Baltimore County high school students would be required to take more science courses but fewer social studies and gym classes under a proposal the school board will take up tonight.
The plan would bring the county into line with state requirements and give students more choice, school officials say. But not everyone is happy about the change.
Students would be able to choose elective courses earlier in their high school careers, says Donald Mohler, principal of Catonsville High School. Mr. Mohler, past president of the Secondary School Administrators' Association and a proponent of the changes, argued that they would force teachers and departments who lose required courses to make their classes more appealing.
Opponents contend that reducing the physical education requirements by two-thirds, from 1 1/2 credits to only one-half credit over four years of high school, would encourage students to be sedentary and reduce the number of coaches available for team sports.
They also argue that eliminating a required 12th-grade course in government and political issues would produce less-informed young people. The course would still be offered as an elective.
Both sides will have their say at 7:30 tonight, when the Board of Education holds a public hearing at Perry Hall High School. The board will make a final decision Dec. 3. If adopted, the changes would go into effect next September for incoming ninth-graders.
The board has already received letters for and against the proposed changes, said school board President Rosalie Hellman. The sentiment "pretty much runs both ways. I think the board members have a pretty open mind on it," she added.
The changes mean the county would match the less-stringent rules adopted by the Maryland State Department of Education last spring. These include a controversial requirement that students perform 75 hours of community service during grades six through 12. The county is not proposing to alter the community service requirement.
"We are not eliminating any courses," stressed Mrs. Hellman. But schools may have to do a better job of marketing the courses they have, she added.
Under the proposal, the number of math, English and fine arts requirements would not change. Required science credits would increase from two to three, while required social studies credits would decrease from four to three.
The state requirements add one-half credit in health, but that course -- usually taught in 11th grade -- is already part of the county's graduation requirements.
Other changes include:
* Requiring one credit in technological education rather than "practical arts," which are traditionally home economics, shop and typing.
* Presenting a choice of two foreign language credits plus three electives; two advanced technology credits plus three electives; four career and technology credits and one elective.
* Adding one credit to those required for graduation, from 20 to 21, plus the community service requirement. This additional credit will not present a problem, Mr. Mohler said, because most students graduate with 27 or 28 credits.
Besides eliminating the dual system of requirements between state and county, the changes would give students more choices, he said.
"In a complicated time, youngsters need more options, not fewer options," said Mr. Mohler. "By going beyond the state requirements, we've tied kids up. They might now be able to take accounting or computer technology. We need to make it possible for more students to take a course in effective parenting."
But Towson High School Principal Louis Sergi argues that the present requirements already allow for plenty of choice. "We do have choices along the way," he said, citing different levels of required courses and alternative courses of study, such as vocational-technical programs.
"Are we allowing kids to choose the proper things? A youngster needs a period a day to go out and get rid of some of his energy," he said in defense of the present physical education requirement.
Most students complete their physical education requirement during the 11th grade. At Towson, many students take a fourth year of physical education, said Mr. Sergi. At Catonsville, that is not the case, said Mr. Mohler.
Under the new requirements, students would have to take only one year (three classes a week for one-half credit) of physical education and one year of health.
Getting students to take physical education as an elective would require some marketing, Mr. Mohler said. "We need to be offering dance; we need to be offering aerobics; we need to be offering jazzercise," he said. "Teachers and departments competing for students is a good thing. We need to be designing appealing programs for young people. The more departments compete, the better things are for kids."
But Mr. Sergi said that a reduced physical education requirement would jeopardize not only the physical well-being of students, but also the health of schools' coaching staffs, which are made up largely of physical education teachers.
With 1,000 students each taking three years of physical education, Towson High employs eight physical education teachers, many of whom are also coaches, he said. Were the school offering only one year of physical education, it might have to look elsewhere for coaches.
"Teachers are concerned about their jobs," said Mr. Sergi. "Parents are concerned about courses."
Nevertheless, Mr. Mohler said, "There is significant support for the new requirements."