Based on the research and publications of Dr. Michael Rettig, Dr. Robert Canady, and School Scheduling Associate's Publications
Effective instructional leaders understand that time is one of the greatest and most important resources in every school and can have a significant impact on student learning. Principals should protect and prioritize instructional time. School leaders should aim to harness the power of the school schedule to address problems and facilitate the successful implementation of effective instructional practices. With the proposition that time is a valuable resource, school scheduling is far more important than the simple mechanical assignment of students to teachers, spaces, and time periods. School scheduling should be strategic in every aspect including time allocation, resource allocation, strategic staffing, purposeful alignment of scheduling to student needs, differentiation, and tiered response to intervention built into the master schedule to ensure the school is purposeful and intentional in meeting the needs of each student.
Three Issues All Schools Face That Can Be Addressed In Effective Scheduling
1. Providing Quality Time
Instructional time must be maximized and protected. Fragmented instructional time has a negative impact on student achievement at all levels. In elementary school, practices such as haphazardly pullout programs and the schedule of specials often disrupt core instructional time. This can lead to piecemeal instruction. There is fragmentation at both the middle and high school levels as well. Students in a 6-8 period day lose large amounts of potential instructional time to class transitions and unconnected curriculum. This is often exacerbated by exploratory programs and elective offerings that don’t support student’s specific and individualized learning needs.
2. Creating a School Climate
The school’s schedule can have a significant impact on the school’s culture and directly reflect the goals and vision of the school. The schedule should be student-centered and reflect the individual needs of each student. The schedule should provide structure and order to minimize discipline problems and time off tasks. Within I/E groups, the organization will contribute significantly to the effectiveness of instruction. Traditional middle and high school schedules create at least four situations that may contribute to the number of discipline problems:
1. Many disciplinary referrals result from scheduled transitions, when large numbers of students spill into hallways, lunchrooms, and commons areas, or congregate in locker rooms and bathrooms. If students are not sent to the office directly, the problems often carry over into the classroom, where teachers must deal with them before beginning instruction.
2. The assembly-line, traditional period schedule contributes to the depersonalizing nature of high schools. When teachers are responsible for 100–180 students daily, and students must answer to six, seven, or eight teachers a day, it is nearly impossible to develop close relationships, which may help reduce discipline problems.
3. Short instructional periods may also contribute to a negative classroom climate. When students who misbehave do not respond to a quick correction, many teachers send them to the office. With only 40- to 55-minute class periods, these teachers view any time taken away from classwork as unacceptable.
4. The middle school schedule, in particular, often makes teaming efforts difficult. Students in seven-period schools often are enrolled in three non-core classes, while the four-teacher teams—one teacher each from English, math, science, and social studies—are assigned five classes daily. Thus, during many periods of the day, 20 percent of the students are “off core.” As a result, teams must remain in a period schedule, and the team structure, which usually facilitates disciplinary control, is weakened.
3. Providing Varying Learning Time
Perhaps the most critical (and unresolved) time allocation issue that schools face is the indisputable fact that some students need more time to learn than others. Effective and efficient master schedules have these additional time allotments built into their framework. The model of providing “more” time for students demonstrating they need additional time has traditionally been retention/non-promotion, which research demonstrates has a negative impact on student learning and exponentially increases a student’s likelihood of dropping out of school. On the other end of the spectrum, the master schedule in most schools offer little to no opportunities for acceleration. In elementary school, our usual reaction to the need for different amounts of time for learning is to provide individual assignments to those who learn quickly, and to regroup, slow down, and provide pull-out programs for those who need more time. The problems with these accommodations are that (1) sometimes the activities provided for those who learn quickly are thrown together haphazardly (Renzulli 1986), and (2) students placed in the lower groups fall farther behind. In addition, students in pullout programs often are stigmatized by their participation in them.
"it is more often the structure of an organization than the inadequacies of the people who work within it that causes problems" (Bonstingl 1992)
The Power of Innovative Scheduling
Scheduling can be a powerful, but often untapped, tool for school improvement. Innovative and purposeful scheduling might not add hours to the school day, but they can drastically improve the quality of the the time students are in school, protect and maximize both instructional time and time on task, and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of instructional time through purposeful and intentional designations to provide increased instructional time for accountability measures and differentiate learning time to meet each student's needs.
Strategic Staffing, Strategic Resourcing, and Time Allocation
School principals and instructional leadership must be strategic in staffing, resources, and time. Each of these are important resources that must be evaluated to determine the most effective and efficient manner to use these resources to increase student academic achievement.
Principals and instructional leaders know that scheduling is one of the most critical components to organization for both instructional and operational effectiveness. There are commonalities with scheduling at all levels for increasing student achievement, however there are also facets of effective scheduling that are distinct at each level. Below are links to information and resources for scheduling at each level:
Elementary school scheduling issues include:
(1.) Time allocation, (2.) Fragmentation: Causes? Encore, and special services schedules, (3.) Time for intervention, enrichment, and special services, therefore… (4.) Common planning time for data analysis, curriculum management, instructional improvement, staff development
For almost 50% of students, grades 7-9, are often the “make it or break it” time for students. By the time students reach the 10th grade, we average losing almost 1/3 of students nationally and over 60% of at-risk students and students from high-poverty urban areas. Traditional scheduling has failed to address the specific learning needs and requirements they need to be successful. To increase the odds of graduation, scheduling must provide the necessary supports for success, acceleration and opportunities for choice, intervention/enrichment as needed, foundational supports for core classes, flexibility, and the opportunity for credit recovery.
Effective and efficient scheduling is one of the most critical components of successful high schools. Effective scheduling allows for additional instructional time for students needing additional time/support and provides acceleration and choices for students not needing additional time.
Scheduling an intervention block is a method of planned differentiation in scheduling to provide additional instructional time for students needing support and allowing choice/enrichment for student that don't need additional time. One of the keys to the success of this type of plan is ensuring instructional time is utilized effectively in the I/E block and not merely a study hall.
Caveat Emptor - Scheduling the intervention/enrichment period is relatively easy. Changing the culture of a school to one in which teachers and administrators collaborate on data analysis, progress monitoring, and the organizational tasks necessary to make the I/E period truly responsive to students' learning needs is the difficult part!
Statistics demonstrate that one student drops out of school every 26 seconds across the United States. The highest percentage of dropouts occur in urban, high-poverty areas. Scheduling is a key component to increasing graduation rates and helping students be equipped with the knowledge and skills to be successful and productive citizens.