Originally created 11/17/00

Elective courses may get more time



ATLANTA - For months, physical education, art and music teachers have complained that education reform legislation reduced time for elective courses in middle schools, but the governor and education officials have reached an agreement that will likely appeal to both sides.

Officials unveiled the plan to lengthen instructional time to five hours at an Education Reform Commission meeting Thursday. The plan will include tutoring and enrichment sessions in the five hours of class time for pupils who need extra help or a chance to enhance their skills.

Under the reform legislation, educators had to use time allotted for elective courses such as art and band to tutor struggling pupils.

"We've been trying to refine the legislation a bit," said Ron Newcomb, the governor's education aide. "The original plan didn't account for individual student needs. It lumped the school as whole under one plan."

The original legislation exempted schools that performed well on standardized tests, and left those that didn't to rearrange the school's schedule to tutor pupils lagging behind in basic skills.

The governor pushed for the changes in middle schools after learning 49 percent of the state's eighth graders couldn't perform basic science or math skills, according to national tests.

"We have a long way to go in middle grades reform," said Sue Sloop, who has led research for the commission on middle grades.

The new plan doesn't give any additional planning time. Teachers still must work with a 55-minute planning period, about 30 minutes shorter than previous years.

"There are still only so many hours in the day, and I'm not sure that 55-minute planning periods are going to allow for two (elective) courses," said William Forbus, president of the Georgia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. "It is good news for middle grades, though. It gives principals some options."

Although the change does help the situation, which sent hundreds of parents and educators to state Board of Education meetings in protest, it doesn't change the fundamental problem, Mr. Forbus said.

"The state board rule still doesn't require physical education for middle school students," he said. "Kids can go through three years of middle school and still never take a physical education class."

Reach Shannon Womble at (404) 589-8424.