Curriculum

Schools Urged to Push Beyond Math, Reading To Broader Curriculum

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — December 19, 2006 | Corrected: February 22, 2019 3 min read

Corrected: This story gave an incorrect title for Kate Walsh. She is the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Reading and math may be getting their due attention under the No Child Left Behind Act, but a lineup of education experts met here last week to argue that the focus of the federal law is not enough to ensure students are receiving a “21st-century education.”

Dana Gioia, reflected in a mirror, tells audience members "we cannot prepare someone to be a productive citizen of a free society if the only thing we do is prepare them for standardized tests."

Some 200 leaders of influential organizations, educators, and policy analysts debated in a Dec. 12 symposium the need for more history, social studies, arts, literature, and character lessons in the curriculum. Those subjects, many educators say, have been relegated to the margins of the school day as schools expand reading and mathematics lessons to help students gain proficiency in the two disciplines that are at the center of NCLB accountability.

“Education must aim for far more than mastery of the basics, far more than the possession of tools for economic competitiveness,” said Diane Ravitch, an education historian. “Certainly, it should aim for enough [content] for an examined life, enough for civic virtue, and enough for those mental habits that incline one to think, to read, to listen, to discuss, to feel just a bit uncertain about one’s opinions, and to love learning.”

Yet more and more, Ms. Ravitch and other participants argued, schools are stealing time from history, the arts, and even recess to devote instruction to reading and math, the subjects tested under the federal law. States are also beefing up science instruction in anticipation of mandated state tests beginning next year.

Testing History?

While most of the speakers expressed support for the law, and the strict accountability it requires for student achievement, they agreed it should be strengthened to ensure a broad liberal arts education for all students. To that end, the gathering’s organizers proposed that participants join in forming an advocacy group to promote that viewpoint among policymakers and educators, akin to an updated version of the defunct Council for Basic Education.

“Every education reform goes too far,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, the Washington think tank that sponsored the event. “The press for basic skills, particularly for minority and disadvantaged students, is legitimate, but don’t stop there.”

Panelists suggested a number of strategies for countering the trend, including improved teacher preparation and professional development in the academic-content areas; increased instructional time; and a richer curriculum. Some speakers suggested that, when the law is brought up for reauthorization, scheduled for next year, testing requirements be added in history and other areas to force schools to prepare students in those subjects.

Lengthening the school day and using the existing time more effectively, however, could prove most practical, according to Kate Walsh, the executive director of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality. Initial findings from a study of the nation’s largest 50 districts that she presented show substantial variation in school time among urban districts. Chicago students, for example, spend more than an hour less than their counterparts in New York City in school daily and some eight weeks yearly.

E.D. Hirsch Jr., the founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation and a professor emeritus of education at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, urged educators to infuse nonfiction texts and more content on a variety of topics into blocks of reading instruction. “The key to teaching reading comprehension is to provide students with a cumulative education in a broad range of subjects.” he said.

Dana Gioia, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, offered a personal account of how exposure to the arts expanded his educational and career opportunities, despite the low expectations of the tough Los Angeles neighborhood where he grew up.

“A love of reading and the arts is not being nurtured or fostered by our education system,” contended Mr. Gioia, who argued that arts and literature are catalysts for helping students find their strengths and interests.

“We cannot prepare someone to be a productive citizen of a free society,” he said, “if the only thing we do is prepare them for standardized tests.”

A version of this article appeared in the December 20, 2006 edition of Education Week as Schools Urged to Push Beyond Math, Reading to Broader Curriculum

Events

School & District Management Live Event EdWeek Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
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
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

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 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
Curriculum Opinion Eight Ways to Teach With Primary Sources
Four educators share ways they use primary sources with students, including a strategy called "Zoom."
13 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Curriculum The Dr. Seuss Controversy: What Educators Need to Know
The business that manages Dr. Seuss' work and legacy will cease publishing six books due to racist stereotypes and offensive content.
5 min read
A copy of the book "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," by Dr. Seuss, rests in a chair on March 1, 2021, in Walpole, Mass. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator's legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children's titles including "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" and "If I Ran the Zoo," because of insensitive and racist imagery.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced it would cease publication of several of the author's children's titles because of insensitive and racist imagery.
Steven Senne/AP
Curriculum Opinion The Overlooked Support Teachers Are Missing: A Coherent Curriculum
Here’s the research on how districts can improve instructional systems—which was already a challenge in the best of times.
Morgan Polikoff, Elaine Wang & Julia Kaufman
5 min read
A team of people work together to build a block structure.
Imam Fathoni/iStock<br/>