Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dumbing It On Down

Michael J. Petrilli of The National Review says that in order to raise standardized test scores in math and reading, schools are neglecting other subjects:
History, science, and the arts are being de-emphasized by most schools in order to make room for teaching basic reading and math skills, according to a recent study. Who's to blame for this? Critics of reform point to the No Child Left Behind law.

And they're right to do so — to a point. NCLB mandates that schools boost achievement in reading and math — only reading and math — or face tough consequences. To the surprise of some, the incentive has worked, but so, too, has the law of unintended consequences.

This is not the only example of that phenomenon. NCLB puts pressure on educators to get all students to a low level of proficiency, so schools ignore kids at the top of the class. The law leaves the standards-setting to the states but ties sanctions to the results, so the states "race to the bottom" and lower their standards. And yes, the statute focuses its accountability provisions on reading and math, so schools ignore everything else. The latter problem is easily fixed (if politically unpopular). Congress should add history testing to the law's requirements, and make the history and science results count. (Science testing will be required next year, but the results won't count for accountability purposes.) Now that we know that schools will respond to incentives, we should be clear about our aims.

But tweaking the law's carrots and sticks is not enough. We must also address the fact that schools are choosing the path of least resistance by narrowing the curriculum. After all, pushing other subjects aside is not the only choice schools face. Great schools beef up their students' basic skills while also providing them a broad, rich education. Why don't most? There are two reasons — one ideological, and the other political.
There's much more to read in the whole thing.

Just last week, I had the opportunity to speak with a sixth-grade teacher from a nearby elementary school. He indicated to me that all of his instructional time was devoted to reading and math.

His students received no history or art instruction whatsoever, and very little science. This is typical in our 5000-student-district here in California's "Imperial" Valley.

Sadly, this is the new reality for all-too-many of our public school students in a post No Child Left Behind world.
See our latest education-related entries right here. Visit today's edition of The Carnival of Education, guest hosted this week by Melissa Wiley over at The Lilting House.