Sixty-two percent percent of school districts are spending more time teaching reading, writing and math in elementary school; 44 percent are spending less time on social studies, science, art and music, concludes a Center on Education Policy report. Schools are even cutting lunchtime. Only recess and phys ed are relatively untouched.
Districts who spent more time on reading and/or math increased instruction by 42 percent; instruction in untested subjects was cut by 31 percent. Nine percent of districts have lengthened the school day by an average of 18 minutes.
Districts with low-scoring schools are the most likely to shift their focus to reading and math.
The Washington Post cites reporter Linda Perlstein’s new book, Tested, on a Maryland school that successfully raised its abysmal test scores by focusing on reading, writing and math and neglecting social studies and science. (I also thought of the book, which I’ve just read.)
In one episode, she wrote that a child looked eagerly at petri dishes, thermometers and other science equipment in the back of her classroom and said, “I’d like to make inventions and experiments.” But her teacher was focused on the reading and math sections of the Maryland School Assessment. “After the MSA,” the teacher said, “we can do social studies and science.”
Overall, scores have gone up in history and science as well as in reading and math, suggesting that students do learn more in all subjects when they can read and calculate competently. However, it should be possible to teach more than the the three ‘rs with a longer day for the neediest students.
CEP suggests staggering testing requirements so students are tested one year in reading and math, the next year in social studies and science. The report also recommends researching how to incorporate reading and math skills into social studies, science, and other subjects. However, the center did not recommend lengthening the school day.
Adding hours, as some high-achieving inner city charter schools have done, is expensive, said Jack Jennings, the center’s president, “and we first have to assure ourselves that the current time is being used well.”
Often announcements, assemblies and other non-academic activities are allowed to eat into class time, says Education Sector’s Elena Silva.
Where you find a low-income, high-minority school with good test scores, like the one in Tested, you’ll find a school that defends its teaching time from interruptions and diversions.