Saturday, March 25, 2006

So Shortsighted

Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math - and note that it's not just k-3, when it might be justified in order to provide a solid skills foundation (although, honestly, I think even in the early grades, kids ought to at least read about science and social studies topics).
"Narrowing the curriculum has clearly become a nationwide pattern," said Jack Jennings, the president of the center, which is based in Washington.

At Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School in Sacramento, about 150 of the school's 885 students spend five of their six class periods on math, reading and gym, leaving only one 55-minute period for all other subjects.

About 125 of the school's lowest-performing students are barred from taking anything except math, reading and gym, a measure that Samuel Harris, a former lieutenant colonel in the Army who is the school's principal, said was draconian but necessary. "When you look at a kid and you know he can't read, that's a tough call you've got to make," Mr. Harris said.


Dr. Julia Rankin spoke briefly at the SCONYC conference. She said the city and state were starting to pay more attention to science, Carmen Farina talks about it all the time, resources have been allocated to improve science.... the examples she gave, which she said we ought to celebrate, were that we now have the money to put one set of science trade books (probably 4-6 books on one topic) into every k-8 classroom library, and that money was being made available to buy equipment for some k-8 schools. I appreciate that in reality these are improvements and probably do deserve celebration, but it makes me kind of sad because science books and basic equipment seem to me to be such a minimum, essential resource, not an exceptional opportunity or special gift or milestone.


Blogger Chaz said...

Welcome to the real world of New York City education where most of the resources go to the reading and math programs so that the students can show progress in the increasingly dumbed down tests.

Test prep, test prep, test prep. Who has time for George Washington (who?), evolution (what?), and our nation's capital (where?).

Is it any wonder my students can't graph, know what's the difference between a dependent and independent variable, or understand a hyothesis.

8:21 PM  
Anonymous KDeRosa said...

Is it any wonder my students can't graph, know what's the difference between a dependent and independent variable, or understand a hyothesis.

How exactly are they supposed to do these advanced things when they can't read fluently or do basic math which even the dumbed down tests keep showing?

Cart. Horse. Which goes in front?

9:37 PM  
Blogger no_slappz said...


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8:54 AM  
Blogger Chaz said...


A good education is a complete education. That includes science, social studies, art, and music. If you want well-educated adults, they first must be well-educated children.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Miss Malarkey said...

Narrowing the curriculum is not the answer- these reading tests are heavy on content-related reading passages, and the students need prior knowledge in these content areas in order to make meaning.

And let's face it- a kid who gets three periods a day of reading will begin to hate reading.

In my school, the science and ss teachers complain that the kids can't read the texts, but they are unwilling to try using the TONS of trade books that the kids could read, and they don't try to teach the kids the basic reading strategies I showed them. It's frustrating.

10:27 AM  
Blogger John said...

This really ranks true at my school. Because of the limited science curriculum, I have 195 kids who I only see 3 times a week... I do my best, but I wish I at least saw them every day like I did when I had science in middle and high school.

12:18 PM  
Blogger The Rain said...

And let's face it- a kid who gets three periods a day of reading will begin to hate reading.

That doesn't have to be true. As a first grade teacher I teach reading for at least 2 hours a day, and the kids do fine. If you keep the lessons engaging, if you vary the teaching style and the setting, if you work with different forms of literature--it can work.

4:24 PM  
Blogger ms. frizzle said...

I absolutely agree that kids who are struggling with basic skills may need more time on those areas, and that will result in hard choices. But the fact that it's big news that classroom libraries will now include a few science trade books suggests that opportunities are being lost to at least expose kids to science and history in the context of reading and writing. Furthermore, while making the lessons engaging helps, I can't imagine what it would be like to be a struggling reading/math student who spend six hours a day working on their areas of weakness, and virtually no time on other areas which might be of interest or provide opportunities for success. Kids need a reason to read or do math, and sometimes an interesting exploration in science, math, art, or music can be that hook. Finally, many of us who teach subjects other than math & reading do our best to reinforce the skills the kids need in those core areas. What if, instead of cutting our subjects, the schools helped us do an even better job of integrating math & reading into our subject areas?

Ask yourself: if your OWN child struggled in math or reading, would you send him/her to a school where those were the ONLY subjects s/he studied?

5:41 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Two things:

1) The dilema of how do we fit everything kids need into the school day yields an easy fix: Lengthen the school day, and pay teachers proportionately more (at my school it is 16-20%) for their work. Make it optional, or make it required but allow teachers to opt out and go elsewhere, but do it.

Many charter schools have demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach, and while they are not the answer in any way, some of their approaches, implemented across a broad spectrum, are. We're not talking about 12 hour days either; add 100 minutes or so: enough time to add into the reading/math and still hit content areas, and for those on grade-level, the return of the fleeting elective.

2) I hate to suggest more testing, but we need more exit exams, not fewer. We need one in 1st grade to determine if kids have those essential foundational skills; one in 4th-5th grade to see if they can actually read to learn new information, as well as have proficiency in mathematical operations and general number sense; and we need one in 8th grade to determine if kids can write to express knowledge of a subject, and grasp pre-algebraic concepts. Coupled with these exams, we need better intervention programs, and a better understanding of exactly what knowledge gaps lead to the massive falling-behindness. Where are the levers that, once pushed, allow for the closing of gaps.

I hate to dump, but in my corner of the achievement gap world, elementary schools are doing a not-good job of intervening academically once kids start failing. They do not target instruction effectively, they do not utilize intervention time effectively, and they are too tentative in retaining kids who aren't getting it done. I teach 7th grade reading/L.A./ELD and I start every year with vowels and consonants. Do you know how hard it is to get from there to on-grade-level standards?

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Mary said...

Is most reading on reading tests fiction or nonfiction? If it is nonfiction, then why not teach reading using science and social studies content?

It is more important for students to understand and to be able to think critically about the world around them.

10:17 AM  
Blogger the anonymous teacher said...

I agree with Ms. Frizzle. Why not use students' interests in other subjects as an opportunity to hook them on reading. Help teachers in other subjects to engage students with reading and writing activities.
They've started implementing something similar to this at my school...because students are having problems with basic grammar, mechanics and spelling skills, science, math, social studies and art teachers now require substantial writing assignments, and they are to not only grade students on content, but also on their writing skills. This seems to be helping students with these basics, and they get to do it in a subject they are more familiar with.
It also helps to reinforce what we english teachers have been telling them for years. It's nice to be backed up by other departments instead of the sole responsibility being on my shoulders. I figure in my study of literary periods, I teach some history, so why can't the history teacher help me out with a little English?

6:14 PM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

A good education is a complete education. That includes science, social studies, art, and music. If you want well-educated adults, they first must be well-educated children.

You aren't completely educated if you can't do basic math and know how to read. And those that can't read or do basic math tend not to learn much of the other things you list either. The sad reality is that under your complete education scheme, kids don't learn much of anything.

9:16 PM  
Anonymous KDeRosa said...

You only need about 3 hours a day to teach even the low performers how to read and do basic math if you are teaching them effectively. Of course, most schools don't know how to teach these basic skills efficiently. So you wind up with various shortcut strategies like teaching to the test and teaching only reading and math all day long. I bet the students in these schools don't perform any better than when they used to teach less.

There really should be no need to cut the other subject out, even though those subjects are less importnat until kids no how to read, write and do math proficiently.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Jenny D. said...

Ms. F, how are things?

This analysis assumes that all teachers are spending the same time on reading and math, and then suddenly are forced to increase. Our analysis shows that the difference in the time spent teaching reading and math varies wildly from school to school, class to class.

11:02 PM  
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1:48 AM  

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