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Report: Math and reading pushing out other subjects

By Katy Murphy
Wednesday, July 25th, 2007 at 11:16 am in school reform.

The Center on Education Policy issued another report today about the effects of the No Child Left Behind accountability law. In the 350 school districts surveyed, it found that the amount of time spent on subjects other than reading and math has dropped by almost one-third since the law was enacted in 2002.

The change has been more profound at school districts like Oakland that have at least one school in need of improvement, the researchers found.

The bright spot: Jack Jennings, the organization’s CEO and president, told me that more and more teachers are finding ways to incorporate reading into other subjects. The key, he said, is for teachers — especially, newer ones — to have the support they need to pull it off.

Some say this trend is undermining public education. Others argue that if kids can’t read well, they won’t be able to learn other subjects. What do you think? Any stories on how the focus on reading and math is working in the Oakland schools?

If you don’t have time to look through the whole report, here are the CEP recommendations (copied directly from the news release):

  • Stagger testing requirements and include tests in other subjects. Students should be tested in English language arts in grades 3, 5, 7 and once in high school, and in social studies and science in grades 4, 6, 8 and once in high school.
  • Encourage states to give adequate emphasis to art and music and to include measures of knowledge and skills in art and music as one of the multiple measures used for NCLB accountability.
  • Require states to have an independent review of their standards and tests at least once every three years to ensure that they are of high quality and rigor.
  • Provide federal funds for research to determine the best ways to incorporate and support the teaching of reading and math skills into social studies, science, and other subjects to ensure students will have access to a rich, well-rounded curriculum.

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  • Debora Rinehart

    Reading and math are important, make no bones about it. But math without science provides few real-life examples of the importance or application of mathematics. We were fortunate enough to have a teacher last year who taught math and science growing a garden – estimating and measuring the daily growth. Allowing kids to compare their measurements to validate the conclusions, seeing growth from a day to day perspective, and then measuring the results as they measured and mixed ingredients to make soup gives practical, fun examples of WHY the lesson needs to be learned.

    Reading about countries around the world, then bringing in bread (every country has a version of bread) from those countries combines reading and social studies, contrast and comparison. Art and music from the countries that were read about as well as the use of language can all be taught while teaching reading.

    Good teachers find a way to include the life lessons. Testing teachers do not. We are fortunate that our family has had the benefit of very good teachers.

  • http://ibabuzz.com?education Steve Weinberg

    It is true that the emphasis on math and reading has put pressure on schools to reduce other course offerings. The middle school I work at has lost all elective offerings (music, art, and foreign languages). The District has also encouraged us to reduce history and science for many of our students, a trend we have so far resisted. However, the suggestion that the way to remedy this situation is to have standardized tests in more subjects has its own pitfalls. There is now a CST History exam given in the eighth grade. It is a ridiculous test that focuses on small details rather than basic understanding. The Science test is similar. The cure for our current over-emphasis on testing is not to do even more tests.
    Ironically, my experience has been that increasing the number of hours of math instruction is not a very successful way to improve math scores. We have had better luck at my school by reducing the number of students in classes with students behind in math, but that costs money, and replacing an existing class with an extra math class does not. Of course, both these strategies are difficult to implement when there is a tremendous shortage of math teachers throughout the state of California, made worse by unnecessarily stringent requirements to teach middle school math. We would be much better off if teachers with multi-subject credentials, who are allowed to teach math as part of a self-contained classroom in grades up to eighth grade, were also allowed to teach math in a departmentalized school.

  • Debora Rinehart

    I do not understand the new focus. Perhaps it is because I have one child who just finished the first grade. She is reading above grade level. She is also doing math above grade level. Did she just have an exceptionally outstanding teacher who was able to incorporate geography and social studies using bread from around the world – where each child in the class brought in bread from a country that was significant to them? Children in her class located the country on the map, helped classmates work on a flag from the country, talked about its customs and what made it different from other countries.

    Science was taught growing vegetables in the class planters – using estimation, observation, and documentation of details. Talking about what grows above, on and below the ground, then making soup and salad from the vegetables grown or brought from home. Learning about reptiles and going to visit the Vivarium in Berkeley – using a clipboard documenting the eating, sleeping and movement patterns of animals was the highlight of life science for my daughter.

    Learning to write in Chinese – now that’s a skill – both fun and educational, that taught my letter and sound loving daughter that not all languages are about grouping letters to make words, but using symbols for words as a whole.

    Was this able to be done in one school year because there is an exceptional teacher or was it done because in first grade there are no standardized tests? I’m not sure. I do know that good teachers are teaching far beyond what may be reported at the school. I am looking forward to this coming school year – second grade – the first year of testing. Let’s see what standardized testing brings.