This national survey of 1,001 3rd-to-12th grade public school teachers is an attempt to gather data about teacher behavior and classroom practice. The survey asked teachers to provide detailed reporting on what they see happening in their classrooms and schools: How are they spending class time? How does state testing affect what they do? Which subjects get more attention and which get less?
Now is a particularly good time to check in with teachers. For more than two decades, the nation has been implementing local, state, and federal standards and assessment policies in an attempt to make schools, districts, and states more accountable for student performance, and policymakers’ interest in these types of reform has grown over time. It is important to know the impact of reform on the content of what students are taught. Considerable anecdotal evidence exists to suggest that current policies have had a dramatic impact on what doe —and does not—get taught in today’s classrooms. This survey attempts to put some numbers to those trends.
According to most teachers, schools are narrowing curriculum, shifting instructional time and resources toward math and language arts and away from subjects such as art, music, foreign language, and social studies.
All students appear to be affected—not just those who are struggling.
These findings suggest that curriculum narrowing is more prevalent in elementary schools.
Most of the teachers surveyed believe that state tests in math and language arts drive curriculum narrowing. They say that the testing regimen has penetrated school culture and caused vast changes in day-to-day teaching.
According to teachers, the seemingly singular focus on math and language arts at the expense of other subjects has led to other outcomes:
The nonpartisan Farkas Duffett Research Group (FDR Group) conducted this research at the request of Common Core, and the FDR Group is solely responsible for the interpretation and analysis of these survey findings.
Each of the nations that consistently outrank the United States on the PISA exam provides their students with a comprehensive, content-rich education in the liberal arts and sciences. These nations differ greatly with regard to how they accomplish this goal. Some have a national curriculum and standards but no tests, others have both, and some leave everything up to the states. Interestingly, no state-based nation in our sample currently has a national curriculum or standards, though one is attempting to develop some.
So what is the common ingredient across these varied nations? It is not a delivery mechanism or an accountability system that these high-performing nations share: it is a dedication to educating their children deeply in a wide range of subjects.
Our report lists the subjects each nation requires in compulsory education. But it is the raw material—the excerpts from national curricula, standards, and assessments—that conveys the richness of education in these nations:
We believe more research should be conducted into the relationship between content and achievement. This research should be done now because if what this report suggests is true—that a comprehensive, content-rich curriculum is the key to high achievement—than we have a lot of work to do here in the United States.
In recent years, America has increasingly embraced education policies and practices that have made our children’s education narrower and more basic. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is part of the cause of this, but is by no means the only culprit. NCLB’s intense focus on reading and math skills has dumbed down the curriculum, but so have trends such as the 21st century skills movement, which promote the teaching of skills such as media savvy and entrepreneurship disconnected from content of any significance.
We must join our desire to compete with other nations with a willingness to learn from them. Common Core hopes that the materials assembled here will encourage that desire to learn.
Continued in the Complete Report.
Senator Joseph McCarthy investigated people who protested the war in Vietnam, better known as the Second World War. Fortunately, that war was over before Christopher Columbus sailed to America; otherwise, we might have never experienced the Renaissance.
A new survey of 17-year-olds reveals that, to many, the paragraph above sounds only slightly strange. Almost 20 percent of 1,200 respondents to a national telephone survey do not know who our enemy was in World War II, and more than a quarter think Columbus sailed after 1750. Half do not know whom Sen. McCarthy investigated or what the Renaissance was.
It is easy to make light of such ignorance. In reality, however, a deep lack of knowledge is neither humorous nor trivial. What we know helps to determine how successful we are likely to be in life and how many career paths we can choose from. It also affects our contribution as democratic citizens.
Unfortunately, too many young Americans do not possess the kind of basic knowledge they need. When asked fundamental questions about U.S. history and culture, they score a D and exhibit stunning knowledge gaps:
There are parents all over America for whom this is no surprise. They know that the focus of their child’s school day is increasingly on preparing for basic skills tests, not on learning history or geography, reading literature, or participating in the arts. And their child’s teacher often shares in their frustration.
Another concern the survey identifies is a consistent gap—the size of a letter-grade—between respondents who have at least one college-educated parent and those who do not. This is devastating for students who come from homes where the discussion of literature and history is rare because if the school doesn't impart this knowledge, these students are not likely ever to learn it. The burden on schools serving less-privileged students is great because they must somehow teach more just to get their students to the starting line. This survey shows that that challenge is not being adequately met.
When students graduate without knowing what Brown v. Board of Education decided or who told them to “ask not what your country can do for you,” they are being left behind in the worst way. Everyone’s children deserve to receive a comprehensive, content-rich education in the liberal arts and sciences. Of course they must be able to read and compute. But they must also possess real knowledge about important things, knowledge of civics, biology, geography, art history, languages—the full range of subjects that comprise a complete education. Any reform idea that diminishes the ability of schools and teachers to provide students with such an education is narrowing children’s futures, not expanding them.
Continued in the Complete Report.
February 20 • In this Education Week webinar Lynne Munson talks about how the arts can play a powerful role in CCSS implementation. To register for the archived webinar, sign in here. Or view Lynne’s PowerPoint where she unveils high school-level TDQs comparing two works of art.
February 11 • This morning on Rick Hess’s Straight Up blog is a “thoughtful conversation” he had with Student Achievement Partners Founding Member Jason Zimba on CCSS, math in particular. Lynne Munson commented on the interview, and her views also can be read in today’s Common Core blog
December 17 • Check out Education Week’s article “Arts Education Seen as Common-Core Partner.” Education Week
July 18 • Common Core has announced that the New York State Department of Education has awarded the organization a third contract to develop 6th-12th grade mathematics curriculum and corresponding professional development aligned to New York State’s Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS). News release.
May 7 • Common Core receives glowing reviews for professional development offered in Beaufort County, NC. Read the full story in the Washington Daily News.
April 25 • Common Core’s Lynne Munson comments on the pressures of high stakes testing and the effect it can have on student learning in Roberta Munoz’s article “Make it of Break it: High Stakes Testing Pros and Cons” on Education.com
April 4 • Common Core has announced that the New York State Department of Education has awarded it two contracts to develop
Pre-Kindergarten-5th grade mathematics curriculum aligned to NY State’s Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS). News release.
April 3 • Common Core Creating Math Maps for New York State. News release.
March 27 • Common Core has announced that it is developing a series of CCSS-aligned K-8 curriculum maps in history and geography. News release.
March 21 • Check out Education Week’s coverage of Common Core’s “Truant From Schools: History, Science, and Art” event!
March 15 • Common Core releases data showing curriculum narrowing affecting all students.
March 9 • Common Core celebrates Virginia’s decision to abandon SB185, a bill that would have eliminated state mandated science and social studies testing for third graders. You can read more about this issue, and Common Core’s advocacy work, in this recent blog entry.
December 8 • Check out Education Week’s coverage of Common Core’s recent national survey of school teachers.