Why Block Scheduling Blocks Teachers From Helping Students

Block scheduling poses a previously unseen problem: teachers may have to begin charging students to do their job...

The concept behind Advanced Placement classes is simple: high school students get the opportunity to take college level courses and take a nation-wide standardized exam on the material in order to get the college credit they deserve. It’s an excellent way for students to experience the rigors of college while still in a comfortable high school setting. On the other hand, what if the high school environment is far more rigorous than the average college?

This is exactly what block scheduling does.

With the first two terms of block over, I have come to realize how amazing some of the feats the students at BC have achieved are. While some AP classes parallel semester-long college courses, others follow the curriculum of college courses that have been split into two semesters because of the magnitude of the material. For example, AP Chemistry is comparable to the two semester combination of CHEM 103 and CHEM 104 offered at UW schools. On the block schedule, however, students are expected to learn the same amount of material in one semester. The same applies for classes like AP Calculus BC (which covers both first and second semester calculus), AP Physics B, and AP Physics C.

While this may already seem unreasonable, there is another catch. Students have to take the AP Exam almost a full semester after the class has ended. After nearly four months, students are expected to review and to be tested on college-level material. It goes without saying, students need help from teachers.

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that teachers are willing to help as much as they can. The genuine interest teachers at BC show for their students is part of what makes it such a successful school. Students need help, and teachers want to give help. What’s the bad news? The district is unwilling to bring the two together.

While some teachers are willing to hold up to 20 hours of review sessions, the school is only willing to pay for 10. Imagine trying to review material normally taught at a university throughout a whole year through lectures, labs, papers and discussions in a short 10 hours. Thus, teachers have no choice but to charge for their additional review sessions. Two problems arise as a result. First, this becomes unfair for students. In an ideal world, public school students, rich or poor, can get the same level of education and support from their teachers. Hiring teachers as private tutors might not be the most economically viable option for some families, thus tilting the previously level field.

The second problem is less obvious. Teachers must decide on a price to charge their students. A high price presents obvious problems to their students, but setting the price too low presents problems with other staff members. Any work place, including schools, works best when the staff is willing to work together. This complication has already begun to pit teachers against each other, each seeing the other as competition.

So, I present to you a question that has been the prominent concern since the beginning of the block schedule controversy. Is money truly more important to schools than the quality of education it provides?

Hmm… Let me think about that one. I’ll get back to you in four months.

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Ibis Kinnart February 21, 2012 at 01:13 PM
Is there a reason AP classes can't run over 3 quarters instead of 2?
Gail February 21, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Block scheduling needs to be reviewed. There seems to be more negatives than positives. We are seriously thinking of sending our child to a different school because of the block scheduling. These kids have one chance at high school, let's not set them up to fail
Sean Lee February 21, 2012 at 09:26 PM
@Ibis I think ap classes are still only two quarters for two reasons: 1. Elmbrook is still in a quasi-"testing" phase of block. 2. Students who take ap classes will likely not be able to fill their credit requirements if they take the same four classes for three quarters of each year. It's silly, I know. @Gail Block scheduling is a complete negative, but you also have to weigh that against the excellent teachers and educator quality provided by Brookfield schools. I have little doubt an elmbrook education is almost as good, if not just as good, as a private education. Public schools also offer ways of challenging students through a larger magnitude of AP classes available than most other schools (public or private), and an opportunity to take classes at a university at the school's expense (the "Youth Options" program is the best thing that has ever happened for my education and the reason I would choose Brookfield over any private school if I had to do high school all over again.)
Andrea February 22, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Gail, I would encourage you to look into alternates. We did for our kids and so happy we did. H.S. friends in the block schedule are reporting a variety of problems. Some cannot find time in the schedule to seek out teacher extra help when needed, others are getting 45 minutes of study hall to do homework per class and therefore are not covering the same amount of material previously taught under the old system. Most of the teachers are trying hard..but some appear very frustrated and ill prepared for the change of schedule. It will be interesting to see what SAT scores look like in 4 years... Don't kid yourself....this was set up as a cost savings...so all those classes kids are taking at the universities, will be pulled "in house" and taught by teachers who may or may not have the same training and background as university teachers.
Sean Lee February 22, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Actually, the youth options program is a state program so Brookfield schools are required by law to pay for these classes. If your child is extremely interested in pursuing academics (I wish to become a college professor some day), then I think a public education would be more appropriate. I think there are more opportunities for academically inclined students. If your child simply wants an excellent education, then an alternative may be most wise, of course unless block reform comes quickly, which, knowing Elmbrook, is unlikely....
Cindy February 23, 2012 at 02:03 PM
I find it interesting that public school teachers won't work extra without charging for it. In most jobs that people I work with have, if you have to go above and beyond to get the result you need, you just do it. 50, 60, 70 hours a week if that is what it takes. Satisfaction in a job well done is a great reward. Funny that public school teachers need to be paid to work any extra. I think kids are better off in a private school if they want AP classes because the teachers will work extra with them and not demand payment. They care more about the final result, not the pay.


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