Changing How Schools Draw Up Their Schedules Can Make Classes More Equitable Next Fall

Writing for The 74, Adam Pisoni explores ways that scheduling for the return after COVID can make schooling more equitable. Excerpts from the piece appear below:

As educators across the country struggle to wrap up the current COVID-ravaged school year, administrators and schedulers are hard at work determining what the 2020-21 school day will look like for most students. Re-examining the use of time and space may present opportunities to address persistent equity gaps.

Here are a few ways districts can leverage this unique opportunity to reimagine the structure of the instructional day:

Create more flexible schedules. Allow teams of teachers to share cohorts of students and provide longer blocks of time in which to teach them. Schedules that allow for team teaching, back-to-back periods and integrated curricula help students make connections between ideas and skills across content areas. Project-based and experiential hands-on learning are best suited to flexible schedules, which in turn give teachers more latitude to support students by providing individualized instructions and meeting them where they are.

Simplify course catalogs. Schools often create multiple levels of each course to sort students based on proficiency. In some schools, it’s not uncommon to see five levels of freshman English or math alongside general education requirements. Course catalogs are also often filled with one-off elective courses with unfilled seats, which draw critical teaching resources away from core and college-ready courses. 

Boost enrollment in advanced courses. Actively recruit students to enroll in advanced courses. Enrollment in these classes should mirror the demographics of the school’s population; students from demographic groups that have been historically underserved may not see themselves as belonging in advanced courses and need additional support. The need to catch students up from COVID-19-related deficiencies provides ample air cover to shift resources toward creating support classes and changing that perception. 

Chart your own course. Many schools will have more autonomy to incorporate creativity, flexibility and innovation in scheduling in the absence of firm guidance from their district or state. Now is the time to experiment with alternative bell schedules, in order to identify blocks of time that can be used to meet new and emergent needs as students return to school. Schedules can experiment with eliminating certain prerequisites, which could ease barriers to college and career pathways. They can model the implications of blended or hybrid learning — which integrates online and face-to-face instruction. Such an approach enables students to benefit from courses outside the confines of the classroom or school day to reduce the strain on educators and class sizes. Alternative schedules can help school and district leaders create more dual enrollment opportunities where students take some courses off-site at a college campus. Similarly, those schedules may uncover opportunities for students to perform homework assignments with teachers at school, while focusing time on sustained reading or other activities at home.

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