Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, Medford, MA: Despite public belief to the contrary, schools are not shifting away from teaching social studies, liberal arts, and sciences directly because of the pressures of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), according to a new study released by Tisch College’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University. In fact, at the middle and high school levels, curricula have remained constant and in some cases expanded since the federal law was passed in 2001.
CIRCLE analyzed five major federal datasets looking at the how curricula and relevant extracurricular activities have changed at the elementary, middle and high school levels from 1987 to 2005. Funded by the Ford Foundation, the full report is entitled Narrower at the Base: The American Curriculum After NCLB. Click to read the full study in PDF format.
In grades one through five, the curriculum has narrowed over the last ten years, with more time devoted to reading and math and less to science, arts, and social studies. These declines, however, began in the 1990s before the passage of NCLB. The trends are the same in private and public schools and in schools with majorities of white and minority students.
It would also be expected that new teachers would be influenced by current expectations and pressures to emphasize English and math, whereas veteran teachers would more likely maintain teaching priorities from their early days in education. The study found the reverse is true, with newer teachers providing a broader curriculum.
Even though the k-12 curriculum has not narrowed consistently, and even though NCLB is not mainly responsible for the narrowing that has occurred, the curricula may still be too narrow to prepare young people for citizenship. Extracurricular activities such as music, drama, student journalism, and student government, are also too rare.
Suggested citation: Levine, P., Lopez, M.H., and Marcelo, K.B. 2008. Getting Narrower at the Base: The American Curriculum after NCLB. CIRCLE (The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement) , via http://civicyouth.org/?p=325
Download the press release.