Schools Cut Other Subjects to Teach Reading and Math
President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act pushed students into a regimen of high-stakes testing in two core areas: reading and math. The effects could hardly have been more predictable: Now, it seems, teachers and schools are dedicating more and more energy to math and reading instruction at the expense of other subjects.
Call it teaching to the test. According to findings from the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy, 62 percent of school districts reported increasing time for reading and/or math instruction in elementary schools since 2001-02 (Bush signed the NCLB law in January 2002), while middle schools reported a 20 percent rise. The study was based on survey results from nearly 350 school districts around the country. Those increases for math and science instruction have come with a price: Forty-four percent of those districts said they cut time from activities like recess and lunch or subjects like social studies and art. "The standards movement is having an impact on our classrooms," says CEP President Jack Jennings. "If higher test scores are the objective, we can show that teachers are concentrating more on getting better scores."
In elementary schools, for example, 36 percent of the schools surveyed decreased the amount of time spent on social studies, and 28 percent reduced time spent on science—despite the fact that boosting science education has been the goal of a variety of government-sponsored initiatives to spur competitiveness. Science testing does not yet have the emphasis that reading and math have received under NCLB.
Earlier this year, commenting on the results of nationwide history and civics testing (where test scores improved only slightly), Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said that the NCLB focus on reading and math was not narrowing the curriculum. "While critics may argue that NCLB leads educators to narrow their curriculum focus, the fact is, when students know how to read and comprehend, they apply these skills to other subjects like history and civics," she said.
The CEP study doesn't directly address the efficacy of the instruction time. But it does show that teachers are concentrating their efforts on the areas of the curriculum that are under the most scrutiny, while other subjects like science, art, and social studies are receiving less and less attention.
You can find the full report here.