Report urges changes in middle schools $1.2 million is suggested to implement changes

November 17, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

After two unsuccessful attempts by a task force to draft recommendations for middle school improvements, a report released in its name urges spending $1.2 million to overhaul curriculum, provide in-school suspension and add reading teachers.

The three-page report drew qualified approval from Joseph H. Foster, the school board president who last month criticized a previous effort by the 35-member task force. "I think they are getting back to what I thought they should be doing," he said.

One problem: The report, to be presented at Wednesday night's school board meeting, was not written by the task force. It was drawn up by the school system's Department of Instruction and Student Services. And while many ideas were taken from earlier versions of the task force's work -- the cover sheet says the report "preserved" much of its efforts -- some recommendations are making their debut in this incarnation.

James Foran, curriculum director and leader of the study group, told school board members during an angry confrontation last month that he did not foresee reconvening the panel. Foran could not be reached for comment Friday.

Irked members of the study group said they could not comment on a report they had not seen. The eight school board members received their copies earlier last week.

"I am disturbed myself that he [Foran] didn't at least ask us back together. The committee hasn't seen it," said one member, a teacher who asked not to be named for fear of being fired by the school system.

Other task force members said they had dropped out of the divided group because their views had been ignored.

Anne Arundel County middle-schoolers lag behind their peers by any measure. Nearly one-third of ninth-graders fail at least one class. Eighth-grade Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) results show that 74.6 percent of students failed to achieve a satisfactory rating in reading.

And the growing number of suspensions and expulsions for assaults and weapons infractions alarmed the school system.

Convened last winter, the panel of teachers, parents, students and administrators struggled to find a middle ground. In June, the majority suggested spending $2.7 million to bolster academics, eliminating general music and restricting other electives. But a minority report found fault with the recommendations.

The school board sent the group back to try again.

Last month, group members issued a consensus report that was roundly criticized by Foster, who demanded they try again. This latest proposal recommends:

Increasing weekly class time for English, math, science and social studies -- the subjects of state tests -- to 240 minutes each from 200 minutes.

Hiring 18 reading teachers -- one for each elementary school -- at a cost of $781,200.

Hiring 18 teaching assistants, for $421,200, to run in-school suspension rooms in middle school.

Rewriting the curriculum immediately for English in grades seven and eight, for math in grade eight, for physical education and for drug education at a cost of $36,000.

Retaining the six-period day, but dropping the activity period, which often has no scheduled activity.

Training teachers to emphasize reading and writing in all subjects and adjusting their instruction to meet the MSPAP.

Students would take two classes on alternate days: one would have to be physical education; the other could be foreign language, band or chorus. Principals could excuse students from physical education at the request of a parent, allowing a child to take music and foreign language.

All middle school students would go through a quarterly rotation in art, general music, technology education and family and consumer sciences.

Pub Date: 11/17/96

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