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    News > In the Headlines

    Editorial: Too much time spent on math, reading?


    Daily Herald

    A new national survey concludes what anyone might have expected: Educators are devoting more time to reading and math instruction and less time to other subjects since federal law now demands greater accountability for student achievement in reading and math.
    More specifically, as the Daily Herald's Tara Malone reported Wednesday, the Center for Education Policy found that elementary schools nationwide have increased, on average, weekly reading instruction time by 141 minutes per week and math instruction by 87 minutes.

    Because few schools have significantly lengthened either their school days or years, this necessarily means that teachers are spending less time elsewhere, whether that's in science, social studies, foreign language, music, art or physical education.

    The results, though predictable, do raise the question of whether the intense focus on reading and math at the expense of other subjects is a positive trend, negative or neutral.

    Because reading proficiency is so fundamental to success in any other academic area, it's hard to argue that increased time spent making sure that all children learn to read is time poorly spent.

    What the Center for Education Policy's survey does not show - and what's germane to the conversation - is whether student achievement in other subjects has declined in correlation. That may be harder to ascertain if only because most states do not test as often in those subjects. Illinois, for instance, will this year give standardized reading and math exams at eight grade levels, science exams at four grade levels and writing at five. Illinois no longer includes social studies in its battery of standardized tests.

    Most schools have tackled the challenge of giving enough attention to all subjects by combining lessons, weaving together math and science or structuring social studies lessons with specific reading components. This common-sense approach probably would benefit students even if schools weren't under increased pressure from the federal No Child Left Behind Act to meet an aggressive timetable to boost reading and math achievement for all students.

    Still, if further investigation shows that science or social studies or even foreign language achievement is suffering because of the reading-and-math emphasis, then educators will need to carefully identify and weigh their options. After all, science education is increasingly vital in a world that relies so heavily on scientific exploration to answer a staggering host of challenges. As for social studies, an understanding of U.S. and world history and of our individual rights and responsibilities in a democratic society is as essential today as it's ever been.

    Extending this discussion far enough might well lead to the argument that the education of American students really could benefit from either longer school days or longer school years - or both.

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