Most Teachers See the Curriculum Narrowing, Survey Finds

By Erik W. Robelen — December 08, 2011 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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.

Commenting has been disabled on 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.


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.
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.
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."