Rick and Becky DuFour •

The Schedule Won't Let Us Devote Time to Intervention

The most effective school systems in the world ensure that all of their schools have a process in place to monitor each student’s learning on an ongoing basis and a systematic plan of intervention that provides a struggling student with additional time and support for learning (Barber and Mourshed, 2007). It certainly seems to make sense that any school that claims its mission is to help all students learn would have a plan for responding when some students don’t learn.

One of the critical questions all schools must address when they begin the PLC journey is “How will we respond when kids don’t learn?” We contend that every school should have a plan that guarantees students who are struggling to learn an essential skill or concept will receive additional time and support in a way that is timely, directive, and systematic. Furthermore, this assistance should not require the student to miss new direct instruction. Most of the educators with whom we have worked do not dispute our premise that a school that claims its mission is to help all students learn should actually have a coordinated plan in place for responding when some students don’t learn. Unfortunately, they go on to explain that “The schedule won’t allow it.”

This explanation has the benefit of demonstrating our good intentions—“We would love to intervene when kids do not learn”—at the same time it absolves us of responsibility—“Alas, it is simply impossible given our schedule.” Blame is assigned to an inanimate, abstract concept (the schedule), while people are exonerated for failure to act.

We find this position puzzling, and we offer these questions to educators across North America:

  • Did you mean it when you said the purpose of your school or district is to help all students learn? Was that a sincere declaration of intent and priority or politically correct hyperbole?

  • Do you recognize that some students will require more time and support for learning than others? We are unaware of any researcher who has concluded all students can learn if time and support are constants rather than variables in the learning process.

  • Do you agree a school’s schedule should reflect its purpose and priorities?

  • Have you created a schedule that ensures you have access to all students who experience difficulty in order to provide them with additional time and support for learning?

When we pose these questions, one at a time, to educators, it is disheartening to hear them say, “Yes, we are committed to helping all students learn; yes, we recognize some will need more time and support if they are to learn; yes, a school’s schedule should reflect its purpose and priorities; but, no, we do not have a system of intervention in place because the schedule won’t let us.” A school’s schedule should be regarded as a tool to further priorities rather than as an impediment to change. Our advice to educators is simple: Your schedule is not a sacred document. If your current schedule does not allow you to provide students with something as essential to their academic success as extra time and support for learning, you should change it!

The schools and districts listed under the “Evidence of Effectiveness” link on this site have all created schedules that not only allocate time for teachers to work in collaborative teams, but also provide time and support each day for students who need assistance. These schools rely on different schedules. For example, Adlai Stevenson High School has eight 50-minute periods per school day, with one of the periods reserved for lunch. Cinco Ranch offers a seven-period day with 30 minutes for lunch. Three Whittier Union high schools have six periods on Mondays, then alternate three periods on a block schedule Tuesday through Friday. Both Lakeridge Junior High School and Prairie Star Middle School operate a modified A/B block schedule, but their schedules are different in many ways. Jane Addams Junior High has a nine-period day. Boones Mill and Highland elementary schools' schedules have some similarities, but they are not identical. Schedules can differ. However, schedules should (1) give school personnel access to students who are experiencing difficulty learning during the school day and (2) ensure students receive additional time and support for learning in ways that do not require them to miss new direct instruction.

It should come as no surprise that the “world’s best performing school systems” ensure that every school monitors the learning of each student on a timely basis and implements a systematic intervention plan to assist struggling students rather than let them fall behind (Barber and Mourshed, 2007). It’s time to acknowledge that if your school is not providing this level of support, it is not because the “schedule won’t let us;” it is because you have chosen not to.

Adapted from Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Karhanek)

© Solution Tree Press 2010

Posted in: Address Resistance, Build Consensus, Discover Why PLCs Work, Lay the Foundation, About PLCs

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