Frequently Asked Questions about high school schedule and credit changes

When will the School Board make a final decision on the high school schedule?
The School Board is scheduled to make the final decision at the regular School Board meeting on Tuesday, May 26, 2009 (the meeting was moved to Tuesday because of the Memorial Day holiday on Monday).

Will I have an opportunity to provide input on the schedule?
Yes. A number of high school taskforces are now gathering input from specific groups of staff, students and parents. In addition, each high school will hold a public meeting in late April or early May to give parents, students and staff the opportunity to learn about the proposed schedules and comment on them. Once meeting dates have been set, they will be posted on this Web site and publicized by the schools.

RATIONALE
Why is the district looking at other schedules?
In the spring of 2008, the Board decided that it might be good to examine the whole system of delivery of program to students at the high school level. This was prompted by a number of things including: changes in state mandated graduation requirements for the Class of 2015, concerns about how the block schedule aligns itself calendar-wise with high stakes state testing (No Child Left Behind), projected financial concerns, and the fact that the district's high schools have been on the block schedule for over fifteen years and it is always good to take a look at how we do things and why.

Is the district looking only at schedules?
No. The Board has asked for a comprehensive study of what the district should have as requirements for graduation from its high schools. The state has changed graduation requirements. Beginning with the class of 2015, students must complete Algebra I by the end of eighth grade, plus Algebra II (or equivalent) and chemistry or physics (in addition to biology) before graduation.

Some have said that the board already knows what it is going to do. Is that true?
Absolutely not! This study has involved countless hours of research, data collection, and discussion, and we're still not done! It has also involved literally hundreds of people at all levels - students, parents, staff, administrators, and community members. The board has been and continues to be proud of the high school program and it will not decide until it has had the opportunity to examine all the data and recommendations. 

FINANCIAL
If the block schedule is so expensive, what does it really cost?
The most costly item of the block schedule is staff. When students, who must fill their schedules with classes, have almost half those classes as electives that means someone must teach those classes. That staff costs money. (Remember, that over 80 percent of this district's expenses are for staff). More simply put, it costs more money to provide students with extensive choices. The only way to say what the block really costs is to compare its staffing costs with other schedules. 

How do the various schedules compare in terms of what they cost to operate?
Of the three schedules remaining under consideration, the block schedule (4 X 4), the five period day (5 X 3), and the six period day (6 X 3), the block is the most expensive and the six period day is least expensive. If we compare only the staffing costs, here is how they compare:

4 x 4 5 Period Trimester 6 Period Trimester
Remains the same Saves $1,794,095 annually Saves $2,884,267 annually


This comparison is made using the schedule/staffing information from Coon Rapids High School as of Oct. 1, 2008 and projecting those numbers for the rest of high schools. Using accurate data from a single point in time is the only way to make sure the results and projections are valid ones.

Aren't there some cost savings with the block schedule?
Yes. Because the block allows full year classes to be taught in half in year, approximately half the number of students taking required courses are in that course at any one time. That means that only about half the number of textbooks are required at one time and that can add up to a great deal of money when the average text costs about $100. This assumes that every student would have a text book. Other cost savings occur in the block because teachers provide supervision and security as part of their contractual duties. 

How much will it cost to convert to another schedule if the board decides to do so?
Obviously, there is no conversion cost to retain the block schedule. Below are the one time conversion costs for the other two schedules:

Cost Item 5 Period Trimester 6 Period Trimester
Additional Texts $657,101 $2,639,021
Staff Development/
Teacher Training
$61,402 $73,946

Curriculum Writing/
Revision

$730,980 $1,760,640
Total $1,449,483 $4,447,607


Are there any other cost impacts to converting to a different schedule?
Yes. Because teachers would no longer be able to supervise halls, lunch rooms, and study halls to the extent they do under the block schedule, paraprofessional supervisory staff would likely be hired. For the five period day this could amount to as much as $552,000 annually and for the six period day it could cost as much as $920,000. These are considered maximum amounts. The actual cost would depend on how many paraprofessionals each school would require to provide adequate supervision and security. Further, additional lunchroom tables may be required. 

Cost savings would result from synchronizing the bus transportation schedules with the elementary schools since they would also be operating on a trimester schedule.        

Why would the Board decide to go to a different schedule if it has to spend more money to make that change? Why not just keep what we have and we save that money?
Remember that the money saved in moving away from the block comes from reducing staff by reducing electives.  This money is saved every year. 

Some of the money spent in a conversion to a different schedule would be a one time expenditure. This would include curriculum writing to revise courses to fit a new schedule and staff development to modify teaching techniques.

Textbooks do increase as a cost item in the budget if we continue to adopt new texts for courses every seven years and work under the assumption that every student will have a text book. However, the money spent for texts comes from a different budget than the one that pays for staff, supplies, curriculum writing, and staff development.

PROCESS
Who developed the process for deciding on a schedule and graduation requirements?
The process was developed cooperatively by School Board members, administrators, and teacher representatives. 

Who decided who got to be involved in the selection process?
School Board members, district administrators, and teacher representatives chose the groups that would be involved in the process. Every effort was made to give all stakeholder groups a voice in the selection.

Who makes the final decision?
As is always the case, the School Board will make the final decision on both the schedule and the graduation requirements. It will receive information and recommendations from the Secondary Task Force, which received information and opinions from 15 subgroups.

When did the selection process begin?
It began in May 2008 when the School Board decided to study the schedule and graduation credits. During the summer months, various task forces and subgroups were identified to move the process forward. The first group actually met for a full day in September of 2008 to kick off the study process. It included parents, teachers, administrators and School Board members. 

What efforts have been made to keep the schools and community informed as the process moved forward during the year?
Every effort has been made to make this as "transparent" a process as possible. There was frequent communication to the various high schools through teacher representatives, the teacher union, and the building principals. Articles about the process and the information that was being gathered were included in local newspapers and school newsletters. The district website has a special section about the process (www.anoka.k12.mn.us/hsschedule) the included key documents about the process.

Will there be an opportunity for public input?
Public meetings at each of high school will be held in late April and early May. The schedule will be posted on the website when it has been finalized.

What is the timeline to reach a final decision?
It is hoped that all subgroups will have completed their work by early April and the Secondary Task Force will be able to provide data and some recommendation to the board at the April 23 meeting.

Is there some kind of criteria that is being used to help the decision making process?
The following criteria were developed by the High School Schedule/Credit Task Force to aid in the selection of a new schedule. The criteria are not in rank order.

  1. Provides flexibility (includes time for remediation, individual needs, student choice, lab classes, Professional Learning Communities, post-secondary preparation, and technology)
  2. Maximizes student achievement and closes the achievement gap by using instructional best practices.
  3. Builds relationships (community/district, student/teacher, student/student)
  4. Provides a comprehensive education that allows for elective choices that meet all students' needs for the 21st century
  5. Minimizes scheduling conflicts within the school day
  6. Aligns course work with testing
  7. Focuses on transition to post-secondary (reduces need for remediation)
  8. Optimizes the student/teacher ratio (class size)
  9. Limits/manages stress for all stakeholders (students, teachers, parents)
  10. Creates a cost-efficient model that will last long term (efficient use of limited resources.

GENERAL SCHEDULE INFORMATION
Is there such a thing as a perfect schedule?
No. There are a variety of schedules and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Some schedules allow for extensive elective choice but cost more. Some cost less but limit student elective choice. Some maximize teacher instructional time while others use teachers for extensive amounts of supervision. Some have a strong focus on the core required classes while others balance core and elective choices. A district must choose the schedule that best fits its needs and resources.

What does research say is the best schedule for student achievement?
There is not a large body of data that addresses this topic. However, there are three studies that do speak to this.  Both the ACT and the SAT programs (college admission tests) conducted studies that showed that students from traditional schedules (six and seven period days) scored slightly better than students who came from block schedules. Students in a state-wide Georgia study scored better on statewide tests if they came from traditional schedules rather than block schedules. Finally, the most comprehensive study came from the State of Washington which compared student achievement on state tests and schedule types. Students from extended period schedules (60 minutes or longer) scored the best, followed by the seven period day, the six period day, and the four period block schedule which finished last.

What are the strengths and weakness of the three schedules remaining under consideration?
The High School Schedule and Credit Requirement Committee listed positive and negative factors for each schedule considered. Here is their evaluation of the remaining schedules.

Block (4x4) schedule evaluation

Positives Negatives
Student choice (increase in electives) Gaps in continuous learning, lack of continuity
in some classes
Focus on four classes, less stress for students
and teachers
Most expensive
Teachers meet more students, students are
exposed to more teachers
Fewer minutes of instructional time
More depth in classes, more engagement Absences and illnesses hurt the students
Lower expenses for texts and instruction
materials
Students' attention spans
Fewer passing times (fewer behavioral issues) State testing/AP testing/IB timeline doesn't
always fit with when classes have been taken
Allows for best practice instruction (i.e. differ-
entiated instruction)
Soak time, not enough weekends
More hands-on time in labs Music dilemma (perceived)
Parent teacher communications, fewer teachers
at one time
Senior slide is more likely
Flexibility for state requirements if they change Flexibility for struggling students
Flexibility for struggling students Test results
Fewer issues with attendance, non-instructional
management issues
No long term relationships with students
Fewer interruptions in the classroom that affect
the ability to deliver meaningful instruction
Difficult to meet the needs of Special Education
students
Fewer students at one time PLC time not built into current schedule
Availability of lab space Lose single electives
Enhances unique intelligences Longer class periods are tough to manage for
some teachers
Longer class periods can lead to better
teaching
No common way to do grade level activities
(i.e. Surveys)
Passing time allows students a short break/
transition
No structure built into this schedule for
remediation
Gives the opportunity for accelerated learning Permanent high school grade comes quickly for
ninth graders
Lunch periods in one class period  
More jobs  
Teacher prep covers duties  
Fits better with the college schedule  
More flexibility to take college classes/PSEO  


The Five Period Day-trimesters (5x3) schedule
Basic information about this schedule:

  • Classes are 70 minutes long
  • There are three terms of approximately 12 weeks each
  • A full year class would be two terms in length, taken in the same year but not necessarily sequentially.  It would be possible to have a full year class starting in term one with the second half offered in term three.

Following are some of the negatives and positives of this schedule model, most of which were identified by the High School Schedule and Credit Requirement Committee. It should be noted that this schedule model is similar in some respects to the block schedule and therefore many of the same positives and negatives for the block would also be applicable.

Positives Negatives
Maintains a higher percentage of electives
compared to 6 and 7 period day
Scheduling issues
Better for lunch, can fit it into one class period
(70 minutes)
Students move at trimester time. This is needed
to keep the flexibility in the schedule
Curriculum has to be aligned for students to
be able to move at the same time
Test alignment could be an issue for Tri 2 and 3
classes or split term classes
More instructional minutes than block
schedule
Saves less than the six period day
70 minute block of time may be more
productive
Full year elective classes may be a challenge to
get into the schedule
Good for lab courses, variety of information Who decided the length of terms for the courses?
Least traumatic change for staff and students Less room for two Tri courses
12 weeks vs. 9 weeks give an opportunity to
more in depth
Extra costs for more texts, curriculum writing and
staff development
Test alignment may be better for certain tests Many students may have a gap between the first
half of the course and the second half of the
course
Least impact on availability of facilities as
compared to other schedules and the block
 
More room for electives  
More time for remediation  
Less expensive than a four period day  


The Six-Period Day-trimesters (6x3) schedule
Basic information about this schedule. 

  • Classes are approximately 55 minutes long
  • There are three terms of approximately 12 weeks each
  • A full year class would equal three consecutive terms in the same year

Following are some of the negatives and positives of this schedule model, most of which were identified by the High School Schedule and Credit Requirement Committee

Positives Negatives
More choices than traditional 6 period day Fewer grading periods, fewer parent conferences
Fewer grading periods and parent
conferences
Social Studies would be one Tri each year for senior
year
Would align with elementary calendar More students per teacher each year
Might provide an opportunity for remediation
in schedule
Major curriculum revision for all electives if reducing
or extending a course-costly to realign
Flexibility Electives would have less instructional time
Least expensive for staffing Turf wars between being a one trimester or two
trimester course
More focus on core subjects Negatively affects collegiality over time issues
More manageble amounts of content taught
each day
Doesn't align with PSEO courses
May be more consistency in curriculum and
instructional delivery
Job losses, could lose quality teachers due to
changes in program and structure
More instructional time than the 4 period day Less options for diverse learners, fewer choices for
hands-on learning
One less passing time that the 7 period day More passing time thatn 4 period day - behavior
issues
May work better for meeting needs of
Special Education students
Diminished comprehensive high school philosophy
May improve public perception - "more core
driven school district"
Lab space, materials needs
Aligns to testing Very little room for failure with state requirements
at 21 credits
  May lose some Technology/Engineering options/
electives
  Lunch over multiple periods - schedule issues
  ESL students would have a hard time catching up on
required courses
  Loss of motivation to attend school due to loss of
electives


GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS
Will graduation requirements increase or stay the same?
For sure the requirements in science for the Class of 2015 will increase from two full year credits to three full year years. Students must take physical science, biology, and either chemistry or physics. However, once the Board decides on a schedule, decisions will have to be made on graduation requirements to fit that schedule.

Who decides what credits are required?
The State of Minnesota mandates that students have at least four years of English, three and one-half years of social studies, two, soon to be three years of science, three years of math, and one year of a program in the arts (performing or visual). Requirements beyond these are determined by local districts. In Anoka-Hennepin, a year of physical education, a half year of health, and an additional half year of social studies are presently required.

Besides science, will there be new required credits?
That is presently under study and no decision has been made on this. Again, once a schedule decision is made, the district will move forward on high school credit and graduation requirements as the two have to match (block schedule credit requirements don't fit in other schedules and visa-versa).

If the number and/or kind of credits changes, how will that be handled? Who will it affect?
Students entering the high schools in the fall of 2010 will assume responsibility for any and all changes in credits and requirements. Once the schedule and credit decisions are made, a team of staff will be formed to finalize how the transition will work for sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Parents and students should be assured that no "last minute" requirements will be levied as they plan their programs and that those affected by any changes in the credit requirements will be notified well in advance.