Curriculum

Arts, Foreign Languages Getting Edged Out

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — November 05, 2003 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

After a decade of expansion of arts and foreign-language programs, particularly in elementary schools, many educators are warning that the subjects are in danger of being edged out of the curriculum as districts spend more time on reading, mathematics, and science.

Ordering information for the full report is available from the National Association of State Boards of Education.

From New York to Washington state, administrators have proposed cutbacks to other subjects as they struggle to meet the demands of state accountability programs and the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Low-performing schools, observers say, are feeling the greatest pressure to spend more time building students’ basic skills in order to raise test scores.

Such decisions, exacerbated by budget cuts and a shortage of qualified teachers, have left less time and fewer resources for the other subjects in the core curriculum that are excluded from accountability measures.

A recent report by the National Association of State Boards of Education underscores the concern in the field. After a year of study, a working group of the Alexandria, Va.-based organization concludes that the arts and foreign languages indeed “are at risk of becoming the lost curriculum.”

“With our heavy focus on testing a limited number of subjects, schools are using all the available time to shore up kids’ basic skills in order to have them show improvement on the tests,” said Brenda L. Welburn, NASBE’s executive director.

“While we understand the need for every student to have strong fundamental skills, we are not providing a comprehensive education for all students,” Ms. Welburn added

The report, “The Complete Curriculum: Ensuring a Place for the Arts and Foreign Languages in America’s Schools,” released last month, calls on administrators and policymakers to ensure that those subjects remain part of the core curriculum through strong teacher-licensure laws, graduation requirements, and elementary programs.

Although the arts and foreign languages are included in the core curriculum prescribed by the federal law passed in 2001, states are not required to report student-achievement results in those subjects, leaving the subjects vulnerable to cuts, the committee of state education officials argues in its report.

The group’s assessment is based primarily on anecdotal evidence from the field.

Research, however, has shown that teachers spend more time on subjects that are tested and for which they are held accountable for results than they do on other subjects. (“Concentration on Reading, Math Troubles Social Studies Educators,” Feb. 20, 2002.)

Responsible and Responsive

Even if drastic cuts to existing programs do not occur, some observers say, the intense focus on the tested subjects could hinder attempts to maintain or expand academic offerings.

The most recent survey of foreign-language programs, conducted several years ago, showed continuation of a decade-long trend toward increasing enrollments.

Still, districts in Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Wisconsin recently announced they would cut arts and foreign-language programs and teaching positions, according to data gathered this fall by the National Education Association. It is not clear if those actions were the result of state and local budget cuts, testing requirements, or a combination of factors.

Proponents of the standards and accountability movement say little evidence is available to suggest that district leaders are jeopardizing comprehensive academic programs as a result of testing initiatives.

“I don’t think that there’s much concern that a school’s going to get rid of the arts, and phys. ed., and foreign language to have more time to prepare for the tests in English, math, and science,” said Matt Gandal, the executive vice president of Achieve, a Washington-based group led by governors and corporate executives that promotes rigorous standards and accountability. In most cases, he said, such cuts would be irresponsible.

“While obviously every good school leader has to be responsible to the accountability system,” he said, “they also need to be responsive to the broader needs of students and desires of parents, which include the arts, languages, and other subjects that are the basis of a quality education.”

Mr. Gandal acknowledged, however, that many low-performing schools must make a tradeoff and choose more basic-skills instruction at the expense of other curricular offerings.

An Equity Issue?

Parents and community members in Memphis, Tenn., were able to save a program that enables children to study Spanish, French, or Chinese beginning in kindergarten. The 118,000-student district has expanded the program over the past seven years to 73 of its 110 elementary schools.

When the school board considered a plan to cut the program this past August, protesters convinced officials it was a valuable part of the curriculum.

“The good news is that when they tried to eliminate it, the community rallied support,” said Maggie Lee, the program’s director. “The clincher was [that we argued] we don’t want poor children to get any less academically” than their better-off peers.

Advocates for the arts and foreign languages argue that evidence is growing that their subjects can actually enhance student achievement across the curriculum.

“We need to give every student every possible avenue and tool as a window into learning,” said Hollis Headrick, the executive director of the Center for Arts Education, which provides grants to support arts programs in 150 New York City schools. “Without these programs, you reduce the ability to give these students a complete education.”


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum He Taught About White Privilege and Got Fired. Now He's Fighting to Get His Job Back
Matthew Hawn is an early casualty in this year's fight over how teachers can discuss with students America's struggle with racism.
13 min read
Social studies teacher Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for sharing Kyla Jenèe Lacey's, 'White Privilege', poem with his Contemporary Issues class. Hawn sits on his couch inside his home on August 17, 2021.
Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for lessons and materials he used to teach about racism and white privilege in his Contemporary Issues class at Sullivan Central High School in Blountville, Tenn.<br/>
Caitlin Penna for Education Week
Curriculum What's the Best Way to Address Unfinished Learning? It's Not Remediation, Study Says
A new study suggests acceleration may be a promising strategy for addressing unfinished learning in math after a pandemic year.
5 min read
Female high school student running on the stairs leads to an opportunity to success
CreativaImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Curriculum School Halts Use of Fictional Book in Which Officer Kills a Black Child
Fifth graders in at least one Broward County school were assigned to read a book that critics say casts police officers as racist liars.
Rafael Olmeda, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
5 min read
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Alhadeff told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that she does not feel like the book "Ghost Boys" is appropriate for 5th graders.
Lynne Sladky/AP
Curriculum Opinion Introducing Primary Sources to Students
Five educators share strategies for introducing primary sources to students, including English-language learners.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty