GHS Principal, Bruce Hall, wants to implement a block schedule (BS)
with
90-minute classes, meeting every other day. But studies
have shown
that less content will be covered, so implementing BS will lead to a
decline in
academic achievement.

So what we are talking about? On February 13

According to
Webster, “teach is the basic, inclusive word for the imparting of
knowledge or
skills.” This definition fits traditional teacher-centered
knowledge-transmission, but not the “student-centered approach.”
Rather
than listening to teachers or reading textbooks, student-centered
advocates say
students should work with peers (“the collaboration piece”) and carry
out real
world investigations to explore what they find personally
interesting.
These discovery learning activities frequently involve time-consuming
busywork. That’s why student-centered promoters so fervently
desire the
90-minute extended learning time provided by BS.

Ms.Migliacci expressed
surprise about coverage of content concerns at GHS, because she knows
that
Guilford’s elementary and middle schools have already converted to the
discovery learning approach. Consider the methods for Everyday
Mathematics (EM), the elementary math program used in Guilford.
According
to the EM Grades 4-6 Teacher’s Reference Manual, “Everyday Mathematics
employs
cooperative learning activities, explorations, and projects. The
classroom needs to be set up to accommodate group work, and students
must be
able to work together without direct supervision.” Also, “games
are an
integral part of the Everyday Mathematics program, not an optional
extra.”

What
about the "concept-based curriculum” mentioned by Mr. Neviaser?
With
the traditional content-based curriculum, students learn the specific
facts and
skills of knowledge domains, such as math and biology. But
student-centered advocates object to such detailed learning, because
mastery of
content can be difficult and their primary goal is a stress-free life
for
students. They say students can understand concepts, without
necessarily
knowing the facts and skills associated with the concepts.Everyday
Mathematics
offers concept-based arithmetic. Students are expected to appreciate
the
concept of a computational algorithm, but they are not expected to
master the
skills of carrying, borrowing, or adding fractions, and they never
learn about
long division. It’s OK to use a calculator for most computations.

Parents need to know that their children will not be prepared
for
algebra, if
they haven’t first mastered the facts and skills of standard
pencil-and-paper
arithmetic. Their children may be prepared for concept-based
algebra, but
not for generalization of content-based arithmetic that occurs in
content-based
algebra.

Since remembering specific content is not considered necessary,
student-centered advocates don’t see the need for memorization and
practice. How nice for them, because this helps to achieve their
primary
objective of an easy, stress-free life for students. But without
specific
remembered knowledge, students must regularly revisit shallow
content.
More sadly, they never get to experience the power of the learning
curve.
Learning becomes increasingly easier and faster as more and more
content
knowledge is stored in the brain.

Mr. Neviaser mentioned “authentic
assessment.” This is another logical consequence of the
concept-based
curriculum. Since students haven’t mastered standard content,
traditional
standardized tests must be avoided. Authentic assessment is the
student-centered alternative.

The phrase “best practices” is frequently
used in BOE meetings, but the public has never been given an example of
a best
practice. That’s because this high-sounding phrase doesn’t refer
to
methods that are well known to be effective in improving academic
achievement. It refers to the methods of the
student-centered
theory, the key to the desired “culture of the school.”

By “the factory
model,” Dr. Forcella wants you to picture teacher as dictator, with
students
sitting passively in rows. This is how student-centered
proponents like
to portray the teacher-centered model.

Young children don’t have the background knowledge needed to recognize what’s important for them to learn. Although parents want their children to explore personal interests, they also know that advanced education depends on a solid grounding in academic knowledge.

Many parents are experts in one or more knowledge domains, such as electrical engineering, pediatric medicine, carpentry, piano tuning, and running a hardware store. These parents know that experts must necessarily remember countless facts and skills that are narrowly relevant to their specialty. Finally, parents who hope their children will attend college can’t accept the disparaging depiction of lecturing and textbooks, because they know that this is precisely what their children will find in college.Dr. Forcella wants to delay BS implementation for a year, primarily to allow for “the professional development piece.” Another delaying problem was raised by Mr. Hall when he noted, “facilities has raised its ugly head.” BS apparently requires larger spaces than currently found at GHS. This reminds us of the claimed need for classroom pods at the middle school level. By a 3 to 1 margin, voters rejected pods in 2003. Will voters now approve funds for extensive GHS renovations for BS? Or is it possible that Mr. Hall’s dream of a new high school facility will now be justified by the need to properly support the student-centered culture of BS?

Without significant, visible opposition, the BOE will likely approve BS at their March 13

William G. Quirk is a graduate of Dartmouth College and holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the New Mexico State University. He recently co-authored The State of State Math Standards 2005, a report published by the Fordham Foundation. Dr. Quirk lives in Guilford, CT.