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Schedule change for Paly

Original post made by Paly Mom, Midtown, on Mar 15, 2008

I was surprised to read in a recent issue of Verde that Paly is almost definitely adopting a new schedule next year with 4 block days instead of 2. Since I teach in a high school with 4 block days and 1 traditional day (all classes) and have felt that Paly's current schedule is preferable, I was disappointed and wondered how much input students and parents have had in this discussion/decision.
First of all, not all teachers who have taught in schools with a variety of schedules favor the four-block-day schedule. Math and foreign language teachers, in particular, find that it's better to see students more often for a shorter period of time than to see them less frequently for 90-95 minutes. While it's true that art teachers and science teachers who work with labs find the long class periods easier, many teachers believe that the long class periods sometimes result in wasted time. Group work and class discussions sometimes go on too long, students take longer than necessary with writing assignments, etc.
In addition, many students have a hard time with long classes. Some, like my daughter, dread Wednesday or Thursday because their least favorite class seems never-ending. The current schedule makes difficult or less interesting classes more tolerable. Also, many students find school boring as it is; longer periods won't help. This is especially true for less academically oriented students and those with short attention spans, who may do even worse with the new schedule. Since PAUSD is presumably trying to address its achieve-ment gap, I believe that this is a valid concern.
Although I like the idea of classes beginning a little later, I think late-start Thursdays first semester help. Maybe the school should consider keeping the late-start Thursday second semester, giving students a chance to catch up a little on their sleep.
Finally, if the proposed purpose is to cut down on students' stress level, I'm not sure that the new schedule will achieve this.
The only positive from the students' point of view that I can see is that for 4 days they only have to focus on homework for 3 or 4 classes instead of 5 or 6.
I hope that the current administration and faculty have given a lot of thought to this change. My daughter and I have often discussed the differences between Paly's current class schedule and the one where I teach, and both of us strongly agree that Paly's is superior for a variety of reasons.

Comments (15)

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Posted by Article in the Washington Post
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 16, 2008 at 9:07 am

Timely article on block scheduling was printed in the Washington Post last week which made some interesting points that Paly administrators should consider:

Blocked Schools are Switching Back to Traditional Schedules

"schools are switching back to the old routine of 45-minute daily classes as educators and researchers question whether the new [block scheduling] approach has led to higher achievement...students lose concentration during long classes and teachers lose chances to reinforce lessons through daily, year-long contact. Faculty support for the block system is declining in many schools..."

No Research to Support It

"Principal James G. Fernandez said he is unconvinced that block scheduling, used in his school for several years, raises student achievement... So why have so many schools adopted it? '...it was the fad... Show me some data that indicates kids perform better' with block scheduling, Fernandez said. No such research has materialized, several experts said."

"Stephen L. Bedford, chief school performance officer in Montgomery, said ...'we looked at the national research and it was very sketchy...'"

Bad for Science Classes

"In some cases, including a 2006 University of Virginia-Harvard University study of high school science courses, students on block schedules appeared to be doing worse than those on traditional schedules.

The study, by U-Va. researchers Kirsten M. Dexter and Robert H. Tai, joined by Harvard researcher Philip M. Sadler, was notable in part because U-Va. is considered the cradle of block scheduling, influenced by Prof. Robert Lynn Canaday's studies on the most effective ways to organize school days.

'We were quite surprised to see that block scheduling didn't play out in our research,' said Tai, an associate education professor. One problem, he said, was that science teachers, despite being strong supporters of longer periods to allow lecture and laboratory time, could not sustain student interest for 90 minutes. ...'

Not Great for AP Classes Either

"It was difficult to schedule Advanced Placement classes ..."


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Posted by mmmmMom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2008 at 9:16 am

Seems that once again PAUSD is doing something without sufficient input from parents & students. More importantly, they are going against the documented professional literature on the subject.

Everyone: call, or e-mail the school board about this!


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Posted by Academic Impact
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 17, 2008 at 8:48 pm

It sounds like Paly administrators have looked at the emotional impact, but I wonder if they have factored in the academic impact as well?

If it is school that is causing the stress, is it because some students are taking classes that are too hard for them? Then they should consider taking easier classes.

If it is after school activities that are breaking the camel's back, why not drop one or two of them.

But why should a school make changes when only half of the students are troubled by something (Verde article: in the past three years an average of 52 percent of all Paly students ranked their stress level as "too much")?

There are things that those who are bothered by stress can do short of forcing a change that affects everyone at the school, especially when researchers who have studied it and schools which have tried it cannot point to how this kind of scheduling change positively impacts student achievement.


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Posted by Who knows what?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 18, 2008 at 7:14 am

I'd be concerned if the new 90 minute blocked classes were math, writing or foreign language, all which benefit from daily reinforcement. Science too it appears from above.

And what about AP courses?

If you block those classes and your child has the AP block in the fall, won't students finish that course 4 months before they take their AP exam? Not good.

If your child takes the blocked AP course in the Spring, he will have had less time in class learning the material before the AP exam is given than if he took the class all year long in 45 minute increments. Also not good.

Unless I don't understand this, Paly going to a 4 day block schedule means that 80% of classes will be blocked -- so it will impact many classes that are better taught un-blocked.

Has anyone pointed these things out to parents and students? Who is making this decision? Other than a student article, I haven't heard about it. Who are parents supposed to write to if they have concerns? With something this fundamental, doesn't the new superintendent have a say and what does he think about it?



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Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2008 at 12:14 pm

Dear Why Knows What?,
There are different kinds of block schedules which have been adopted at schools around the country. In the one you refer to in your letter, some classes are scheduled only first semester, others only second semester, resulting in the problem that you mentioned for spring testing and retention of material.
Paly is considering a different type of block schedule, which has been adopted by more schools. If the four-day block is adopted, students would have all classes for 45-50 minutes on Friday. If the 3rd model is adopted, on Tuesdays and Thursdays they would have 3 classes for 90-100 minutes and a 50-minute 7th period. On Wed. and Friday they would have the other 3 classes for 90-100 minutes and a 45-50 minute 7th period. The 4th model lengthens 7th period on Mon. and Wed., and students have no 7th period on Tues. and Thurs.
Thanks to the writer who mentioned the Washington Post article. I think the more research that is done, the more we'll find that the four-day block doesn't lead to higher achievement, and many students have a harder time focusing for 90-100 minutes, then 50 more, no matter how interesting the teacher is. (And some do not know how to keep students engaged for that length of time--another issue.) As a teacher who has taught with various schedules, I think Paly's current schedule with the 2 block days is about as good as it gets.


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Posted by Paly in our future
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2008 at 2:34 pm

"I think Paly's current schedule with the 2 block days is about as good as it gets."
I totally agree and sincerely hope that they end their experiments before my kids reach Paly.


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Posted by Ask the Students
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 19, 2008 at 11:07 am

Academic Impact has a point.

Last year's survey of Paly students asked about stress and student answers suggest that stress has little to do with what happens in the classrooms. Here are some data points:

It is not teachers which cause student stress, but parents (4% v. 40%) and the students themselves(40%).

60% of Paly students spend at least 2 hours a day in extracurricular activities

If academics were too stressful, 70% wouldn't have said that English and Math classes provide the right amount of challenge to them. Less that 20% said those classes are too hard for them, which could be fixed if they took different classes. Look at Paly's course offerings. It offers a wide range of classes in both subjects with vastly different levels of challenge to choose from.

So I guess I don't get it. What is the reason to adjust the whole school's schedule then?





In math which has many classes with different challenge levels for students to choose from, only __% say they don't understand the material well before going on to new concepts and __% say they are stressed by too much homework. Perhaps they are taking classes that are too hard for them.




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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 19, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Paly is a pretty large campus. On a normal day, a student may have to cross the campus 2 or 3 times. This is not too bad on the student, but in the 5 minutes passing period this is difficult, I know I have done it on back to school night and it is hard walking without a bathroom visit or a locker stop. The new schedule would mean that there would be no passing periods needed and 15 minutes could be added to the day of the students if they did all their "passing" at brunch or lunch. This could be spent getting ready for sports or for a later start time which could mean more minutes in bed in the mornings, both things we hear a lot about in terms of stress and similar complaints.

I am not advocating this schedule change necessarily as a good idea, just seeing that it does have some good points.


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Posted by its about SLEEP not stress
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2008 at 12:17 am

the comments here, mostly negative regarding the new proposed block scheduling fail to recognize certain points. I would suggest, for everyone's clarification, that they read the articles on voice which pertain to the subject: Web Link

for those without the time to get their facts straight:
first, the 4 day block schedule is only one of four proposals, the other being a push of the day back 25 minutes. (same schedule, only school starts at 8:15)

the essential change here is not student stress but student sleep. teenagers in actuality start and stop producing chemicals inducing sleep in their body later than adults and children, meaning that many students attend 1st period nearly asleep.

the reason the block schedule has looked more likely than other schedules is because block scheduling saves time in the school day, meaning student athletes can still get out in time for their sports.

for those concerned with the AP classes, the block scheduling will still mean year-round classes, so there should be little problem, except with a small loss of instruction time.

also, it looks like 7th will NOT be blocked, instead meeting everyday.

while many of the concerns raised here are legitimate, they do not apply to the situation. the bell schedule change is certainly not an experiment, in fact, it has been pushed through this year with help from a lot of students. the campanile, the school newspaper, for example, endorsed the 4 day block schedule without 7th blocked.

finally, for those who prefer the status quo - i'd just like to say that you never know how things turn out until you try them. the student support for the schedule change is a strong signal, although of course staff support is important too. teachers must feel that they are capable of managing the switch in order for it to happen. if the overwhelming consensus is that it does not work - just like with the ski week argument - it can be changed back.

the beauty of the bell schedule change, in the end, is the increase of student sleep, and the demonstration of student voice and activism which, if we value our high schools, we should prize.


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Posted by Jumping in
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2008 at 7:40 am


To Sleep

I value student activism, but that does not mean that everything a student proposes is a good idea; there are better ways to address sleep and stress issues than Paly moving to more 90 minute classes. What I don't value is testing theories out on kids ("you never know how things turn out until you try them") especially when informed, educated sources like the Washington Post and those researchers and educators it mentioned point me in another direction.

A few points to your points:

"its about SLEEP not stress"

Sounds like it is about how to free up 15 minutes a day. But tell me, how do you know that kids won't use the extra 15 minutes doing something other than sleeping? And why can't the kids it impacts lobby coaches to allow them to leave 15 minutes early on crunch days and cut back on their 2+ hours of after school activities so they can relax? This proposal seems like overkill to a problem that can be addressed in much less intrusive ways.

"reason the block schedule has looked more likely than other schedules . . . student athletes can still get out in time for their sports"

So Paly will be making this change to accommodate after school sports, something not core to the school's mission and which involves only half of the students?

"it looks like 7th will NOT be blocked, instead meeting everyday"

Does that mean that all the other periods will be blocked? Then math, foreign language, science and AP classes will be affected.

"AP classes, the block scheduling will still mean year-round classes, so there should be little problem, except with a small loss of instruction time"

Can you quantify "small loss" of AP instruction time? In AP courses it is difficult to cover the material in a full year, so any loss of instruction time is not good.

What I'd like to know is under which proposal will Paly be able to provide uninterrupted instruction EACH day for 4 years in EACH of the subjects best taught with no semester off and in chucks of time that can hold students' attention, like science, math, foreign language, while allowing as much time to learning a subject as possible before the exam, like AP classes.



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Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2008 at 9:22 am

This reminds me of the "experiment" a few years ago to have a ski week. There wasn't much (if any) input and the new calendar was dropped on us. After 2 years and lots of complaining, the calendar was (thankfully)changed back. One issue that is pertinent to both topics is the difficulty of working parents when the schedule keeps changing. In the current case, if the student relies on a ride from a working parent, changing the schedule can be very difficult. I've looked over the various proposed schedules and (if memory serves me) at least for some of them school ends at a different time every day. Also, for those of us who have to be at work at 8:00, an 8:15 start time can be a problem - the students will end up hanging around school anyway, not sleeping an extra 15 minutes.

Of course all of these inconveniences can be worked out; what greatly concerns me is what has already been discussed above. I agree completely with the initial poster that many students (especially mine!) have a hard time with the longer class periods. My freshman daughter has already declared that if Paly goes to 4 block days she is going to try to enroll in Middle College her junior year. I really think this needs more discussion and input from EVERYONE involved, especially the students and parents.


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Posted by Paly student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2008 at 12:28 pm

"I was disappointed and wondered how much input students and parents have had in this discussion/decision."

Give me a break...

Please don't make judgments without actually looking up facts. Just because you are in the loop doesn't mean it didn't happen.

Web Link

Again, there was A LOT of input and publicity surrounding the issue. The administration asked the Paly ASB Leadership, the school newspaper, the Campanile had an article about it, Voice the online journalism program talked about it, and so did our magazine, Verde.


There were at lease 3 publicized meetings inviting student to give input. All the options and the advantages and disadvantages of each one was examined.


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Posted by Mary
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 23, 2008 at 8:27 am

Why not have the kids do their homework during some of the block time? Lighten up the after school homework load.


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Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 23, 2008 at 12:56 pm

Paly Mom -- sounds like your principal concern is your how to make the academic schedule best conform to your personal schedule. The issue for discussion is whether the schedule best meets the academic goals for the Paly students needs, not whether or not it's convenient for your work start time or preferred vacation schedule


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Posted by Paly mom
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2008 at 2:31 pm

Dear Sleep not Stress,
I have read all the articles, including the ones in Verde and Campanile. I understand that the later start time is the main point of revising the schedule, and I think that's generally a positive move, although I do hope the school will find a way for ARC to open early so that students who have to get there at 7:30 aren't sitting around for 45 minutes. In the Verde article two of the four proposed schedules have 4 block days, and this is the change that I am hoping will not be adopted.
In answer to Paly student's comment, I don't know how you arrived at the conclusion that I'm interested in a schedule that conforms to my personal schedule or work start time since I didn't mention either of these. None of the schedules, including the current one, conforms to my work schedule or vacation schedule, and my daughter and I manage fine. In urging the Paly community to do more research before rushing to change to a 4-block day schedule, I'm thinking only about the academic goals of Paly students. In the schools that I'm familiar with that have adopted the 4-block day schedule, including the one in which I teach, some of the teachers like it; some don't. The majority of students don't. (Some have even proposed a change to the principal, who is not open to considering a move away from the 4-block day.)
Finally, to those who believe more block days would give teachers more time to cover things in depth and explain more (or time to permit students to start their homework), I would say that it seems that this should be true, but it isn't. Teachers have the same amount of curriculum to cover. If anything, that's harder to accomplish. (All of the math teachers at my school who have taught with both schedules say that they find it impossible to cover the same amount of material with the 4-block schedule.)
I hope that Paly will consider the changes carefully and talk with as many people at high schools with other schedules as possible before making the decision.


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