Speed MathThis little tidbit was shared by Dave LaMorte, on Google Reader.  The Center on Education Policy has published a new report (February 2008) about instructional time devoted to English language arts (ELA) and math after NCLB, and instructional time given up (sacrificed) by the other subject areas.  The publication’s web page describes the report as examining…

…the magnitude of changes in instructional time in elementary schools in the years since NCLB took effect in 2002, and is a follow up report to Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era that was issued by CEP in July 2007.

In the full report (PDF download), Jennifer McMurrer, its author, describes in her key findings the significant shifts in instructional time toward ELA and Math (averaging 43% increase) and away from other subjects (averaging 32% decrease).  Eight of ten districts increased ELA time by at least 75 minutes per week and 54% by at least 150.  The shift toward math was less, with six of 10 reporting increases of 75 minutes and 19% of more than 150.

OK, kids have got to learn how to read and do arithmetic.  But isn’t it also important to learn about the world they are reading about, measuring, and living in.  According to Table 3 of the report, elementary schools reporting an increase in time for ELA and/or math and a decrease for one or more other subjects reported an average weekly decrease of 76 minutes (32% dcrs) for social studies, 75 minutes (33% dcrs) for science, 57 minutes (35% dcrs) in art and music, 40 minutes for physical education (35% dcrs).  They also reported 50  fewer minutes of recess (28% dcrs).

Improve reading and math skills is not the problem.  The problem is how we’re paying for it.

Image Citation:
M, Chris. “Math Homework.” Hunkdujour’s Photostream. 14 Apr 2005. 21 Feb 2008 <>.

11 thoughts on “Wow!”

  1. What’s scary is that all this extra time spent on Math and Reading isn’t having much of an effect on test scores. Maybe we need to look at how we’re teaching and not how much time we spend on each subject.

  2. so, in light of this there is a serious conversation going on in AZ regarding just this topic…

    this is a quick summary of the bill proposal…
    ARTS EDUCATION – Making it a Priority

    A number of Arizona legislators, led by State Representative Mark Anderson, are sponsoring HB2557, legislation that (currently worded) would prohibit reduction or elimination of fine arts and PE classes in the public schools in order to meet other curriculum requirements. This bill demonstrates that the legislature is willing to support a well-rounded curriculum for all Arizona children.

    will be interested in how things turn out.

  3. What’s happened to integrating topics?

    I’ve always tried to make sure that English and Mathematics are integrated into social studies and science, not to mention the arts and PE…the hours required by the NSW Department of Education and Training for each KLA is such that you can’t possibly fit it into a week of school, yet by melding these hours together and integrating the learning it is a possibility. Perhaps this is what needs to be considered more.

  4. Dave: Here’s what we are noticing as the fallout from this. I teach at a very “At Risk” K-6 school ( I teach 5th grade) with over 80% of students receiving free lunch and over 60% speaking a language other than English. We are a glowing example of this idea of “catching kids up” in language arts and math by focusing mainly on those subjects, cutting science, social studies, art, PE, etc. … “because if these kids can’t read and do math they won’t be successful later in life”… kind of thinking.

    So what has the payoff been? Now when kids reach fourth grade they can sound words out (good), they can read aloud pretty well (good), but the majority have about zero schema for anything they read to enjoy it or truly understand what they are reading because we cut the part of the curriculum that gives kids reference and meaning to what they read.

    In other words focusing on language arts and math might seem to make sense to “catch kids up”, in reality it drops them farther behind because they have such limited understanding of how and why the world works. We have students that if they read aloud to you, you will think they read well. They’re fluent, they sound out words when they need to … but ask them questions about what they read????? Uhhh … no. They don’t understand what happened or care about what happened because this is not their world. They don’t relate to it or have those experiences to connect with… reading is boring.

    These students do need more time in language and math to catch up. The way to do it is to give them more time … longer year, longer day AND A RICH CURRICULUM TO BUILD UNDERSTANDING so that reading makes sense, has meaning and IS ENJOYABLE.

    What they need is (sorry) messy learning!
    BUT, that would cost money to stretch the year and the day so…. uggg.

  5. Wow. This article really hit home. I am a middle school educator and I have seen the educational pendulum shift and shift again. When scores in science and history drop, the pendulum will swing back to include science and social studies. It did not work before, it will not work now. We need answers and we need them now rather that later. NCLB…a lofty, unreachable goal. The whole AYP thing has built in obsolescence. Sigh…

  6. I understand what some of the comments are saying, but there has to be some sort of compromise. Without a doubt the most important things a young child can learn are reading and math. The only reason I even include math is because you can’t learn that from reading. To put that statement into perspective, I’m a high school math teacher/technology director.

    Reading is the gateway to everything else. Does this mean that less time should be spent on Social Studies and Science? In my opinion…yes. 1st grade science and 2nd grade social studies can not be more important that reading. It’s not that these “other” subjects shouldn’t be included, but how.

    Why can’t these subjects be included as part of language arts? These subjects need to be used to teach reading and reading comprehension. This will give students and opportunity to learn about the world around them while concentrating on the stepping stone that is reading.

    Having a solid foundation in reading will open the door to everything else later. To sacrifice that so that they know a little about early elementary science, social studies, etc. is not a trade that should be made.

  7. As a somewhat older student studying to be an educator, I was unfamiliar with NCLB. It wasn’t around when I was in school, and my children were too young to be affected by it. When I took my first education class a little over a year ago was when I was first introduced to the term. I, like many other people, mistakenly thought it wasn’t such a bad idea, at first. It is a misconception that teaching to the test isn’t a bad thing- kids need to learn math and reading skills, right? People overlook the fact that this extra emphasis on those subjects is inevitably going to pull the focus away from other studies. Besides the extra knowledge gained from other subjects, reading and math skills are often reinforced in them. For example, math is used in science and reading is used in all subjects to some degree! We don’t need to have been taught under the NCLB Act to do the math! There are only so many hours in the school day. This additional teaching in those areas is taking time away from other, important subjects. All of this, including a decrease in recess time, for an program not even strongly supported by facts, figures, and educators!

  8. How we are paying for it is by no means mere money, but with peoples? lives. After viewing the pdf file of the report published this month, I just said “wow” too. English and Math instruction time per week rose while Social studies, Science, etc. dropped, creating a huge gap of limited instruction time between the former and the latter groups. Kids are getting cheated out of time to learn more about how the societies work (Social Studies), more about how the physical world works (Science), more about how to express themselves (Art and Music), more about how to interact and cooperate with their peers (PE), and more about how to relate and interact socially with their peers (recess). Doesn?t that already outweigh the proposed benefits? Adjusting instructional timing in current total hours of school per day to meeting NCLB?s goals per week for a few to several years can possibly make a big difference on children?s lives. Not only can this hinder the children in those cut classes to fall behind, because students may not have enough repetition to remember more basic concepts in order to further build upon those concepts, but can potentially affect secondary school teachers, possibly college professors, and potentially society itself as a whole as well.

    Those secondary teachers whom share the same classes as the elementary school teachers that have the cut in instructor time may have to spend more time catching them up to high school level, otherwise, students that go to college and have to take social studies and science classes for their gen. ed. requirements may also cause the same problem for the professors. These changes could potentially obscure, by some degree, what the children would view of themselves and the world around them as they age. Another way to look at it is how bad it is already for some people in the U.S. whom don?t know as much world (and perhaps local) geography to understand why certain places on the news are being mentioned, have certain disasters (for local people needing the right insurance), or are ever dear for governments to take notice and conduct their businesses there, affecting our social and economic lifestyles. For instance, Congo and their crisis of warfare over Coltan deposits that are used in cell phone production. Do we honestly need any more general knowledge deficiencies? Reducing instructional times for non-ELA and Math classes just to raise English and Math scores may run the risk of negatively impacting society in ways that none of us could expect to happen. For doing some deep-thought conjecture, I?m I being unrealistic about these proposed effects can pose some degree of concern for society to watch out for? If not, should schools add an extra hour or two to the school day to compensate for the classes that have been cut in instruction time until NCLB is dismantled?

  9. I couldn’t agree more with the post. I am currently a History Ed. major and am learning about the affects NCLB is having on the education system. With math and reading being the two important parts of emphasis, history tends to be taken out of the picture. I think it?s important that children be taught to use critical thinking and are able to comprehend situations and historic events. I know reading and math are important but later in life being able to understand and comprehend other subjects is just as important. NCLB needs to be fixed in order to have longer lasting effect on student?s lives.

  10. I couldn’t agree more with the post. I am currently a History Ed. major and am learning about the affects NCLB is having on the education system. With math and reading being the two important parts of emphasis, history tends to be taken out of the picture. I think it’s important that children be taught to use critical thinking and are able to comprehend situations and historic events. I know reading and math are important but later in life being able to understand and comprehend other subjects is just as important. NCLB needs to be fixed in order to have longer lasting effect on student’s lives.

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