March 26, 2006


Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math (SAM DILLON, 3/26/06, NY Times)

Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

Schools from Vermont to California are increasing — in some cases tripling — the class time that low-proficiency students spend on reading and math, mainly because the federal law, signed in 2002, requires annual exams only in those subjects and punishes schools that fall short of rising benchmarks.

The changes appear to principally affect schools and students who test below grade level.

The intense focus on the two basic skills is a sea change in American instructional practice, with many schools that once offered rich curriculums now systematically trimming courses like social studies, science and art. A nationwide survey by a nonpartisan group that is to be made public on March 28 indicates that the practice, known as narrowing the curriculum, has become standard procedure in many communities.

All that neat boutique junk that the Left cluttered up curricula with is being abandoned for the three R's? So making them teach to the test has worked brilliantly, huh.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 26, 2006 7:36 AM

As an early elementary teacher, this was my soapbox: just give me the kids, shut the door, and let me teach reading, writing, and math, uninterrupted. Art, Music, and Gym are fine, but forget the other stuff. You wouldn't believe all that was "mandated!"
Give me some help with kids who have true learning problems at the K-3 level, and you'll be successful with ALL you present to them in the years ahead!!!!!
You'll notice that when they talk of reform or throwing money into programs, it's at the high school level Forget it; it's way too late by then!

Posted by: Dorothy Judd at March 26, 2006 7:43 AM

Digging John Dewey up and putting a wooden stake through his heart.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 26, 2006 11:32 AM

A rich curriculum -- what that conjures up isn't fit for a family blog!

Ms. Judd, your comment is music to my ears and unfortunately, I can only too readily imagine what's being mandated. If you wouldn't mind giving your opinion, you're just the person to have the answers to questions being hotly debated here in Florida. Questions like optimum class size and what, other than ordinary school supplies, are essential in a classroom and would be useful, but not essential. Also questions like are school aides necessary, should teachers be required to do tasks unrelated to teaching, like lunch room and bus monitoring, record keeping , etc.?

Another hot topic is textbooks. There used to be a citizens group in our county to look them over and make recommendations. That stopped about ten year ago. It was bad then, I can't imagine how bad it's gotten since then.

Posted by: erp at March 26, 2006 11:38 AM

Math and reading are the only subjects tested by the NCLB testing, and subjects like history are left behind.

Gym is still taught, by the way. Can’t have those kids not take gym.

The thing about the No Child Left Behind Act is that it is designed to systematically reduce the quality of public schools – for the purpose of eventually eliminating public schools.

Each progressive benchmark in the NCLB act gets harder each year until finally, schools require a 100% pass rate from their students. That’s right. If even one student fails the test, they can lose funding. This is why these desperate measures are being taken.

Back in the early 90s, when I was in high school, my dad worked at a different high school as a special-education teacher. At the time he talked about something called “outcome-based education” (which was what he considered “something cooked up by the damn liberals”) and was a new form of an old discredited “learning for mastery” theory from the early 1970s (also "cooked up by the damn liberals.")

The idea was this – the entire class does not move on to the next subject until everyone – even the worst student in the class – has mastered the previous one.

In theory, it means that “no child would be left behind” in the classroom. In reality, everyone except the slowest student would be wasting time – the brightest students even more so. Normally classes are taught at the mid-range or “average” student level. Bright students get bored and become gifted underachievers or start to lash out with behavioral problems, the kids who struggle also feel left behind. All outcome-based education did was shift the curve downward – dumbing it down, in essence. So now you have an entire classroom of bored students (minus one) losing all interest in any sort of learning and lashing out.

What NCLB does is do that on a nationwide scale. I would shudder to be a child today. Bored out of my mind and hounded by overzealous security measures, scrutinized for any sort of behavioral difference that would but me outside of the norm (and therefore a threat.)

If you want to know what the future of America looks like, go to a public school.

But back to the article: Basically, the schools are cutting everything except math and reading. While it is true that you need a basic mastery of math and reading to study many disciplines, these are NOT the things that you eventually find rewarding in and of themselves. Even mathematics, at the college level, becomes more about solving problems and less about adding figures. Even English is about understanding the meaning and tone behind the forms than just knowing how to read. In short, the meaning is missing in the rote repetition. Say you love history. You need to read to study history. Or say you love science. You need math to study science. But studying only math and reading does not give you the sense of discovery of science or history. High school math and science are not ends in and of themselves, only means to an end, and if the Republicans who wrote and passed and signed this law ever learned the joy of asking questions and seeking answers, they would know that.

So we are left with a generation of people who hate learning. Anti-intellectuals. This also furthers the conservative movement agenda. People who hate learning answers don’t ask questions.

And more directly, history – now that history has absorbed (replaced?) civics – is perhaps the most important subject. There’s a phrase I’m recalling which involves “doom.”

Again, though, the conservative movement doesn’t want students studying history.

If they did, they might draw some parallels.

Posted by: Brian Boyko at March 26, 2006 2:10 PM

One of the dangers of "teaching to the test" lies in what exactly is tested. One of my years in teaching second grade, the math test consisted solely of symmetry. Now somehow the company included a computation score, hard to explain when there wasn't a numeral on the test! Parents came to me, I talked to the math director repeatedly, etc., etc. Finally, three years later the director admitted the company had erred in reporting a computation score!

Posted by: Dorothy Judd at March 26, 2006 3:32 PM

Conservatives don't want people to study history. Good lord.

Remind me again who it was who junked the history curricula at the primary and secondary levels in favor of some nebulous "social studies"?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 26, 2006 5:27 PM

Kids who can't read aren't studying history too much.

Posted by: oj at March 26, 2006 5:30 PM

That would be the conservatives. Social Studies was the amalgamation of History, Geography, and Civics, all of which were under attack as "unnecessary" or "redundant" at the time by American conservatives.

I'll admit that kids who can't read aren't studying history too much. But, come on? Do you really need half a day for reading study? Most of my classmates did fine with one period of English a day.

For the child who can't read - which is the vast overwhelming minority - having extra time to study reading is a boon. For the children for whom the extra reading study is just rote repetition of already mastered material, there is no gain here for them. They already know the material, why continue the drilling? Again: You study reading in order to read, and you read in order to learn everything else. Any "education" that teaches you how to read while prohibiting you from learning is a poor one indeed.

Posted by: Brian Boyko at March 26, 2006 7:03 PM

Brian, knowing as I do that it's almost impossible to distinguish satire from moonbat thinking, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that your comment is a "send up." No other explanation is posible.

Posted by: erp at March 26, 2006 7:39 PM

Of course in classes where the kids can read the teachers won't be spending half the day on reading. But in the ones where they can't the teachers are forced to focus on what matters instead of their experimental inanities.

Posted by: oj at March 26, 2006 7:41 PM

Mr. Boyko:

I honestly don't know what you're talking about, nor where you are getting this information vis a vis history and social studies.

It is my understanding that the replacement of history with "social studies" in the curricula of America schools was a long-standing mission of 20th century progressive educationists.

Reading this has only confirmed my thinking on the subject.

For example:
The American Historical Association's so-called Committees of Ten and of Seven reports, issued in 1894 and 1899 respectively, established what Evans describes as the conservative nature of history's focus in schools."


"the National Council for the Social Studies was founded in 1921 and quickly embodied the reformist, progressive spirit of the social studies movement."


"Since the early 1980s neoconservatives have led the way in most recent battles in the long war against progressive social studies."

Conservatives beginning during the "progressive era" have always favored the teaching of history. Liberals in contrast have tried to muck it up with "social science."

Please provide evidence otherwise.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 26, 2006 11:03 PM

The last should read "social studies."

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 26, 2006 11:06 PM