Block scheduling varies from country to state to school district. I have taught in the western United States and am very familiar with how it is usually organized there. The basic block schedule organizes subject courses into longer time periods which do not follow each other on a daily basis, but rotate through the week by skipping a day. As an example, A and B or even and odd days. There would be three classes approximately an hour and fifty minutes long on day A: English, History, Physical Education. On day B: Mathematics, Chemistry, Art. They alternate so during one week there would be three A days and two B days, and the following week, three B days and two A days.
Note that originally schools were kindergarten through grade six, junior high seven through nine, and senior high was three years, ten through twelve. Some older schools still retain the names junior high and senior high. The grade system changed in urban and suburban schools and elementary schools became grades kindergarten through 5 (K-5), middle school six through eight, and high school again became four years nine through twelve, as they had been before the separation into junior and middle school when children went directly from elementary to high school. One of the main reasons for the change had to do with educators feeling children turning eleven and twelve did not belong with younger elementary school children.
These longer periods were put in for a variety of reasons by the school districts. One of the main reasons was the No Child Left Behind law enacted during the Bush administration which raised the teaching credential requirements for teachers and the requirement for students to pass a battery of tests to graduate with their high school diploma. They are allowed to begin taking the tests early in their secondary school career, and must have completed and passed them all prior to graduation. If they do not pass the examinations, they can stay in school up to age 21. Otherwise they can graduate with a certificate of attendance.
Schools decided that if students took more subject courses it would increase their knowledge and help them pass the examinations. In order to add more courses without increasing the length of day they cut down the lunch periods from an hour to a half hour, shortened the passing time from at least six minutes down to four minutes, some luckier schools had five minutes. In schools that had study hall periods they changed those to other subjects. In some cases they increased the school day by a half hour to forty-five minutes.
The effect of block scheduling on junior high and middle schools is basically the same as high school, except that it is less frequent in middle school. Most of the middle schools in the district in which I taught were on the regular five to six course day. The main reason that block schedules are less common in middle school is the age range of the students, generally eleven to thirteen going on fourteen. Middle schoolers have the reputation among teachers are being the most difficult to control in classroom settings. The effects of block scheduling have been mixed.
*The shorter passing times between periods do not give students enough time to go to their lockers and put away heavy books they don’t need to carry around and to take out their assignment for the next period.
*They do not have enough time to stop at the restroom and they have to continually ask for permission to leave class.
*Once out of class there is a temptation to join their classmates in their lunch period and to hang out around the campus.
*The constant asking to leave the room interrupts the teacher’s lecture. They miss parts of the video presentations and distract the other students.
*Middle school students are preadolescent to early adolescent, still children. They need to move around more and long periods in subjects requiring intensive concentration, like mathematics is a strain on them.
*It is a strain on the teacher to be unable to leave a room or even to have that precious five minutes between classes in the regular schedule to grab a snack or quench their thirst.
*For a teacher to try to conduct an almost two-hour lesson with a room full of playful, talkative eleven and twelve year olds it can be extremely stressful, leading to educators forsaking their profession and seeking new careers.
*On the positive side, the longer periods are good for classes such as art, music and physical education because of the time required to get out and put away materials and musical instruments, clean up after art, change and shower in gym classes.
* The educational administrators hope that by adding an extra course subject it will increase the students’ knowledge content and academic proficiency.
*The school systems are under pressure from the federal government for their schools to meet their yearly progress report and test requirements. If the students do not measure up to academic standards, the schools can lose funding, even their autonomy and be taken over by the state and turned into a private or charter school.
Block scheduling was not generally put into effect into middle schools as it was in high schools, and now, with budget cuts and insufficient funding, the trend is away from them. Eliminating block scheduling saved on teachers’ salaries because with block scheduling there were often two and a half hour lunch periods for them when a preparatory period came just before or after their lunch period. Also by not having that extra course subject, it saved on having someone to teach it.
Class sizes have been increased and teaching staff reduced. In one very large local school district with which I am familiar, the block scheduling has been changed back to the regular five or six period five-day school week in the high schools. The current state of education in the public school system in the United States is under financial stress and the new internet technology available is certainly going to bring about major changes in the classroom and teaching strategies as more online classes become available for the primary grades.