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Report Assesses Elementary Curriculum Trends, Time on Task

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The average 4th grader spends 58 percent of his or her time at school on the academic staples of language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, and 25 percent on such noninstructional activities as lunch and recess, a new report on elementary-school curricula shows.

"Elementary Curriculum Trends," released last Friday by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, focuses on the amount of time that schools devote to learning because "time has been shown to be the factor most closely related to student achievement," according to Gordon Cawelti, co-author of the report and executive director of the ascd

The survey of 1,522 elementary-school principals found that, on average, 4th graders spend 100 minutes per day on language arts, 52 minutes on mathematics, 34 minutes on social studies, and 28 minutes on science. They spend an average of 92 minutes per day on noninstructional activities.

Other subjects, such as health, physical education, music, and art consume the remaining 15 percent of a school day that averages five and a half hours in instructional time, the survey found.

The ascd's findings are similar to those of John Goodlad, who reported in A Place Called School that elementary schools spend about 73 percent of their time on instruction and 21 percent of their time on classroom routines.

'Tremendous Variation'

The survey also found "tremendous variation in the amount of time that schools spend on different subjects," according to Mr. Cawelti. He noted that while some schools are "really maximizing the time of day spent on reading, language arts, science, and mathematics," others ''are allocating precious little time to the basic subject areas."

For example, 5.6 percent of schools reported spending more than four hours a week on science instruction, while 11 percent reported spending less than one hour per week on that subject.

The National Science Foundation has recommended that elementary-school students spend at least two and one-half hours a week on science.

Many schools reported devoting less time to the basic subjects than ex-perts recommend, said Mr. Cawelti. He added that science was the area in which professional recommendations and practice diverged most.

Social Concerns

Some educators argue that teaching students about social issues, like nuclear war, has taken time away from language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, Mr. Cawelti said. But the survey found that most schools incorporate teaching about social issues into their basic subjects and do not create separate courses.

Over 70 percent of the schools reported teaching about citizenship, study skills, the environment, energy, thinking skills, careers, consumer affairs, and multicultural studies within the context of the four basics. Schools also paid some, but less, attention to educating students about death, law, nuclear development, foreign languages, and global affairs.

Only drug and sex education were taught with any frequency as separate subjects, by 20 percent and 16 percent of the responding schools, respectively.

Lack Teacher Support

In addition to problems of time allocation, the survey found too little support for classroom teachers.

Fewer than half the schools surveyed said that supervisors were available to help teachers strengthen their instructional skills. Where such supervisors existed, the principals reported that they were generally limited to reading.

Teachers also had scant access to classroom aides, according to the survey. While 81 percent of the schools had aides in the building, in the majority of cases, there were only one to five aides available for the entire school.

More classroom assistance was obtained from teacher specialists, such as librarians and physical-education, art, and music teachers. Volunteer tutors also worked directly with students in 61 percent of the responding schools, and did paperwork, monitored playgrounds, and carried out similar routines in 68 percent of the schools.

Other Findings

The survey also asked questions about class size, pupil retention, homework, and other subjects. It found that:

Enrollment in most classes ranged from 21 to 25 students. Less than 10 percent of the schools surveyed reported class sizes in excess of 30 pupils.

Only one-third of the schools said they had a written homework policy. Those having such policies indicated that 1st graders were required to do 30 minutes or less of homework per day; 3rd graders, 16 to 45 minutes per day; and 5th graders, 31 to 60 minutes per day.

Twenty-two percent of the responding schools provided full-day kindergarten five days a week; about 7 percent did so on alternate days.

Only three out of 100 schools reported offering child care before the school day begins. Only 6 percent offered after-school care.

Schools rarely made students re-peat a grade--45 percent of the schools surveyed held back 1 percent or less of their students last year. In most cases, decisions to make students repeat were based primarily on the recommendations of teachers.

Some 69 percent of the elementary schools reported using computers for instruction. However, schools use computers primarily for problem-solving and practice drills that require students to choose correct responses, and not for creative, open-ended exercises, the survey found.

The ascd plans to repeat the survey of elementary schools every three years to establish reliable "trend data" for its 61,000 members. The organization will conduct similar surveys of middle schools and high schools over the next two years.

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