Most Teachers See the Curriculum Narrowing, Survey Finds

By Erik W. Robelen — December 08, 2011 2 min read
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You’ve heard it before, and now a new set of survey results drives the point home: Most teachers believe that in the era of high-stakes testing in math and English/language arts, other important subjects are getting pushed out of the classroom.

At the same time, nearly half of those polled believe the extra focus on math and English is helping to boost students’ “skills and knowledge” in one or both subjects.

The results released today show that about two-thirds of the 1,001 public school teachers surveyed said disciplines such as art, science, and social studies are getting crowded out of the school day. The national survey of a random sample of educators was commissioned by Common Core, a Washington-based research and advocacy group that has long raised concerns about the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act on the curriculum.

Nearly all of the teachers who see time for English and math pushing other subjects aside say the main reason is state tests. In fact, 60 percent say their school is devoting more time in recent years to test-taking skills. And, the extra time for English and math is not simply for struggling students, but affects all students, conclude 77 percent of respondents.

“During the past decade, our public schools have focused—almost exclusively—on reading and math instruction” in an effort to make “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind, said Lynn Munson, the president and executive director of Common Core, in a press release. She notes that the federal law “clearly identifies our ‘core curriculum’ as reading, math, science, social studies, and even the arts,” but says many of these subjects have been “abandoned.”

“As a result, we are denying our students the complete education they deserve and the law demands,” she said.

That said, a lot of the teachers surveyed do seem to perceive some benefit from the additional time for English and math. Nearly half (46 percent) said students’ “skills and knowledge” have improved in one or both subjects as a result, while 32 percent disagreed and 22 percent were not sure.

The survey sought to probe more deeply exactly which subjects were taking a hit in the curriculum. To keep things simple, I’ll just identify the percent of teachers who said a particular subject is getting LESS time than it used to. Most readers won’t be surprised to learn that art and music have been hit the hardest.

• Art: 51 percent say it gets less time.
• Music: 48 percent
• Foreign languages: 40 percent
• Social studies: 36 percent
• Physical education: 33 percent
• Science: 27 percent

I will say that it’s a little curious that at least some teachers, though a small minority, say reading and math are actually getting less attention. Of those surveyed, 12 percent said English/language arts was taking a hit, and 10 percent said math.

By the way, science educators may be heartened to know that 24 percent of educators say this subject is getting MORE time, far more than any other subject besides English and math.

You can dive into the complete list of survey questions and responses here.

I’ll close with a few other random tidbits:

• 90 percent of high school teachers say the typical student will have read a play by Shakespeare by the time they graduate;

• 71 percent say they will have read the Constitution;

• 92 percent will have learned who fought whom in World War II; and

• 82 percent will have studied the structure of DNA.

Finally, for all you fans of the award-winning children’s novel Charlotte’s Web, rest easy. Almost two-thirds of elementary teachers say a typical student reads it in school.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.