Breaking Down Barriers
A Multiphase Approach to Transforming Your Scheduling Practices and Unlocking Lifelong Opportunity for Students
Steven Gering, EdD and Wendy Watson, EdD
Phase 6: Schedule Construction
“The schedule can perpetuate disparities in access to rigorous and rich coursework and experienced educators. Treated as a technical process, master scheduling formalizes inequities and makes decisions appear more objective than they are.”1Clay, Andrea, Elizabeth Chu, Audrey Altieri, Yvette Deane, Alex Lis-Perlis, Armando Lizarraga, Lauren Monz, Jalil Muhammad, Denise Recinos, Julia Alexandra Tache, and Marot Wolters. “About Time: Master Scheduling and Equity.” Center for Public Research and Leadership, 2020, New York, NY.
Phase 6 is highly technical in nature and is often the process that comes to mind for educators when mentioning “scheduling.” This is a critical process because the more efficiently and effectively courses are placed during the school day, the more it will increase the overall likelihood of students being able to successfully access the courses.
After a decision has been made regarding the total number of sections to create for each course, the process then shifts to the following goals:
- Maximize access.
- Minimize conflicts.
- Balance enrollments.
- Implement with provided resources.
One of the primary objectives in this phase is to ensure that students can access the courses they’ve requested effectively. This involves strategically distributing courses across available time slots to accommodate the maximum number of students who have expressed an interest in a particular course. For courses with multiple sections, the scheduling team strategically allocates them across various periods, taking into account student preferences and ensuring that as many students as possible can enroll in their desired courses. This approach enhances students’ access to their preferred classes and supports their academic goals.
When a school plans to offer fewer sections of a course, often referred to as “singletons,” “doubletons,” or “tripletons,” it becomes essential to strategically position these courses within the schedule. The goal is to minimize the likelihood of schedule conflicts for students who wish to enroll in these courses. By strategically placing sections, schools can increase the chances that students who have requested several singleton courses can access them without scheduling conflicts. Additionally, this approach helps prevent these courses from having low enrollment and ensures that other courses do not become overenrolled. By reducing schedule conflicts, schools create a smoother scheduling experience for students that optimizes resource allocation. An unanticipated benefit of the earlier phases of strategic scheduling on Phase 6 is that there can be a significant decrease in singleton and doubleton courses. For example, if there is a large increase in students requesting dual-credit coursework, there will be a corresponding increase in the number of sections of these courses offered, making scheduling much easier and more efficient.
Achieving a balanced distribution of students across the schedule is a crucial goal, especially when considering factors like class size limits and constraints outlined in collective bargaining agreements. Various types of courses, such as basic education, special education, physical education, music courses, and lab courses, may have specific limits that schedulers need to address. This requires careful planning to ensure each class maintains an appropriate size while adhering to legal and contractual requirements. Balancing class sizes across the schedule essential for maintaining quality learning environments.
Implement with Provided Resources
School districts operate within resource constraints that depend on student enrollment and allocated teacher FTE in specific categories. Schools must comply with applicable laws, regulations, and district expectations when constructing schedules within these allocated resources. This involves aligning schedules with budgetary constraints, legal requirements, and educational standards. Failure to do so may lead to serious consequences, including potential termination for principals. Ensuring that schedules conform to resource allocations is essential for the financial and legal well-being of the school and district.’
At times, a scheduler may need to make decisions that, while potentially decreasing overall schedule efficiency, serve important educational purposes. For example, a schedule might be designed to achieve programmatic goals, support pedagogical initiatives, or address teacher workload concerns, even if these actions inadvertently result in reduced schedule efficiency.
Consider, for instance, a school’s aim to provide all teachers in a department with a shared planning period to facilitate collaboration for professional development. While this goal is commendable, it may lead to some scheduling inefficiencies. For instance, not offering any science courses during a specific period could limit students’ access to certain electives or singleton courses. In such cases, the school may need to allocate students to other departments to accommodate their course preferences. Therefore, it’s essential to carefully evaluate the proposed plan, considering both its educational benefits and its impact on schedule efficiency to ensure successful implementation (see Table #11).
Table #11: Considerations During Schedule Construction
In Phase 6, there is a constant tension on utilizing resources efficiently alongside other goals and considerations. Common considerations include schedule balance, class size, teacher preps and workload, teacher collaboration, intentionally cohorting students, teacher endorsements and certification, and teaching loads.
Ensuring that there are a consistent number of available sections during each period creates more balanced class sizes across the school. It is important to consider this balance by grade level to ensure that students at each grade have a similar number of options each period.
- Does our conflict analysis show that courses are distributed evenly across class periods?
- What does our seat tally analysis look like by grade level?
Class Size Balance
Balanced class sizes ensure even distribution of caseloads for teachers and consistent classroom experiences for students. As they build the schedule, schools should regularly check to make sure that all sections for the same course have similar class sizes.
- Have we reviewed the schedule to verify that sections of the same course maintain relatively similar class sizes, promoting an even distribution of caseloads for teachers?
- Are there any instances where significant disparities in class sizes exist for sections of the same course, and if so, have we identified potential adjustments to achieve better balance?
- How often during the scheduling process do we conduct checks to ensure that class sizes are consistently balanced across all relevant sections, and do we have a mechanism in place for making necessary modifications to maintain this balance?
Teaching a course requires a tremendous amount of time in planning, preparation, reflection, and grading to do well. Ensuring teachers are not overburdened with too many unique courses to prepare, which undermines their ability to effectively instruct students and maintain work balance, is an important consideration.
- Have we analyzed the schedule to determine the total number of unique courses that a teacher is assigned?
- Are there ways to reduce teacher preps by moving courses vertically between teachers or offering a course every other year?
- If not, would a movement of the course horizontally (in a way that might decrease the schedule efficiency) still be advantageous?
- Have teachers been assigned a balance of preps to ensure effective teaching and motivation (e.g., Are new teachers assigned five or six courses of freshmen or more challenging courses while veteran staff members teach upper-level courses)?
Teachers teaching a common subject, group of students, or in a particular program may have a desire to have common times available so they can collaborate.
- Are there groups of teachers needing a common planning period for effective program implementation, curriculum alignment, or teacher professional development?
- Do these teachers need a common prep period to effectively collaborate, and is there a high degree of likelihood that the collaboration will likely take place?
- Are there other mechanisms to provide this type of collaboration, or is this the best route forward?
Schools may have programs intended to create a unique programmatic or curricular experience for students. Depending upon how they are designed, these may or may not have the effect of reducing the efficiency of the schedule.
- Do we have the need for a unique curricular experience that would benefit students from having reduced access to all the available options?
- Is the curriculum/cohort experience developed and ready for implementation?
It is important to analyze the student demographics of classrooms that require unique differentiation and accommodations (e.g., special education, 504, and English language learners).
- In push-in models, are students strategically placed to ensure there is adequate and necessary support?
- Are there co-teaching or push-in support models in place to ensure regular education teachers have the necessary on-demand, real-time support to ensure student success?
- Are there adequate times and opportunities for staff to collaborate to ensure support for students?
- Is the assigned student classroom composition in alignment with local collective bargaining agreements and/or contractual obligations?
Teaching Endorsements and Certifications
There are state rules around teaching endorsements that schools must follow as they construct the schedule. At times, the school might need to place courses in a less-efficient location to comply with certification requirements.
- Are all teachers assigned to courses that they are qualified to teach?
- For teachers who need endorsements, is there a plan in place to provide a certification opportunity?
Analyze the total teaching loads (number of students divided by teacher full time equivalent) for each individual class period. Ensure adequate time is built in for effective teaching and student feedback.
- What is the total teaching load (the number of students that a teacher is assigned) per grading period?
- Are there ways to reduce the overall teaching load and balance the teaching load across staff members?
- Are the overall teaching loads in alignment with local collective bargaining agreements or contractual obligations for each class period and overall?
Developing an efficient and effective schedule is complicated. There are strategies for crafting schedules that significantly enhance the likelihood of students accessing their desired courses while maintaining balance. However, it’s crucial to recognize that schedulers may need to introduce constraints in the schedule to achieve particular programmatic goals, manage teacher workloads, and advance strategic initiatives. This presents a perpetual balancing act for schedulers because each constraint, while serving a legitimate purpose, may potentially impact student access and overall schedule efficiency. Therefore, thoughtful and effective implementation of these constraints becomes imperative to align the schedule with its intended goals while working within budgetary constraints.
Overall, the technical aspects of scheduling in Phase 6 are extremely important. If leaders do not utilize resources effectively and efficiently, they will not be able to accomplish their CCR goals. This phase of strategic scheduling is important! But for too many educators across the country, this highly technical aspect of school scheduling is all they think about regarding scheduling. When that is the case, then it turns into a purely technical task devoid of goals and metrics, and leaders will not see the impact on student achievement and college and career success.
Phase 7: Ensure Student Success
It is not simply enough to place students in intense coursework. Strategic scheduling also involves ensuring that students have the necessary support to succeed once they are enrolled in these courses. Consequently, it is necessary to build robust support structures to ensure all students are successful in their coursework.