I have spent the last few weeks implementing a new school management system. I will not mention the system by name but it is very popular among schools and it is considered extensive in features.
As I was working through the scheduling features, I began to compare them to the previous system I had to administer. I realized quickly that these systems are setup to be mostly manual. The scheduling logic and algorithms are very simple. Why do I say that? Because in a world where people are programming and producing Skyrim, Minecraft, Military Logistics software, Auto-tuning software, Mars rovers, and landing Jade Rabbits on the moon – we should be able to make the scheduling of classes at a K-12 school artificially intelligent and visual.
Imagine if scheduling were more like one of those shifting puzzles. You would start with blocks of classes or groups of students, and you would move them around until they fit into your constraints. We should be able to gamify the process. After all we know how many items are involved, how long each of those items needs to be used, and when those items have expired and need to be leveled-up or removed.
Instead we approach scheduling in such a way that all classes and blocks for classes are seen as the same thing. They have to be defined individually by a person. Sometimes they can be grouped and some rules can be applied, but for the most part, it is an inflexible hardcoded system.
The problem is not money either. The revenue that is generated by 10 schools would be enough to hire 2-3 developers to fix the problems found in nearly all the scheduling software that schools use. The problem is that schools seem to let the tail wag the dog. I think, and maybe I am being paranoid, that school administrators like having nice even blocks more than educational objectives. I think they like to say, “We only have 45 minutes for Art because we have to have 45 minutes of Math right after Art, and we have to then have 45 minutes of something else.”
Looking at K-12 scheduling in terms of Monday to Friday time slots or even blocks of time is a mistake. We need to look at the numbers of hours required for the average student to master concepts, and what concepts should logically come before others. Then look at the time available in the year and make a plan.
But then the unspeakable will happen. Some students will finish early, and they will have NOTHING TO DO! That is not my paranoia, that is what I hear often when speaking to people about scheduling and time usage.
There are models all over the world where students manage their own time in greater amounts as they get older. I think that is called life or growing-up or something. All I know is a change needs to come, and I am tempted, very tempted, to kickstart it.