CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

The k-12 Curriculum in the Era of NCLB

December 8th, 2008
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December 2008

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.

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123 Responses to “The k-12 Curriculum in the Era of NCLB”

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  12. Muskelaufbau Says:

    It’s a bitter truth that students are not much interested in learning social studies,but we mustn’t forget the importance of it because it relates us to our surroundings as well as it reminds us about our past. I did read this blog and it was very interesting. I liked the second part the most.

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    I never experienced anything like that when I’m at school. And until I graduated, I also never heard about anything like that. I think that’s really fatal.

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    Totally agree with you that in the middle and high school levels, curricula have remained constant and in some cases expanded since the federal law was passed.And is a shame that schools are moving from teaching social studies, humanities and sciences.

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  18. Cuddy cabin boats Says:

    Although the K-12 curriculum has not been reduced steadily, and although the NCLB law is not primarily responsible for the declines that have occurred, the curriculum may still be too narrow to prepare young people for citizenship . Extracurricular activities such as music, theater, journalism student and student government are also rare.

  19. Speed Reading Software Says:

    It seems like everyone in my family is a teacher. I think that reading and math serve much more of a real life purpose, instead of social studies. Especially in the younger kids. Having a better understanding of it will help much more in life, than “wasting” their time learning the less important classes.

  20. Lyss @ off topic chat Says:

    I agree with Speed Reading. Maths and English are essential. So many lessons we were taught in education were pointless and to be honest, not needed.

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    Maybe the most influential paper that I have read this month?!

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  22. Peter Levine: Why we need civic education « Education News Colorado Opinion & Commentary Says:

    […] of time devoted to social studies has remained pretty constant in grades K-8. In high school, the number of credits earned in social studies is substantially up. The mix of courses has changed, however, with “civics” and problem-oriented or […]

  23. Walter Says:

    Today the kids have to much to learn in a too short time.
    More focus on the basics would be really better.