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NCLB Outrages

New Mandates Force School-day Changes

Recess has been scaled back in Olathe; the Renaissance Festival is out in Blue Valley. Today, the fifth-grade band program in the De Soto School District could be out.

Faced with mandates under the No Child Left Behind program, area school districts are restructuring the school day as they try to balance the federal requirements and their views of a well-rounded curriculum.

All the basics are still there — math, reading, science, social studies, physical education, music and art. But some of the extras are being left behind as educators assess how every activity contributes to learning objectives and helps the school make adequate yearly progress in math and reading.

The De Soto school board will take its turn tonight as it considers removing an optional fifth-grade band program from students' instructional day. Band students currently spend about an hour a week in the class. But that's time that could be spent polishing the reading skills that are tested in fifth grade.

“We're trying to recapture some instructional core academic time at the fifth-grade level to meet the demands of No Child Left Behind,” said Superintendent Sharon Zoellner.

De Soto isn't the only Kansas district struggling with how to fit everything into the state-mandated 1,116 hours of instructional time in a school year. Elementary students in the Olathe School District lost one of three daily recesses last year to gain more reading time. Students still have recess — 15 minutes at lunch and 15 minutes in either the morning or afternoon.

Earl Martin, Olathe's director of elementary education, said teachers were looking for a significant block of time to teach language arts. Breaking up the day with multiple recesses made it hard to find such an uninterrupted stretch of time. Martin said, however, that the move was not directly related to No Child Left Behind requirements.

“We're not looking to take the fun out of education,” he said. “We're maximizing instructional time and continuing to deal with the challenge of needing to teach more.”

Similarly, the Blue Valley School District is examining field trips and activities more closely to make sure the activities meet curriculum objectives, according to Bob Kreifels, the district's director of school administration. Several middle schools traditionally ended a unit on the Middle Ages with a trip to the Renaissance Festival.

“We re-examined whether the time that they spend there, and the learning that occurs out there, reinforces curriculum objectives, or if it's just fun,” Kreifels said.

As a result, the trip to the Renaissance Festival is no longer part of the curriculum. Trips to Worlds of Fun have been dropped, too.

Kreifels said the district's pull-out band and strings program hasn't been affected in most elementary schools, although three or four have moved band and strings to before or after school.

“But given the pressures of No Child Left Behind, it wouldn't surprise me if more schools took a look at having those activities outside the regular school day,” he said.

Some already have. The Council for Basic Education, a Washington-based organization that promotes instruction in liberal arts, released a study in March indicating that student assessment tests in math and reading were squeezing arts out of the curriculum.

Of more than 1,000 principals surveyed in Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico and New York, about 75 percent reported an increase in instructional time for reading, writing and math. On the flip side, 25 percent reported a decrease in instructional time for the arts.

The study, called Academic Atrophy: The Condition of Liberal Arts in American Schools, is thought to be the first to study of how No Child Left Behind has affected school curricula.

Arts educators view the assessment tests in math and reading, along with the funding problems, which often put the arts on the chopping block, as a dual threat.

Betsy Degen, the Shawnee Mission district's director of curriculum and instruction, said her district continues to allow time for fine arts programs because such instruction can aid test scores.

Likewise, recess is important for younger pupils. “They have the 15- to 20-minute break where they play hard and then come back in ready to go,” she said.

At least one educator challenges the idea that spending more time with reading and math leads to higher scores.“Simply giving more time to a particular instructional area doesn't necessarily improve the learning that takes place,” said David Circle, Blue Valley's performing arts coordinator and president-elect of the National Association for Music Education.

— Melodee Hall Blobaum and Nick KowalczykCZYk
Kansas City Star


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