Audits missed block schedule problems
District finds many Hayward, Mt. Eden students are taking just 41/2hours of classes a day
By Katy Murphy, Hayward Daily Review, January 29, 2006Block Scheduling Explained
HAYWARD — In the last 10 days, many at Hayward and Mt. Eden high schools were stunned to hear that their block schedules — which had been in place since 1994 — didn't comply with state education laws. In the uproar that followed, one question continued to emerge: Why is this problem only surfacing now?
According to consultants at the California Department of Education, Hayward passed its state audits every year since 1994. There is no indication from the records that the high schools were cheating some of their students out of valuable classroom time or denying them access to 64,800 minutes each year.
Those who oppose the switch to a traditional six-period day maintain that there is nothing wrong with the current schedule of four 90-minute blocks. Though students need only take three courses a semester — six courses a year — to graduate on time, others take advantage of a fourth section to catch up on credits or take electives and advanced placement courses.
"We're audited every year," argued Carrie King, an art teacher at Mt. Eden who tearfully told the trustees Wednesday night that she feared the arts would suffer if students could take just six courses a year instead of eight. "We are in compliance."
But district administrators say that they recently noticed some red flags: As of September, only 31 percent of Hayward High freshmen were enrolled in four courses. The rest were taking just three courses a semester, the equivalent of 41/2hours of class time a day.
According to school district data, 40 to 69 percent of Mt. Eden and Hayward high school students at various grade levels were taking just three blocks a day.
"I'm thinking of the reasonableness of this," said Sharon Ough, an administrator who oversees Mt. Eden High School. "We want to get them the maximum number of minutes that they can possibly get."
Arlene Matsuura, a fiscal services consultant for the California Department of Education, noted that the auditing procedures relating to class time focus heavily on documents such as a bell schedule. In the case of Mt. Eden and Hayward high schools, a bell schedule would indicate four classes totaling the required 360 minutes.
"In a situation where the bell schedule and school calendar show sufficient minutes, it is more difficult for an auditor to detect," Matsuura said.
Kim Clement, a consultant with the state's Department for Attendance Accounting, said it is required that schools offer 64,800 minutes worth ofcourses "for every person in every grade level." Schools can't, for instance, count an advanced placement chemistry class as an offering for freshmen.
That's where it gets tricky: Hayward's block schedule advocates say students aren't denied access to a fourth section — that some simply choose to take three. But district officials counter that Hayward and Mt. Eden high schools aren't staffed to offer all students four courses a semester. They say all students couldn't take eight courses a year, even if they wanted to. Some have suggested that the district require students to take more blocks rather than alter the entire schedule. School officials say that would cost too much and that other options are more cost-effective.
Misinformation and rumor have led to more confusion. In an e-mail response to some parents several days before the vote, trustee Sarah Gonzales suggested that a state action had prompted the district to get rid of the block schedule.
"The district's request for a waiver to allow the 4-by-4 block was denied by the State Department of Education," Gonzales wrote. "Therefore, I intend to insure that 100 percent of all of the district's high school students have access to 360 minutes of quality instruction a day."
Gonzales's e-mail prompted Mt. Eden parent Isabel Souto to call the state education department herself. She learned that no such waiver existed, and she circulated another e-mail noting the error.
Gonzales acknowledged Friday that her earlier statement was a mistake and that she had misinterpreted district information.
Souto, who has a senior and freshman at Mt. Eden High School, said her children have taken four courses each semester and that she hadn't heard of any students denied a fourth class. Ough said the district had not collected data on access to courses.
Despite the widespread discontent, there is some hope the scheduling issue will be resolved harmoniously.
Trustees Jeff Cook and Paul Frumkin told the hundreds of pro-block demonstrators at Wednesday's meeting that there might be solutions other than the traditional schedule adopted two years ago by Tennyson High School.
Ough said Friday that during the next two weeks, district officials would work with community members to explore a number of configurations — including a seven-period day or a modified block schedule. She said no meeting dates had been set, to her knowledge.
Such news came as somewhat of a relief to Conrad Hake, a Mt. Eden parent who has lamented the lack a dialogue that has taken place around the issue. "I'm a real fan of reasoned discourse," he said. "I'm just hoping that we have as much accurate fact gathering as we can get."
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