Thursday, August 09, 2007

Less Time for Science (and Other Subjects)

A recent report confirms what most of us already know, the accountability provisions in No Child Left Behind have led schools to decrease the amount of time they spend on non-tested subjects. The Center on Education Policy found that elementary schools decreased time spent on science an average of 75 minutes per week. That time is being reallocated to math and literacy, the core subjects that are assessed by states.

An article by Jay Mathews in the Washington Post presents both sides of this issue rather effectively. It seems to come down to:
1) If you can't read or do math, you won't be able to handle the other subjects.
2) If you only learn reading and math out of context, then you can't handle the richer vocabulary, higher-order concepts, etc.

With the new test in science arriving, schools are going to have to make more hard choices. The CEP report clearly shows that schools are unlikely to extend the day - only 9% have done so, and then only an average of 18 minutes. This leaves a few options:
- Integrate science and other subjects into literacy and math, and vice versa. Learning should be done in context whenever possible.
- Utilize after-school and out-of-school time programs to build student interest in science, art, music, and other subjects to improve their all-around engagement in school.
- Obtain a national supply of Hermione Granger's time-turners so students can take several classes at the same time!

Unless someone has a lead on the third option, I suggest we really get to work on the first two. Accountability and assessment are important, and reading and math are critically important. So, if we want our youth to find engagement in subjects that are critical to being productive adults, we are going to need more time and better ways to include those subjects in the learning day.

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