The Anti-Content Mindset Behind Block Scheduling

March 13, 2006 Meeting of the Guilford CT Board of Education

Remarks by William G. Quirk, Ph.D.

At the last meeting of this Board, we learned that block scheduling is linked to a change in the “culture of the school” for Guilford high school.  The planned new culture offers:

Mr. Hall said   “It’s not just a change in the daily schedule. It’s a change in the way we teach and interact with kids.”

But the nature of the change is hidden in the edu-speak.  Mr. Neviaser called it educational garble.  But it’s no laughing matter. Such language has deceived parents nationwide.  One day they wake up and find their children are expected to teach themselves.

One such group of parents lives in Region 4  -  Dr. Forcella’s last school district.   If you visit my website, you’ll find notes for a talk I gave to these parents.

At the last board meeting, Ms. Migliacci revealed the truth behind the edu-speak.  She said:

One of the things I hear . . . is this idea of covering content . . . the hair just goes up on the back of my neck, when I hear something like that . . . the assumption often is that teaching is about the delivery of knowledge, and that is really done through lecture and reading . . . and that’s not what we’re talking about at all . . . when the teachers get the professional development they need . . . you’ll realize that it’s not about a teacher in front of a classroom, it’s a teacher guided classroom.

The message is clear.  The conversion to block scheduling involves the phasing out of teacher-centered knowledge transmission and the full implementation of student-centered discovery learning.

Rather than listening to teachers or reading textbooks, students are to work with their peers and carry out investigations, projects, and other discovery learning activities.All necessary learning is expected to occur naturally, as a byproduct of these small group activities.Each student is to be led by personal interests. The primary goal is a stress-free life for students. The block schedule extended learning time is important, because discovery-learning activities are time-consuming.

There’s no recognition of a standard body of knowledge that all students should learn.  So whole-class instruction is out Textbooks are out.  Standard content is out. Personal content is in. Standardized tests are out. Authentic assessment is in.

The ongoing strength of our society depends on the quality of the shared tradition of knowledge that is passed on from generation to generation.  American schools need to teach children the core content associated with the foundational knowledge domains of English, mathematics, science, history, and geography.

But Ms. Migliacci and her colleagues at Brown University refuse to recognize a common core of knowledge that all students should learn.

My mother graduated from Brown.  My father taught math and physics at Brown.  Both would be astonished by the philosophy that’s replacing education with therapy.

The Fordham Foundation recently published a report, The State of State Math Standards – 2005.  A team of 6 studied the math standards for every state.  I was one of the six.  The other five are university math professors.  We were sad to learn that math appreciation is replacing traditional K-12 math in many states, including Connecticut.   Hawaii edged out Connecticut for the lowest score.

My five Fordham colleagues are all senior math professors.  David Klein is a Professor of Mathematics at Cal State.  Bas Braams is a Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Emory.  Thomas Parker is a Professor of Mathematics at  Michigan State.  Wilfried Schmid is the
Robinson Professor of Mathematics at Harvard.  Steve Wilson is a Professor of Mathematics at Johns Hopkins.  These five were willing to carry out this considerable work effort, because they were trying to better understand why so many bright college freshmen are totally unprepared for college math.

Beyond our project, Steve Wilson su
rveyed 93 math professors from around the country to see if they agreed that students should know standard pencil-and-paper arithmetic in order to succeed in first year college math.  All 93 agreed this knowledge is essential.

But standard pencil-and-paper arithmetic is not being taught in Guilford.  It’s enough for students to appreciate some of the concepts, but they’re not expected to master the details of carrying, borrowing, and long division.  They’re not expected to master the details of computing with fractions.   It’s OK to use a calculator for most computations.
Approving block scheduling is equivalent to approving the therapeutic, anti-content mindset. Please don’t do that. It’s time to stop the crime that’s hiding behind the edu-speak.

Click here for a related March 8, 2006 article in the Guilford CT Shoreline Times