Today in the Oregonian, I read an article about the Portland Public School District switching to an 8-course schedule from a 7-course schedule. Although they didn't state it explicitly, it seems that the superintendent wants to switch from a "7 periods in one day" schedule to an "8 periods over two days" schedule, where students take up to 4 longer classes every other day - similar to a college schedule. And regardless of whether this is the switch that is occurring, the fact is that most schools in the Portland metro area already operate this way.
I have my reservations about the efficacy with which high school students can learn in an every-other-day type of setting. First of all, the new class periods will be about 90 minutes in length, from what I can tell. As a college professor who teaches in either 50-minute or 75-minute blocks, I can tell you that even for my college students, 75 minutes is too long to sit in one class. There's just too much information to absorb (for a science major, at least). Thinking about asking a 14-year-old freshman boy to sit still for 90 minutes at a time makes me wonder if the people making the scheduling decisions have actually been in a classroom in the last 20 years. Times are different now...students don't have the same attention span they used to.
Now, I know that classrooms are also more interactive than they used to be. There are more "learning activities" and less lecture. More group work, less individual homework. So maybe it's easier to sit through 90 minutes of that. However, I can promise you that the students are not learning twice as much in one long sitting compared to a shorter class. To take a bunch of kids who already have one of the shortest school years in the country, and cut the number of learning sessions in half seems completely unfair to those who actually want to pursue their education. It's placing the burden on parents...if kids want to succeed in public schools, they almost HAVE to pursue private tutoring. I'm not down on tutoring - after all, I am a tutor - but as a tax-payer who supports the Oregon public education system financially, I would like to see my dollars used in the most efficacious way. The question shouldn't just be about how we can fit the most students in our schools as cheaply as possible - it should be about the "final product". Are our students receiving the best education possible? My only answer to that question is, "I don't know." But I think the best product has to be achieved using the best means, which I believe is class periods of less than one hour.
Post Script: This is all "IMHO" - in my humble opinion. The scientist in me says, "Show me the data!" If there are studies that show a longer class period to be just as efficacious in educating students as shorter class periods, while covering the same amount of material, I'd love to see it. Please prove me wrong!