Reading and Math is Stifling Curriculum, Say Teachers

As federal and state policymakers prepare to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era comes to a close, new research by Common Core shows that two-thirds of public school teachers believe that a concentration on English and mathematics within the curriculum has forced focus away from other core academic subjects, such as social studies, science, foreign languages, and the arts.

The research is based on a survey on teacher behavior and classroom practice of 1,001 third through 12thgrade public school teachers and was conducted by the Farkas Duffett Research (FDR) Group on behalf of Common Core, and will be released in 2012.

“During the past decade, our public schools have focused – almost exclusively – on reading and math instruction, hoping to fulfill the latest in federal mandates,” said Lynne Munson, President and Executive Director of Common Core.

“NCLB clearly identifies our ‘core curriculum’ as reading, math, science, social studies, and even the arts.  But in our efforts to meet AYP, we have abandoned many of these core subjects in pursuit of higher reading and math scores.  As a result, we are denying our students the complete education they deserve and the law demands.”

Some of the highlights of the Common Core/FDR Group survey:

  • 66% of teachers surveyed believe subjects other than reading and math “get crowded out by extra attention being paid to math or language arts”
  • 51% believe art and 48% believe music get less attention, with 40% saying the same for foreign language, 36% for social studies, and 27% for science
  • 51% of elementary school teachers say struggling students get extra help in math or language arts by getting pulled out of other classes, with the most likely subjects for pull out being social studies 48% and science 40%
  • 93% believe that the crowding out that is taking place in their schools is largely driven by state tests
  • 65% of teachers surveyed say they have “had to skip important topics in [my] subject in order to cover the required curriculum”

The survey suggests that most teachers believe schools are narrowing the curriculum, shifting resources away from subjects such as art, music, foreign language, and social studies and towards math and reading.

Most teachers believe it is state tests that are driving the curriculum down this path, saying that the “testing regimen has penetrated school culture and caused vast changes in day-to-day teaching”, says the research.

“America’s teachers have spoken clearly in this survey,” Munson said.

“Our increased focus on only math and reading is coming at the expense of other academic subjects.  Narrowing is happening throughout the grades but the problem is acute in the elementary grades, with 81 percent of teachers reporting narrowing. It is unbelievable to think that we’re denying even our youngest students the benefits, and excitement, of learning science, social studies, the arts, music, and foreign languages.”

The research was funded by the Ford Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers.