Baltimore County's principals - not a group known to be outspoken on sensitive subjects - have decided to speak out about the mandated changes to high school schedules next year.
At a school board meeting on Tuesday night, a representative of the principals asked the administration to consider delaying the mandated move to a four- or eight-period day to allow for more open discussion and analysis. The teachers union representative, Abby Beytin, also objected to the changes, saying they are seen by teachers as "another way to add more workload to their already overburdened lives."
Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance has told high schools that he wants students to take eight subjects a semester or year. Schools have the choice of offering either eight 40-minute periods a day or offering four 80-minute periods a day.
Students in schools with the four-period day would have four subjects one day and four different subjects the next day. That alternating day schedule is known as the block A/B schedule.
"BCPS is large and diverse. Where possible we should recognize this and allow each school community the flexibility to design their own school environment and then look at student achievement results in order to decide if changes are needed," said Bill Lawrence, the executive director of CASE, the association that represents the principals.
A high school schedule might seem a small change, given the reforms now taking place in schools. But Lawrence said that a school's master schedule affects everything in the school.
"None of the other initiatives or projects (common core, teacher evaluations, overcrowding) has the disruptive impact of changing a high school schedule," he said.
Most high-performing schools in the county operate with a seven-period day and many teachers say they are not eager about switching. But some four-period day enthusiasts are also angry because they believe their children learn better and are less disorganized when they only have to concentrate on four subjects a semester. Hereford High students take four subjects each day and parent Laura Suffecool said she likes it.
"Hereford parents are outraged that the county is requiring the school to discontinue a format that they clearly attribute for the fine performance of their students year after year," said Suffecool.
"We would not presume to mandate this format for all schools, but we want the right to maintain a schedule format that we consider an integral part of our students' and school’s continued success," she said.
Dance believes having every school on one schedule will help students who move from one school to another in the middle of the year as well as helping the school system use its staff more efficiently.
But some teachers believe that is just a way to load more work on them, by requiring everyone to teach six rather than five classes. That change might not have been so unappealing if they already hadn't had a reduction in their ranks of more than 200 teachers in the past couple years. With class sizes bulging in some high schools, teachers are reluctant to have to raise their overall student load and cope with more papers to grade and more lessons to prepare.
Lawrence said the four-period day has a 20-year history in the school system. Some schools went from a seven-period day to a four-period day and some of those same schools, such as Lansdowne and Dundalk, have now moved back to the seven-period day. After lengthy discussions some years ago over which schedule was best, school leaders decided to leave the decision to individual schools.
The most recent decision was handed down after a consultant held some focus groups and presented various options, but large numbers of principals and teachers weren't asked their opinion, nor were parents or students.
"I think any large change of this magnitude should involved those who are impacted," Lawrence said.