Schools moving slowly on four-class schedule Choices about change to fewer daily courses left to each school

November 22, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham said she will not force high schools to switch to a four-period day, even though educational experts and administrators say it boosts academic performance and attendance.

At least 70 of 183 high schools in the state have switched from a six- or seven-class day to a four-class day over the past decade. About half of Baltimore County's 24 high schools and nine of 10 high schools in Howard County have switched to four-period days, but only two of Anne Arundel County's 12 high schools are on the schedule.

Parham and members of the county school board have apparently taken a hands-off approach, letting teachers and principals make the decision.

"One size doesn't fit all," Parham said. "The issue is not the model, but its effectiveness. Schools, through their improvement teams, can make a decision as to what they want to try. I am not going to mandate any one way."

The "everyone else is doing it" theory has frequently proved costly in education, she said.

As one example, a widely applauded open-space concept was supposed to encourage cooperative learning, and instead resulted in noisy and disruptive classrooms. Anne Arundel is spending millions putting walls back up.

Board Vice President Michael McNelly agreed.

"I think the four-period day has gotten some great reviews," he said. "But it may not be for everyone. It takes a lot of effort from teachers and administrators to make it work. Any time there is a major change, they all have to buy into it or it won't work."

Frank Smith, a professor at Columbia University Teachers College, said teachers' support is crucial.

"When restructuring is instigated by teachers, it has a greater chance of success," he said, noting that most superintendents know that, and Parham should make the advantages of such a schedule known to her school staff.

Teacher creativity a must

A four-period day works best, experts say, when teachers adjust their methods and come up with more ways to engage students. While they might have been able to lecture more in a 45-minute class, they can't only talk during a 90-minute class.

In a traditional high school schedule, students take six classes every day, all year long. In the four-period schedule, they take four classes for one semester and a set of four different classes during the second semester. The idea is to end up with eight instead of six credits, but to have more time to devote to individual classes all year long.

"For kids with shorter attention spans, the four-period day may not be ideal," said Carol Freeman, a researcher at the Center for Applied Research on Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota.

"But it can work as long as the teacher does enough different activities during the class to keep them engaged."

Extra attention can help

Generally, a four-period day lightens a teacher's student load and allows for more attention to individual students, Smith said. Students get better grades and their attendance improves.

"The bottom line and the most important thing is that most students say they like it and it works better for them because they have to concentrate on fewer things," Freeman said.

Chesapeake Senior High School Principal Harry Calender is making a presentation to the school board next month on the four-period day.

High school tries it out

His school went to that schedule last year, and Northeast High School soon followed. Glen Burnie administrators are considering going from a six-period day to a four.

"It is working for our school because the students can take more courses -- eight a year instead of six," Calender said.

It also reduced the number of students failing Algebra 1 from 35 percent to 16 percent last year, he said.

"That's one of the big advantages," he said.

Pub Date: 11/22/98

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