According to the Times story, a survey by the Center on Education Policy found that since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002, 71 percent of the nation's 15,000 school districts had reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music, and other subjects to open up more time for reading and math. The center is an independent group that has made a thorough study of the new act and has published a detailed yearly report on the implementation of the law in dozens of districts. "Narrowing the curriculum has clearly become a nationwide pattern," said Jack Jennings, the president of the center, which is based in Washington.
The survey (coming out later this week) looks at 299 school districts in 50 states. It was conducted as part of a four-year study of No Child Left Behind and appears to be the most systematic effort to track the law's footprints through the classroom.
The historian David McCullough told a Senate Committee last June that because of the law, "history is being put on the back burner or taken off the stove altogether in many or most schools, in favor of math and reading."
For more and more children, the exposure to social studies --- the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, how the government runs, how laws are passed, US and world history, etc. -- has been eliminated. The sociopolitical implications of poor black and Hispanic children not learning about the Civil Rights movement, not learning about women's suffrage, not learning about the US Civil War, and not learning about any historical or contemporary instance of civil disobedience is more than just chilling. It smacks of an Orwellian attempt not merely to rewrite history, but to get rid of it.
Please note: I do not mean to imply that this is a deliberate effort on the part of those who crafted the legislation and all those who currently support it. Bush, et al, are not that smart. But the unintended consequences of NCLB are as follows:
- more and more students are dropping out of school
- those that do not drop out are pushed out by school administrators looking to get rid of students that will dampen test scores
- drop-outs and push-outs alike will have little chance of getting good jobs, so they will enter the workforce and take whatever jobs they can find in the service economy, jobs that do not carry health insurance or any kind of protections against being fired or laid off
- those that remain in school will graduate with the most basic literacy and numeracy skills possible and will have had no exposure to critical thinking and analysis of any kind
Thus, as one of its major unintended consequences, NCLB creates a huge pool of very cheap labor. Those with high school diplomas will be able to enter slightly higher-paying jobs, as they will have the basic literacy and numeracy skills necessary. But because they will have been exposed to nothing but the basics, often in school systems characterized by extraordinarily rigid discipline that reward students for doing as they are told (Edison, KIPP, etc.), these high school graduates will likely function as docile cogs in a larger corporate machine. And, not having been exposed to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Gandhi, to Malcolm X, to Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Susan B. Anthony, they will have little reason to question their fate. And little sense of any other possibility.
As horrible as this news is, we need to use it to press for substantive reforms. This could be a turning point for those of us who support social and economic justice as it applies to public education.