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NCLB Outrages

More Evidence of How NCLB Jerks the Curriculum Around

Los Angeles School Superintendent Roy Romer found himself caught Thursday between two serious problems: The epidemic of childhood obesity and students' abysmal knowledge of science.

Faced with the need to raise student achievement in science to meet the demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Romer thought he had the answer. He proposed scrapping some health classes to increase time for science, but he didn't expect an outcry from those worried that 40 percent of Los Angeles Unified School District students are obese.

Experts told him student health is one of the most important issues facing L.A. students.

"Dead students do not do well in testing," Conrad Ulpindo, president of the California Association of School Health Educators, said during a curriculum committee meeting at which Romer presented his plan.

Ulpindo, a teacher, said health instruction is critical for teaching students healthy living and that the courses must be maintained even at the expense of science scores.

Romer appeared to back down from the plan after receiving a barrage of complaints from health officials and teachers who said they were appalled by his idea. But he later said he's sure he could make it work.

"In the middle schools, we have a full-court press on to change our math and science scores," he said. "We'll find a way to work this out."

Pressured by the No Child Left Behind Act to improve test scores, Romer said something must be done to raise LAUSD high school science marks. He said just 17 percent of ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders passed the chemistry portion of a state exam in 2002-03.

Romer proposed cutting seventh-grade health instruction from a half-year to a quarter-year to strengthen science knowledge before students reach high school.

To make up for the shortfall in the seventh grade, Romer said sixth-grade teachers could put even more emphasis on health instruction during the existing 12 weeks of the year earmarked for it. Currently, teachers use part of the 12 weeks for science.

"We have got to do a better job in science," Romer said. "I don't like the No Child Left Behind Act ... but I have to live with the consequences of it."

Faced with the increasing number of reports that show that today's students are in worse physical shape than any previous generation -- and that many might not live as many years as their parents due to high rates of diabetes and other weight-related illnesses -- the LAUSD has focused on improving student health.

The school board banned soda and junk food from vending machines and is working to make cafeteria food less fatty.

Board member Marlene Canter, who led the soda ban, said cutting back health classes at this stage would be bad timing and a step backward.

"This is not the time to bring this up, to tell you the truth," Canter told the committee.

Jana Bauman, a program director of adolescent medicine at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, agreed. "Our youth need more, not less, health education."

Earlier this week, a loose coalition of community groups said it was waging a war against childhood obesity, pledging to work with the LAUSD to train parents about nutrition and make sure children have plenty of safe, grassy areas to play after school.

Romer said he will revamp his proposal to boost science scores before presenting it to the school board Feb. 10. One possibility, he said, would be to lengthen instruction time during the school day to focus more on science.

Jennifer Radcliffe, (818) 713-3722 jennifer.radcliffe@dailynews.com

— Jennifer Radcliffe
Romer Science Plan Bad for Kids' Health?
Los Angeles Daily News


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