A controversial proposal to make community service a graduation requirement in Maryland took center stage yesterday the State Board of Education began an extraordinary two-day hearing on plans to raise high school graduation requirements.
Most local school districts as well as the statewide student organization and teachers organizations have lined up against the proposal to have students perform 75 hours of service to graduate. But yesterday at the state board's headquarters in Baltimore, individual students, teachers and parents spoke for it.
"It is your responsibility," Anthony Deliberti, community service coordinator for Montgomery County, told board members. "It all comes down to: Do we want to take a stand on this or not?"
Jennifer Wiswall, a senior from South River High in Anne Arundel County, reminded board members of "Green Eggs and Ham," the Dr. Seuss book in which a character professes to despise green eggs and ham until he tries the dish.
"We have seen Dr. Seuss' philosophy work at South River High," said Jennifer, who said more than 300 students at her school take part in service projects.
Board member John C. Sprague questioned whether the enthusiasm of Jennifer and two fellow students who testified -- Portia Bennett and Travis Roe -- applied to all students. "I'm worried aboutthe 10 to 15 percent that don't want to do it," he said.
"What about the more than 10 to 15 percent that don't want to take four years of English or three years of math?" Travis responded. "They still do it and have to. And they're all the better for it."
Opponents of the service requirement complain that it can make school systems legally liable for injuries or other problems, poses administrative burdens and will take extra money to implement at a time of fiscal crisis.
Susan Rovin, a member of the Frederick County school board, said county staff estimate the project would cost them about $1 million not counting transportation costs.
"We cannot do it and do it well," said Deborah Kendig, who leads the Howard County Board of Education.
Supporters, who included former state Superintendent Joseph L. Shilling, now superintendent of Queen Anne's County, said programs suchas cleanup projects and tutoring can be carried out on school grounds.
"Quite simply, I want student service to be part of my children's public school education," said Kathy Kretman, a parent at Montgomery County's Chevy Chase Elementary.
The hearing will continue today and is expected to include testimony from 143 people. Written comments have arrived from 693 people. The board will vote Nov. 20.
The parade of speakers had plenty of advice on the graduation requirements as a whole, and though most commended the board for raising standards, most also said they are too restrictive. The state wants to raise the number of required credits from 20 to 21 and limit all or most of those to non-elective courses.
Critics warned that such a load will hurt vocational programs and concentration in the arts and likely lead to more students taking five years to graduate from high school.
The pressure would be greatest for students in Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Prince George's, Howard and Queen Anne's counties -- the only school systems in the state with six-period days. Students in those systems would have time for 24 courses, while those in other systems would have time for 28.
A score of speakers, including the state superintendent and representatives of the state students association, questioned the proposal to continue to require only two science credits, while increasing the number of math and social studies credits. The state decided to propose adding a technology credit instead of a third science credit.
"An understanding of math and science is critical to success in the future," said Montgomery Blair High School senior Josh Evans, representing the Montgomery County Region of the Maryland Association of Student Councils. His group also finds fault with the proposal for a two-track program in which students either pursue career or college preparatory courses. Josh said, "The end result will be that Maryland will evolve into a two-class society."