWife , the decision was made years ago in many school districts to get rid of PE, recess and going outside for lunch hour. If the kids did not comply they were drugged. I don’t agree with it, but that is what happened. Boys suffered the most.

    When I was in elementary school, I had two 15 min recess breaks, one hour lunch and PE twice a week and at the time I wish I had more.

  • Kenny Powers

    Here are the facts:

    The science does not support block scheduling in middle school…high school and college are different…for a reason

    This would have cut even more electives like music and art…and science shows these subjects do matter

    The County first tried to roll this out quietly at individual schools and they got caught doing it by compartmentalization – only then did they hold County-level hearings

    APS Middle school teachers worked behind the scenes to arm parents with the facts against this proposal because they were afraid to speak out against the Superintendent’s pet project.

    This was a solution for a problem that did not need fixed (plenty of real problems remains unaddressed) and — thankfully after much public outcry — cooler heads prevailed.

    • Resident

      Incorrect. Students would get the same or more options for electives in the proposal, just with less time for some of them.

  • John Fontain

    I disagree with everything everyone has said on this issue.

    • Andy

      That’s not possible, because you agree with what you said. If you don’t agree with what you said, then that means you don’t disagree with everything everyone has said. So either way it’s not possible. Agreed?

      • Richard Cranium

        You’re so obviously wrong, I don’t even know where to start.

      • John Fontain

        Mind blown.

  • WeiQiang

    Just be careful that the kids don’t puke and start a stampede.

  • Loocy

    Block scheduling is available at Kenmore Middle School and I believe one other (Thomas Jefferson?). Parents who think their kids would flourish with block scheduling have that choice. Many parents do not think their children are ready for block scheduling at this age. I have a learning disabled daughter who is also in band. She is graduating from Williamsburg tomorrow after three fabulous years. The predictability of their schedule was a huge part of how much she has settled down and succeeded there. I think the High School block schedule would not be a problem, but she wasn’t ready for it in sixth grade. With regard to band, the proposed block schedule would have made all music classes grade-based rather than skill-based. That means that a child who enters sixth grade already accomplished with an instrument would be placed in the same band as rank beginners. The beginners would lose their safe place to try playing an instrument and the advanced students would lose their opportunity to play with more accomplished students, a lose-lose. There is no data documenting any benefit to block schedules at this age, and the perceived increase in core content was only accomplished by reclassifying Spanish as a core class.

  • Resident

    Classist. How does a sixth grader get to be advanced by that age…private lessons.

    • Josh S

      Innate talent?
      Supportive parents?
      Talented older siblings?

  • Resident

    And, wrong about the reclass…that is not how more time to core was added.


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