Test-pressed schools are devoting more time to reading and math, squeezing out science, history, music and art — or so they say. Forty to 150 years ago, elementary schools devoted as much or more time to reading and math and very little to other subjects,writes Stuart Buck.
Today, the average school spends about 1.5 hours a day on reading and a little more than an hour on math, according to a Center on Education Policy survey. Some urban schools devote nearly two hours to reading.
Buck cites a study of California classrooms in the ’70s, which found second graders “spent 1.5 hours per day on reading, 35 minutes on math, and all of 8 minutes on other academic subjects (which included social studies and science, but not music or art). Fifth grade classrooms spent an hour and 50 minutes on reading, 45 minutes on math, and 17 minutes on social studies and science.”
He also posts a chart reviewing previous studies from the 1860s, 1904, 1914, and 1926:
. . . 2nd grade classrooms were spending well over 2 hours per day on reading — more than the amount of time that is today cited as a “narrowing” of the curriculum. Fifth grade classrooms spent between 108 and 146 minutes per day on reading. In math, the classrooms spent between 29 and 61 minutes per day. Classrooms spent between 15 and 63 minutes per day on other academic subjects such as geography, history, and science.
I attended elementary school in the late ’50s and early ’60s. We did almost no history, geography or science until fifth grade, when we got a dreadful social studies book (very big on the “principal products” of various places) and a science book. We had daily P.E., music once a week, art once a week, shop in fourth and fifth grade, occasional Spanish in fourth grade . . . I don’t remember how we spent our time.