Op-Ed…New schedule, new math

By George Benack
October 26, 2007
No one should expect that the implementation of a new schedule at Horace Greeley High School will come off without a hitch.

While aggressively embarking on an ambitious plan to alter the schedule at Horace Greeley High School, the administration has tried its best to allow for discussion and the sharing of ideas by providing time for in-school meetings and soliciting individual commentary from all members of the high school staff. They have also met with students and the community to answer questions and dispel any rumors that have arisen since the process of effecting a schedule change began last autumn.

Despite these opportunities, much of the faculty has real concerns about how these changes will affect their program. Many are uncertain of how the proposed schedule change will affect them individually, let alone how it will affect program in other departments. Based on several private conversations with parents on the soccer fields, I suspect the community at large is equally unaware of these concerns.

No one should expect that the implementation of a new schedule at Horace Greeley High School will come off without a hitch. Just as there are people who are thrilled and excited by the prospect of such a change, there are others who approach such a change with trepidation; both groups may be surprised with initial outcomes.

Math department, serious concerns with longer periods

A change in the amount of time a teacher spends with her class on a given day and whether or not that class will meet every day is likely to have a dramatic effect on what content is covered as well as how instruction is delivered. In the math department, many of us have expressed serious concerns that meeting with students for 60 or more consecutive minutes in one day may be unsound in certain math courses. For a multitude of reasons, one cannot simply teach an 80-minute period as if it were two 40-minute classes scheduled back-to-back.

Additionally, there is research suggesting that math courses seem to do best when they meet for shorter periods of time on a daily basis. There is considerable doubt among many math teachers at Greeley that the schedule under consideration will allow us to continue to cover our present curriculum and maintain the integrity of our successful math program. Something will have to give and such a change may require watering down some topics or removing them altogether from our courses. Personally, this might not be a bad thing.

I do not object to a change in how the day is structured, per se. I do, however, question the premise that students in the 21st century are ill-served by a schedule that is over 20 years old just because it is 20 years old, or that a new schedule will alleviate any of the additional pressures placed on teachers over the past several years. Chief among these are demands on teacher time due to inclusion, substantial testing and instructional modifications for designated students, differentiated instruction, state-mandated meetings and requests for written documentation, mandatory Regents testing for all students, and the implementation of new technologies.

A perennial complaint among my colleagues is the lack of time for teachers to engage in self-monitored professional work away from students—time that is not co-opted by the administration. It has been posited that the new schedule will provide this. In my examination of the proposed changes, I see no evidence that this last issue will be addressed in a meaningful way.

Come September 2008, we should expect bumps in the road. Long before then, contingency plans need to be made with a flexible mechanism in place that will provide for assessment of the new schedule and facilitate timely modifications to it . . . even if it turns out that reverting to our present schedule is the best way to go.

George Benack has been teaching math at Horace Greeley High School for the past 15 years.

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