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I have become interested in the politics of education fairly recently. Between No Child Left Behind at the national level, legislation legalizing slots to pay for schools at the state level, and an ongoing debate about achievement gaps and standards in Frederick County Public Schools, education is a hot topic right now, and rightly so. The following are articles with a High School student's thoughts on some of these debates.


How would you like 5 hours of phys ed per week?

2/15/04 Maryland Delegate Joan F. Stern (D) is planning to take on the obesity epidemic among Marylands's youth. As the Washington Post summarized her recent flurry of proposed bills, "Soda at lunch would be out. Gym class would be in, possibly every day of the week. And all students in Maryland's public schools would have to report their weight to federal researchers."

Among her goals is a push to make school lunch's healthier. She was quoted as saying, "Ketchup should not be the vegetable of the day." The sodas and horrible quality of school meals doesn't bother me much - mostly because I eat a bag of M&Ms as my lunch - so I would say that I generally support that movement.

My problem is with House Bill 359. This is the synopsis:

"Requiring all students to have 5 hours of physical education per week in public schools; allowing physical activity that takes place on school grounds, or certified physical activity that takes place off school grounds, to satisfy this requirement; requiring the State Board of Education to develop criteria for programs of physical education; requiring the State Board to develop a certification process for physical activity that takes place off school grounds; etc"

At the High School level, this would require a full-year Phys Ed class, every year (unless you're a jock or have time to do stuff after school). This would also require a huge overhaul of the phys ed system in each county of the state. We would have to hire a huge number of new Phys Ed staff, and it would be a scheduling nightmare.

This is a section of the Bill Information that I find interesting:

"Local Effect: Local school expenditures could increase by an estimated $23.3 million to $46.6 million beginning in FY 2007 to hire additional physical education teachers. Costs could be offset by reductions to other elective courses offered in schools or innovative approaches to meeting the requirements off school grounds. This bill imposes a mandate on a unit of local government." (Emphasis theirs)

There are several interesting statements here. First, this bill would require a huge spending increase at a time when Maryland is so poor that it can't fund its schools without turning to gambling. Then I see that the General Assembly would like schools to deal with the cost by cutting elective courses. Catoctin has very few as it is, and I'd like to see the response should those classes be cut because of madated phys ed. And then the total cop-out: "Innovative approaches to meeting the requirements off school grounds." The General Assembly proudly proclaims that it is establishing a new mandate, and then bascially tells the school systems to "deal with it."

Also imagine losing 1/4 of your high school classes to physical education.

This is why you shouldn't worry about this bill. The academic consequences for such legislation would be horrible, and the public outcry would be so harsh that I truly don't believe this bill will ever get anywhere.

But in case you're wondering who to talk to to get more information, such as "what were you thinking?", or "are you serious, or just trying to make me laugh?", these are the key players:

Galen Clagett is the only delegate for Frederick County who sponsored the bill. I have already e-mailed him with my concerns, but have not received a helpful response. I'm not sure he even read my e-mail.
Joan F. Stern is the delegate who proposed HB 359 along with other bills that are intended to increase the health of Maryland school children. I e-mailed her too...over a month ago, and never received a reply.


1/8/04

Separate, and still Unequal

All I hear about with schools recently is stuff about the “Achievement Gap” between black and impoverished students and white, middle class students. Board member Daryl Boffman is holding off on modernizing standards in FCPS until he can close the gap, despite my best efforts to insist that it is a gap the schools cannot close.

But, stupid me, I missed an obvious solution. Why, we could close that gap in no time. All we have to do is bring back segregation and racial tensions as we have not experienced since the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's.

I heard about these Achievement Gap-oriented meetings in the News-Post last week. Board members, parents, teachers, and students (really?) gathered at the Mountain City Elks Lodge in Frederick to discuss possible methods of filling in the gap.

The problem: People still don’t know what is causing it. One man who had an idea, however, was Watu Mwirama, president of the Frederick area International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, who says, according to an article in today’s The Gazette, “The gap shows that blacks are still being ‘mis-educated’ – students are not being taught in a way that is meaningful to them and that makes them want to succeed.”

The solution: Separate students. As he put it, “Black teachers teaching black kids.” According to the article, he believes separate environments will create healthy environments for learning.

Right, let’s just devolve 50 years, back to before Brown v. Board of Ed when such ineffective practices were still used.

And it’s worse than having horrible racist implications. The man who proposed this even gave a self-defeating life story. He discussed how he had been in a segregated school until sixth grade, at which time he entered an integrated school. He said the integrated school was, “horrifying. I was lost that very first day.” He said it was like being in an environment that spoke a different language.

Here’s something to be horrified about: Spending twelve years, as opposed to five, in a segregated school and then going out into the real, integrated world. If he was lost and unacquainted with the language of the integrated school as a sixth grader, I would like to see him handle the real world with no social experience with white peers.

As far as black students being “mis-educated”, what would he prefer, blacks being given special attention that will not be so generously given to them by employers or colleges? Why would a school system train minority students not to fit in?

And to further kill this idea, here’s another problem: There aren’t many black teachers in the county. I haven’t had a chance to acquire an exact count, but Catoctin High certainly doesn’t have any. Whittier Elementary, the school my father teaches at, and teaching a much more racially diverse group of students, doesn’t have any black teachers either. If there were blacks signing up to be teachers the schools would instantly hire them because it looks good on status reports to have a diverse staff. There simply must not be many blacks who want to teach in Frederick. There are, however, plenty of black students, so how we would manage to have black teachers to instruct black kids is unclear.

Also, where would we put these “separate, but equal” schools? If they have to be separate, I suppose we would need to double the number of schools in the county. We have built and expanded many schools in the last few years, and to suddenly build new ones, and leave the current schools half unused is absurd.

Separate but Equal doesn’t make sense anymore. I hope the achievement gap solving group feels the same way. I have to hope, because they never say when the meetings are, making it difficult to attend


Scott Zuke - 2004