Survey: Subjects Trimmed To Boost Math and Reading

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Nearly half the nation’s school districts are spending less instructional time on subjects such as science, history, and art in order to prepare their students for the mathematics and reading tests mandated under the 5½-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, says a report released last week by the Center on Education Policy.

In a nationally representative survey of 349 districts, the Washington-based group found that 44 percent reported cutting time from other subjects to focus on math and reading. The decreases were relatively substantial, according to the report, totaling about 141 minutes per week across all subjects, or almost 30 minutes per day.

The July 24 report lends credibility to critics’ contention that the NCLB law’s emphasis on reading and math has squeezed out other subjects. It also bolsters arguments that the law should be expanded to include tests in science, social studies, and other subjects.

“This report matches everything we’ve seen,” said Gerald F. Wheeler, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, based in Arlington, Va. “We need to be more intelligent about what it means to educate the whole child.”

Mr. Wheeler said the federal government should add science to the NCLB accountability system so that schools will set aside time for it. Beginning with the new school year, under NCLB, states must test students in science three times before high school graduation. States may count those scores for accountability purposes, but they’re not required to do so.

Exposure to subjects such as history can help students master higher-order thinking skills in math and reading, said Theodore K. Rabb, a professor emeritus at Princeton University and the board chairman of the National Council for History Education, based in Westlake, Okla.

But others say schools are right to focus on reading and math, particularly in the early grades.

“If you can’t read, what can you do?” said Sandra Stotsky, who, starting next month, will be an education professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. “If you can’t do math, you can’t ultimately do science.”

The CEP reported similar findings in a March 2006 reportRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader, which found that many districts had increased instructional time in math and reading at the elementary level, sometimes by giving short shrift to other subjects. ("Study: NCLB Leads to Cuts for Some Subjects," April 5, 2006.)

Vol. 26, Issue 44, Page 7

Published in Print: August 1, 2007, as Survey: Subjects Trimmed To Boost Math and Science
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An earlier version of this story included a headline that misidentified the findings of the Center on Education Policy survey.

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