Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lincoln Academy Schedule Means Success

Block schedules blanketed the American high school landscape about 20 years ago. Practically overnight, classes went from 28-35 minutes to 60-80 minutes in duration. Teachers simultaneously rejoiced in the extra time to impart their wisdom and grieved the loss of the quick-hit, fly-by-seat-of-pants class, where a game of Grammar Jeopardy would kill three-quarters of the period.

Periods doubled in duration meant that most schools reduced the number of times students sat in a given class by about half, meeting every other day. Not Newcastle, Maine's Lincoln Academy. Instead of maintaining a student's "seat time" like most schools adopting block schedules, Lincoln's then principal Chris Frost decided to boost all students' time in front of their teachers. At LA, all but one period meets two days on, one day off. (A single period meets Monday through Thursday each week, with Friday's short period reserved for an all school meeting, during which students might hear an inspiring story, compete in trivia contests for local prizes, perform on the bagpipes or play a dodge ball final.)

At first, this two on, one off schedule mashed into a five-day week feels like teaching and learning in a washing machine. Throw in holidays, vacations and snow days and the schedule gets truly Byzantine. Proof that humans are remarkably adaptable, LA's students and teachers have marched through this semi-rhythmic routine in lockstep for better than 17 years, and for good reason. Students remember more and therefore learn more.

It looks like the key is the two days on. All memory studies say the secret to learning is review. Review after 10 minutes; review after 24 hours (possibly the most important one); review after a week, a month and six months. The other byproduct of the two days in a row is simple accumulation of time in a class. In most block schedule schools, students see a teacher two or three days out of five. At LA, students see their teachers three or four days out of five.

Yes, teachers work harder at LA. They have less time to prepare and more class time to prepare for. By rights they should be paid more, too, but I won't go down that road. The facts of the school's success can be seen in their SAT scores, Maine Educational Assessment scores, graduation rates and college acceptance rates as they outperform by a long shot other schools in the Midcoast. [Note: this is a rabbit hole website. If you're like me, you will now spend the next 90 minutes checking every area school for its performance. Locally, Knox County is a particularly sad story.]

Lincoln Academy's feeder schools are better than many others too. (I know, the rabbit hole, again.) Also, because of its superior drama and music programs, Lincoln Academy draws imaginative, motivated pupils. Lincoln, a "private school in the public interest" was formed in 1801 and was allowed to keep it semi-private status in the early 20th century when the public school system was created. Like a charter school, LA is not limited to a single district. Students from anywhere can attend. And they do.

Cross-posted at Maine in the Headlines and Dirigo Blue.


Stan Tupper said...

You make me proud.

Lisa K. said...

Good for LA and their students! But is Lincoln Academy in actual practice and finance a public or private school? Are they bound by the same constraints of the No Child Left Behind and all that? I would think that would make a difference in how they exercise their options.

Lee Roberts said...

It's a little squishy. Yes, in order to get state tuition monies LA has to toe the Maine Learning Results line. NCLB is primarily an administrative paperwork hoop, for a school that has acceptable AYP (annual yearly progress) as LA does.

That said, until about 10 years ago, LA had a nightmarishly un-wheelchair accessible cafeteria--in another building down a giant hill--and was never sued or brought up on charges.

Lee Roberts said...

@ Lisa K--p.s. LA is like virtually all New England schools in existence with their own trustees that chose to become part of the public school system. Other examples include Thornton Academy, Erskine Academy and Foxcroft Academy.