Take computer science and skip P.E.? Plan to give students job skills worries health advocates [Orlando Sentinel :: ]
(Orlando Sentinel (FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 06--It may sound like a good deal for some tech-savvy high school students: Take a programming course and then skip a required math, science or even physical education class and still earn a diploma.
But in an era when so many worry about sedentary, overweight kids, P.E. advocates have quickly denounced the proposal by Florida lawmakers. They said students shouldn't be given a way to avoid the one fitness class required during four years of high school.
"If you substitute a computer class for a P.E. class, it doesn't seem logical to me," said Rhonda Chalmers, a P.E. teacher at Teague Middle in Altamonte Springs. "In the world that we live in, where students are already less active than I was as a child, they need to learn to live healthy lifestyles."
The proposal is embedded in a bill (SB 790) meant to boost "digital" education in Florida. It aims to fund technology purchases -- giving $100,000 to all school districts and more to the larger ones -- and to help districts use those resources in their classrooms. It also tries to push students to consider studying computer science, a field in which there is a demand for skilled workers.
Gene McGee, an official with Microsoft, told the Senate's education committee recently that the effort was worthwhile.
"Computing jobs are in high demand in Florida and across the country," said McGee, who is also with Code.org, a nonprofit group that pushes computer science education in public schools.
There are more than 20,000 such jobs open in the state now, McGee said. Nationally, Code.org estimates that by 2020 there will be 400,000 college students studying computer science and more than 1.4 million available jobs.
Students who learn "foundational skills" in high school will be better prepared to study computer science in college and then take advantage of the field's job market, he added.
Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, the bill's sponsor, agreed. "Times are changing. Our students need to be equipped with the skills our economy is developing to," he said.
After hearing from some P.E. advocates, Legg, chairman of the Senate's education committee, said he understood their worries. But he also said he did not want to add to the high school graduation requirements students face, so the only way to encourage more students to take computer science was to free them from other mandates. Otherwise, some students could not fit a computer course into their schedules.
The bill would allow students to use computer science classes of "sufficient rigor" in place of some required math and science courses.
It also would allow school districts to decide if a computer science-physical education swap was OK. State law currently allows students to skip P.E., if they take part in certain other school activities, such as marching band and sports, and if they pass a test on personal fitness.
Florida already provides limited physical education to its high school students and should not scrap it altogether, said Karen Dowd, executive director of the Florida Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Dance and Sport.
"We value, like all Americans do, the importance of technology and being able to be computer literate but not at the expense of the only single credit in the high school curriculum that addressed physical education," Dowd said. "Someplace in the curriculum we owe it to young people to introduce them to activities they can do for a lifetime."
The required one-credit of P.E. -- taken sometime during the four years of high school -- is "insufficient but better than nothing," given the worries about rising rates of obesity among children, she said.
Dowd added that members of the alliance are "just up in arms about this" and hope the bill moves on only after the four lines allowing a computer-science-P.E. swap are deleted.
The technology bill already has one favorable vote from the Senate education committee. A House bill would allow students to swap one required math course for a computer science class but doesn't alter the P.E. requirement.
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