Tune out school plan, board is told Crowd protests proposal to end music and cut electives

Suggested by task force

Recommendations seek to improve test scores

June 06, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

More than 120 people jammed the Anne Arundel County school board meeting yesterday to castigate a task force's recommendations to drop middle school general music and limit other electives in an effort to improve standardized test scores.

Glowering parents challenged the panel's conclusions that adding 40 minutes a day to the time spent in math, language, social studies and science at the expense of electives would improve scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.

They pointed to higher Scholastic Assessment Test scores among students who study music and art to demonstrate that a rigorous academic program includes the arts, home economics, physical education and more.

Thomas Mosser, a leader of the Anne Arundel County Music Advisory Committee, which coordinated the emotionally pitched opposition, waved the panel's report around as he lambasted it for proposing to cure middle school ills it had not diagnosed. Arts, music and physical education allow children to express themselves, which they can't do in math, he said.

Susan Woda, a junior at the University of Maryland College Park who attended Crofton and Arundel Middle schools, moved some to tears as she described how middle school music programs kept her from suicide.

Schools should prepare students "not for ninth grade and not for test scores, but for life," she said, her voice cracking.

Few of those in the crowd addressed the board, though members have received 50 letters a day for two weeks and countless phone calls, thanks to a concerted drive by music advocates.

Board Vice President Carlesa Finney asked people to hold most opinions for the workshop and forums that will be held later this year before the eight-member board votes on the recommendations.

The sessions have not been scheduled, but dozens of people signed cards asking to be kept informed. The board should decide in October whether to start a test project with the panel's ideas in the 1997-1998 school year to get money for it in the budget.

The recommendations include mandatory remedial reading for students who need it, changing the way schedules are drawn up, retraining teachers and giving teachers of electives more of the noninstructional duties to allow other teachers more planning time.

The $2.7 million price tag attached to the recommendations is one of the board's chief concerns.

"You are not going to get $2.7 million to fix your middle school problems," said board member Thomas Twombly. Some parents argued, however, that the problem is not with the middle schools, but with elementary schools that fail to prepare youngsters adequately for upper grades.

Most board members were noncommittal about the panel's majority and minority reports -- nearly a third of the panel disagreed -- except for Michael A. Pace, a former art teacher who said students learn "how to think, how to feel, how to deal with people" from the arts.

In other business, the board postponed action on tightening its discipline policies and dress code because its lawyer had not seen the proposals. A plan to allow suspension of students sent three times in one marking period to the principal's office is likely to come up in two weeks so that it can be implemented in August, but the dress code probably will be delayed a year for more work.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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