A new report confirms complaints that a lot of teachers and school districts have voiced about the federal No Child Left Behind law - that the focus on reading and math doesn't leave enough time for other subjects, such as social studies, art and music. It's a dilemma that didn't originate with NCLB but has been exacerbated by it. The best solution is to recognize, as Maryland does, that exposure to a variety of subjects is what constitutes a well-rounded education.
According to the Center on Education Policy, more than 60 percent of school districts have increased instruction time in elementary schools for either or both English language arts and math since 2001-2002, just before NCLB was enacted - and 44 percent have done so at the expense of other subjects. Time spent on reading and math in many districts has been bumped up by about 150 minutes per week, while time for social studies, science, art and music, physical education and other subjects has decreased by one-third on average.
There's no question that reading and math are fundamental to understanding and mastering other subjects. And NCLB's insistence that all students become proficient in reading and math by 2014, coupled with its rigorous accountability standards, have forced districts to make sure that all students get the basics and more. But additional measures of progress and broader areas of assessment ought to be included as Congress considers reauthorization of NCLB.
At the same time, states and school districts can still try to strike a better balance. Maryland's recommended state curriculum outlines specific expectations for what students should know in areas such as social studies, science and fine arts, as well as reading and math.
In Baltimore, four schools are participating in a pilot project - funded by the Ford Foundation with the aim of creating national models - that integrates the arts into different parts of the curriculum. And despite persistent budget pressures, every Baltimore school has at least one fine arts teacher. School officials would like to expand art course offerings; that's a healthy recognition that being well-educated goes beyond reading and counting.