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Study: Schools Leaving Arts, Civics Behind

Elementary schools trying to meet requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act are devoting less time to subjects such as history, civics and fine arts, according to a new survey released Monday.

The shift from some liberal arts subjects to the basics of reading and math is most profound in elementary schools with large minority populations, according to the report, which looked at New Mexico schools.

That means minority students are more likely than Anglos to be less exposed to social studies, civics, fine arts and geography, said Claus von Zastrow, the report's author.

The reason: schools are focusing more on reading and math because test scores in those subjects affect schools' ratings.

"This is worrisome," von Zastrow said. "While we're trying to close the gap in reading and math, the gap is growing in the liberal arts."

Von Zastrow said studies show that liberal arts help students develop critical thinking skills.

The report, conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Council for Basic Education, surveyed more than 1,000 principals in New Mexico, New York, Illinois and Maryland. But it did not quantify the amount of class time spent on subjects.

Von Zastrow said New Mexico was chosen because of its large Native American and Mexican-American population and its geographic diversity.

New Mexico elementary school principals who participated in the survey said that since the No Child Left Behind went into effect in 2002, art and foreign language instruction has suffered the most.

Janet Kahn, Albuquerque Public Schools fine arts coordinator, said she wasn't surprised by the survey because she has noticed the shift.

For example, Kahn said all 80 APS elementary schools were invited to take part in this year's "Art is Elementary" exhibit at the University of New Mexico Continuing Education Center. About 65 schools take part annually, Kahn said. This year, 56 schools did so.

"Because of (No Child Left Behind), priorities are elsewhere for schools" that are listed as needing improvement, she said.
Seventeen APS elementary and middle schools are on the state's "needs improvement" list.

While time dedicated to the liberal arts in New Mexico elementary schools has declined, principals say time devoted to math, reading and science has gone up, the report said.

But middle and high school principals surveyed in all four states reported a rise in time devoted to the fine arts.

The report comes as the Bush administration faces widespread outcry from states over the effects and funding of No Child Left Behind.

At least 12 state legislatures have passed resolutions by one or both chambers criticizing the law or calling on Congress to repeal it. Critics say the law wasn't fully funded, creating a burden on states' finances.

White House and Department of Education officials are touring the country promoting the law.
Copyright 2004 Albuquerque Journal

— Russell Contreras
Albuquerque Journal


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