What Are the Barriers to Effective Class Scheduling?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

It’s a widely accepted fact of our education system that there are some groups or even schools of students who have struggled, are struggling, and will continue to struggle without some creative and effective interventions.

We can also agree that teachers make a difference. In fact, one of the key predictors of academic success is the teacher they work with.

So why do we consistently schedule these struggling students with teachers that have a greater chance at struggling as well, while placing more capable students with capable teachers?

In a study published last year by the American Sociological Association, it was found that lower achieving students are often scheduled with teachers with less experience. Anecdotally you may already know this to be true, but it’s nice to have it confirmed by data.

This is obviously non-sensical considering the substantial challenges we are facing in our education system. The common sense approach would be to pair highly effective teachers with the students who need their considerable talents more: the lower performing students.

What keeps that from occurring? Is it administration, afraid of losing their best and brightest talent by giving them tough assignments? Is it the teachers themselves? Obviously, teachers in general are not challenge-adverse, but some are more willing to take on a challenging situation than others are. Is it districts, more concerned about looking after their more affluent constituents and more vocal parents?

Depending on the situation, it’s all of the above. The funny part is that this scheduling model will only perpetuate itself unless we break the cycle.

For example, a new teacher is hired at a school and is given a tough schedule in their first year. Perhaps they don’t survive the year. Perhaps they do, maybe even sticking it out past the two year mark, where statistics say roughly a third of teachers leave their school or leave the profession. If they do leave their school, it’s a safe bet to assume they don’t choose to leave in favor of a worse school, forcing the first school to bring in another newbie.

This scheduling and its effects are costly. New teachers have to be found and trained constantly. Moreover, how much learning do you think was accomplished by those students as that teacher was trying to sort out their career?

As the study shows, there is such a thing as “at-risk teachers”. Just like their student counterparts, at-risk teachers are consistently put in a situation where their failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need some creativity and willingness to break the status quo in our scheduling.

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