Big Sunday NYT front page splash about the pressure that No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on reading and math is putting on other subjects like history, social studies, music, etc…Everyone not riveted by George Mason was chattering about it. Couple of thoughts:
First, the survey that the piece advanced is the most useful piece of work the Center on Education Policy does. It’s a lot of data on NCLB implementation that no one else has. But, it’s not bulletproof and the story didn’t get into the details of it.
Second, reading (and math) is fundamental, as they say. How exactly are students supposed to engage with other subjects if they’re not reading well? Though they vary by state, overall state tests are not wildly unrealistic in what they measure.
Third, there are plenty of schools that are doing a great job with the basics but also provide an engaging and rich place for kids. In fact, though stories like this are often cheered by folks who don’t like standards, they do teachers no favors. America’s teachers can walk and chew gum and the mantra that we can’t teach all this stuff erodes respect for them. There is something of a false choice here and some examples of schools doing both might have been good context for readers.
Fourth, there is an issue of time here, both how much and how it’s used. Some students will need more time on these subjects and that requires fresh thinking about the school day and year. In terms of how it’s used, it’s worth mentioning again that if you’re not doing a good job teaching math or reading for x hours a day, there is no guarantee that x + y will get you there either. This is where using data to evaluate and inform instruction is key. More is not necessarily better.