Schedule restructuring has hit University High School like a storm, dividing teachers, students and parents over what's working and what's not.
The innovative program, which gives individual schools more say in shaping educational programs for their students, has produced, among other things, block schedules and the controversial "office hours" at the high school in Irvine.
At University, the longer block-schedule periods are held on Wednesday and Thursday. English, for example, would be taught four days a week: in the traditional 56-minute class for three days, and in the extended block class, about 90 minutes long, one day of the week. This schedule replaces the traditional five-day-a-week class schedule.
The 45-minute "office hours" are held twice a week.
During those hours, students are free to seek individual help from teachers, study or do homework. When first instituted, office hours were the first and last period of school two days of the week. Many students simply slept in, skipping the office-hour option by missing first period, or left school early. The hours have been changed to the middle of the day to encourage students to use the time wisely.
Although opinions vary widely on the concept of restructuring, the general consensus is that block schedules benefit the educational program.
University High principal Leah Laule says the block schedule creates a variety of "different lengths of learning time" because learning doesn't always take in 56-minute segments.
"It is important to provide students as well as teachers with the opportunity to have a longer period of time to delve more deeply into a particular subject or to be able to complete the teaching of a concept, and to give students more of an opportunity to interact with the learning on a longer basis," Laule said. "There is a lot of research and a lot of desire on the part of many teachers to use differentiated learning segments. And that is essentially what the block schedule does; it allows teachers to structure their instruction."
Theoretically, block schedules seem like a wonderful idea; however, in real life the results have been less than perfect.
Many students dread having to sit through 90-minute lectures when 56 minutes are hard enough to endure. Even teachers agree that some students have a hard time keeping their concentration and absorbing twice the information. Laule admits that the teachers who continue to lecture, rather than incorporating different teaching techniques, are giving their students just "more of the same."
"If you don't change your instruction, you won't get any change in results," she said.
Nevertheless, one of the biggest problems with the block schedule at University has to do with cold, hard numbers: Teachers lose more than 20 minutes of instruction time from each class, every week. Resorting to reading at home what their teachers can't cover in the classroom has left many students frustrated.
"No matter what they say, you are still losing a lot of instruction time that can't be made up," junior Min Lee said.
Vice principal David Want said that the missed instruction time is designed to be made up during office hour periods. However, as students readily admit, many are not taking advantage of that time for academic pursuits.
The block schedule has pleased many teachers, who enjoy not having to interrupt a classroom discussion that might last longer than an hour. They also like the teaching flexibility, which opens doors to opportunities that were never dreamed of before, such as practicing for a play.
Social studies teacher Lisa Mariotti says block schedules "will improve the quality of life without hurting students academically." She says the double blocks are a lot more like college, with fewer classes to do homework in each night and more time for extracurricular activities and fun.
Students also are praising the new system. They say there is more time for creativity, special projects and labs. They also enjoy focusing on three subjects instead of six on block days. And, of course, they like having to do the homework for only three classes.
On the down side, some teachers miss seeing their students every day of the week, saying that the traditional five-day system was like a rhythm, which was good for students. Instead of being "boring" or "repetitive," the daily schedule was consistent, they said.
As always, change has brought out its supporters and its opponents. Those for block scheduling genuinely, and enthusiastically, say that it gives students the opportunity to focus on fewer subjects, interact and discuss with their peers, complete longer activities and learn independently. Those against block schedules cite the loss of total teaching time and the inability of some students to concentrate during the longer classes.
With time, the block schedule is expected to be fine-tuned as teachers and students adjust to what Laule calls "a whole different approach to learning."