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Volume 12, Number 6
November/December 1996

Just Like Starting Over

The Promises and Pitfalls of Block Scheduling


Sara, an 11th-grader at Middleburg High School, couldn't believe the choice she was faced with for her fourth block of the day: either keyboarding, which she had already taken twice, or agriculture, in which she had utterly no interest. Nothing else was available. Middleburg High had just changed to a four-block semester schedule, which the principal claimed would allow students to take a wider variety of classes, study subjects in greater depth, have more one-on-one interaction with teachers, and even graduate early. But Sara was not the only student to find that the new schedule created unexpected problems. Some had to fill in three of their four blocks with courses they hadn't requested. One was so disgusted by the lack of choices that she opted for a daily block of in-school suspension over a course she didn't want or need.

Once the school year started, the 85-minute classes Sara and her schoolmates attended were, at best, a mixed bag. While some teachers were using the lengthened class time to try a variety of hands-on teaching techniques like cooperative learning, peer editing, and group projects, others were still lecturing in the same way they had before, only for twice as long. Some teachers didn't know what to do with the extra time, so they just let students read or do their homework in class.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

R.L. Canady and M.D. Rettig. Block Scheduling: A Catalyst for Change in High Schools. Princeton, NJ: Eye on Education, 1995.

R.L. Canady and M.D. Rettig. Teaching in the Block. Princeton, NJ: Eye on Education, 1996.

R. Schoenstein. "The New School on the Block." Executive Educator 17, no. 8 (August 1995): 18-20.