Monday, March 27, 2006

Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math

I don't like the idea of mostly low-income minority kids not having art, etc., but when 60% of African-American 4th graders in this country (ALL of them, not just low-income ones) can't read a simple children's book, we have a national crisis on our hands.  Desperate times require desperate measures, and nothing is more important than being able to read and do basic math.
Things like this are one of the reasons why I like No Child Left Behind -- it creates a crisis mentality when none existed before.
The real solutions are to upgrade the quality of the schools and teachers, so kids don't fall so far behind and, barring that, to have an extended school day and year for kids who are behind -- that way, they'll get the extra time for math and reading, but don't have to cut out other subjects.  But alas, the adults in our school system won't like that, so the kids will continue to get screwed...

At King Junior High, in a poor neighborhood in Sacramento a few miles from a decommissioned Air Force base, the intensive reading and math classes have raised test scores for several years running. That has helped Larry Buchanan, the superintendent of the Grant Joint Union High School District, which oversees the school, to be selected by an administrators' group as California's 2005 superintendent of the year.

But in spite of the progress, the school's scores on California state exams, used for compliance with the federal law, are increasing not nearly fast enough to allow the school to keep up with the rising test benchmarks. On the math exams administered last spring, for instance, 17.4 percent of students scored at the proficient level or above, and on the reading exams, only 14.9 percent.

With scores still so low, Mr. Harris, the school's principal, and Mr. Buchanan said they had little alternative but to continue remedial instruction for the lower-achieving among the school's nearly 900 students.

Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math
Published: March 26, 2006

SACRAMENTO — Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

Schools from Vermont to California are increasing — in some cases tripling — the class time that low-proficiency students spend on reading and math, mainly because the federal law, signed in 2002, requires annual exams only in those subjects and punishes schools that fall short of rising benchmarks.

The changes appear to principally affect schools and students who test below grade level.

The intense focus on the two basic skills is a sea change in American instructional practice, with many schools that once offered rich curriculums now systematically trimming courses like social studies, science and art. A nationwide survey by a nonpartisan group that is to be made public on March 28 indicates that the practice, known as narrowing the curriculum, has become standard procedure in many communities.

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