Shaping the school day

When the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, it was seen, for good or ill, as a federal intrusion into an area — elementary and secondary education — that was traditionally a local and state prerogative.

Now comes evidence that over the five years of the act it has reshaped, often in major fashion, the school day, particularly in the elementary schools.

According to a sample of the nation’s school districts by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy, 62 percent of the districts reported their grade schools spending substantially more time on reading and math, the two subjects on which the law requires annual testing between the third and eighth grades. The increases in instruction time were substantial, 46 percent for English and 37 percent for math.

In 44 percent of school districts, the stepped-up instruction came at the expense of other subjects — a 36 percent drop in time spent on social studies, 28 percent on science, 16 percent in art and music, and even cuts in lunch, recess and gym.

The law contains sanctions for schools that fail to perform on the tests and, not surprisingly, the shift in emphasis was greatest in districts where at least one school was identified as underperforming.

Whether this is good or bad seems to depend on the educator. Some say that the emphasis on reading and math at the expense of other subjects makes the school day too narrow and uninteresting, and others argue that reading and math are the indispensable foundation to studying those other subjects, particularly science and history.

Congress will thoroughly hash over these arguments when the act is reauthorized this year, but, undeniably, the federal government is now a force in local education.


  1. Steve Horn

    Odd, as a parent I’d assumed that the primary responsibility for the rearing and education of my children was mine. Actually, it’s a responsibility shared between my spouse and myself.

    I’ve yet to see anyone from the federal government helping my children at 10PM with their calculus or history homework, and I wouldn’t want “W” to assist them in their English!

    NCLB is just another governmental intrusion into our lives, another boondoggle, another way to elminiate any individuality and ensure that we can all do the same math, we can all recite the same poems and that we’re all prepared to work shit jobs and die in global wars for oil.

    I’m glad that, as a parent, I followed the example set for me and accepted the responsibility to ensure that the lives I helped to bring into this world were well enriched through education, both formal and informal. I cannot imagine how empty and useless my life would seem had I brought children into this world and then turned them over to the state for their education and rearing.

    So my children won’t be left behind, no matter what the government does or doesn’t do, because as a parent I’ve taken the responsibility required of a parent. What a sad world we live in when some abrogate that responsibility to the government.


  2. OldFart

    I have no love for any Republican especially King George, but NCLB may be the one thing he did that is good.

    Without IDEA and NCLB my daughter would not have gotten the accommodations needed in the regular school curriculum to let her learn and to develop the coping strategies for her NLD. She is now taking AP and Honers courses.