Minn. Paints Arts Requirement Back Into the Picture

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The Minnesota school board has reinstated sections of the state's new graduation requirements dealing with arts performance and physical education after a barrage of protests over its earlier vote to cut them.

The board voted to eliminate the arts and physical education requirements last month, but rescinded that vote on Oct. 21 after a flurry of letters and telephone calls. The measure would not have affected requirements that students learn to interpret and analyze a fine arts genre.

"The board wanted to provide some flexibility at the high school level in balancing electives versus requirements," Marsha Gronseth, the board's executive director, said of the earlier vote. "Some board members questioned whether a diploma should be contingent on whether someone could perform artistically" or physically.

Beginning with this year's freshman class, the new rules require students to pass basic-skills tests in reading, writing, and mathematics. They must also show competency in the state's Profile of Learning, a set of standards organized into 10 learning areas, including the arts and physical education and health.

'Big Victory'

About 30 states require that students take courses in the arts for graduation. But Minnesota is one of only a few in which students must demonstrate their knowledge to graduate, by a theatrical performance, playing an instrument, or showing aptitude in dance or the visual arts, according to a recent survey by the National Art Education Association.

The physical education requirement calls for students to take one aerobics class and two activity classes, such as softball and gymnastics.

The board's reversal hinged on the response of arts and health advocates and on research outlining the role of the arts in a comprehensive education, Ms. Gronseth said.

"I think in this whole reform project they're trying to make it as streamlined as possible," said Mark R. Hansen, an arts-resource coordinator for the Forest Lakes, Minn., schools and a former NAEA president. "What they found out was that the community at large thought that these were very important."

Health experts and educators also weighed in. Citing recent surveys on the poor fitness levels of U.S. children and adults, physical education supporters said the requirement is critical to ensuring student health and lifelong fitness.

"This is such a big victory for kids," said Meryl Gisselquist, the executive director of the Minnesota Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. "Without this requirement, the kids who need physical education the most wouldn't get it."

Mr. Hansen and others believe the issue should never have come up.

"The question I have is why was it removed in the first place, when evidently there was not enough justification to do that," Mr. Hansen said. "If more administrators had a good arts education it would be valued more within the school system. If the opportunity is not there, we are going to have more decisionmakers and policymakers in the future who do not value it."

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