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NCLB Outrages

Reading and Math Curtailing Other Topics, Study Finds

By Maria Glod

The No Child Left Behind law has led many elementary schools to spend more time on reading and math and less on social studies, science, art and recess, a report released last week finds.

The Center on Education Policy's survey of 349 school systems across the country bolsters anecdotal evidence that the 2002 federal law's goal of having every child proficient in reading and math by 2014 has forced schools to focus on those subjects, sometimes squeezing out other lessons.

"This accountability movement is having a significant impact," said Jack Jennings, president and chief executive of the center, based in the District. "School people are feeling the pressure to do better and raise scores. But they are stuck with the amount of time they have."

Curriculum narrowing, as the phenomenon is known, has become a key issue in the debate over revamping the law. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has said he plans to introduce a bill this spring to reauthorize the law with changes.

"It certainly puts the question before Congress. Is there a price being paid for raising kids' math and reading scores?" Jennings said.

Concerns that too many students might be missing important science and history lessons or the creativity of art and music have led many educators to lobby for a broader yardstick of school success. Some proposals would give more weight to achievement in science, social studies and physical education.

But the Bush administration and some civil rights groups warn against weakening the law, which is credited with revealing pockets of struggling students. They say all students need strong reading and math skills.

The report, which builds on a survey released in July, finds that about 62 percent of school systems have added time for math or English instruction in elementary grades since 2002. The systems added, on average, three hours of math or reading each week.

Most of those systems reported "substantial cuts" in time for other subjects or activities, including social studies, art and music, science, physical education, recess and lunch, according to the study. Among the systems that added time for math and reading and trimmed other areas, more than half cut at least an hour and 15 minutes a week from science.

The survey, completed in 2006 and 2007, represents systems nationwide, urban and rural, large and small. The systems were not identified.

Maryland State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said there is an increased emphasis on reading and math, but state schools also have content standards in science, social studies, arts and physical education. She said teachers increasingly are combining lessons in different subjects -- for example, reading and history.

"I do think our school systems are focusing on reading and math, and it's not just because of No Child Left Behind and the testing," Grasmick said. "Teachers feel mastery in reading and math are foundational to a student's success in other subject areas. A student who can't read will have difficulty with history and with science."

The report can be read on the Center on Education Policy's Web site.

— Maria Glod
Washington Post


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