All high schools in Harford County but one would adopt a four-period school day under a plan to have them on the same schedule by fall of 2006.
The plan would radically rearrange the school day at Fallston and Edgewood high schools, where students attend seven 45-minute classes daily, and Bel Air and C. Milton Wright, where students attend five 60-minute classes.
Under the new plan, high school students countywide would attend four 90-minute classes per day. Some of the courses would meet daily for a semester, while others would meet every other day throughout the year. Harford Technical High School would not be affected.
The current system is "very haphazard," said David A. Volrath, Harford's chief of secondary education. "All schools are at different points of the curriculum."
Some teachers have spoken out against the longer classes, contending that the attention span of the average post-MTV-generation teenager gives out after an hour. They also say teachers would lose hours of planning time during the week under the new plan.
"I would move from [teaching] approximately 140 students a year to almost 170 students a year," said Brian Rheinhardt, an English teacher at C. Milton Wright.
"Nothing's been shown that it's best for the kids," added Keith D. Goodell, president of the county teachers union.
But teachers who support longer classes say there would be more time to delve into lessons and in-class projects such as science experiments.
A committee of teachers and school administrators recommended the new format as a way to compress more course requirements into four years.
Charged with toughening secondary education, the committee recommended raising graduation requirements from 121 credits to 126.
The school board postponed a vote on the plan indefinitely after a number of teachers and at least one parent expressed concern over the 90-minute classes.
Currently, the county's high schools are given autonomy to structure their own scheduling. Having schools on one schedule would aid countywide initiatives such as standardized test preparation, teacher support groups and redistricting, Volrath said.
Thousands of students could be forced to switch schools when the county redraws boundary lines for the 2007 opening of Patterson Mill middle and high school near Bel Air. Students who switch schools often experience gaps or overlaps in the curriculum because of differences in the schools' schedules.
"There has to be a guarantee that every kid has been given the same fair advantage to access that education," Volrath said. "Under the current setup, I can't guarantee that."
Volrath said a four-period schedule would be more efficient, even if the total hours of class time for a course during a semester would shrink.
Courses meeting fewer days of the semester would be less clogged with daily tasks such as the taking of attendance, he said.
The plan would mirror the format at Joppatowne High School, where the longer class periods suit 17-year-old Sarah Alexander just fine.
"You get more involved, especially in classes like science where you have more experiments," said Alexander, a junior.
Kate McComiskey, however, prefers her seven-period school day at Fallston High, because after an hour teachers "are just talking to the walls."
"None of us being in a seven-period day for so long are trained to have the attention to go for four periods" of 90 minutes, she said.