School study recommends planning time for teachers; Small elementary classes are also among suggestions


More teacher planning time, smaller classes and upgraded computer labs are among the recommendations of a committee charged with improving the county's elementary education program.

The recommendations, which will be presented to the Board of Education at tonight's meeting, are the result of more than two years of study devoted to addressing the increasing demands placed on elementary teachers in Anne Arundel County.

"We were looking at teacher workload with the intention of trying to improve student achievement," said Linda Boyd, committee chairwoman and regional director for the Old Mill and Broadneck areas.

The Committee for Organizing Elementary Education, which first met in January 1998, concluded that "elementary teachers need more time for planning, collaborating, and instructing."

The committee's recommendations were sent to a second group of school officials that developed the nine final recommendations.

"I think it's an excellent document to help move the elementary program in a direction that would benefit the children, first of all, by providing the appropriate time for teachers to plan and receive professional development," Boyd said.

Susie Jablinske, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County and a member of the original committee, agreed. But the county's spending limits make most of the recommendations unlikely, because they involve hiring staff, she said.

"Quite frankly, as long as we continue to have a revenue cap in this county, we're not going to see any of it," Jablinske said.

To give classroom teachers more time to plan lessons, the report recommends increasing music and physical education classes from 60 minutes to 90 minutes a week in three, 30-minute blocks.

"Elementary teachers do not have a set planning period each day like middle and high school teachers," said Jablinske.

Teachers use the 30-minute segments when pupils are in "special area" classes -- art, music and physical education -- as their main planning time.

Other recommendations for creating more planning time include requiring physical education teachers to teach health instead of classroom teachers, and expanding the duties of lunch and recess monitors to take over classroom teachers' clerical and school bus monitor duties.

The addition of a half-hour of music instruction would incorporate the strings, chorus, band and performance rehearsals into the program. Currently, pupils who participate in these "pull out" programs miss classroom instruction. The change would eliminate the need for teachers to duplicate lessons for music pupils.

Noting proven gains in pupil achievement and teacher morale, the report calls for the continued reduction of class sizes in the elementary grades. It recommends second-grade classes not exceed 20 pupils and calls for kindergarten classes with 19 pupils and a full-time assistant.

During the past two years, more teachers have been hired to limit first-grade classes to 20 pupils, but class sizes in other primary grades often exceed the 25-to-1 ratio set by the Board of Education, the report states.

The report calls for a full-time instructional technology position at each elementary school, current software and high-speed Internet access lines "to ensure that every child has the opportunity to become technologically literate."

Currently, 48 of the county's 76 elementary schools have fully equipped computer labs, according to the report.

Other recommendations in the report include providing each school with money to pay for staff development programs and materials, revising the science and social studies curricula to reduce the number of units and maintain key concepts, and allowing each school to set its own schedule.

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