However, I don't buy this argument for two reasons:
- short-changing these kids and depriving them of an experience that nurtures and develops their minds and bodies, as well as their creativity and passions, is not acceptable
- there is no evidence that short-term increases in test scores is indicative of any deep or long-term learning
Here's another way to look at it.
Imagine that a bunch of affluent kids and a bunch of low-income kids are training for a decathlon. The affluent kids eat a healthy variety of foods, get plenty of sleep and rest, and engage in a broad array of exercises and activities as part of their training regimen. The low-income kids focus on doing deep knee bends only. They don't eat healthy foods, and they don't get the amount of sleep and rest the affluent kids get.
Now, don't get me wrong. Deep knee bends are great. And they certainly help develop and strengthen leg muscles. But they don't do much for cardiovascular stamina, nor do they do anything for arm, back, and chest muscles.
Having a strong cardiovascular system as well as strong arm, back and chest muscles are crucial to ensuring success in a decathlon competition. Strong leg muscles are not enough.
So which group of kids is more likely to do well in the decathlon? The answer is obvious.
But now apply the analogy to the test-centric curriculum that low-income minorities are subject to. Loading up on academically-oriented tasks and discrete skill acquisition are the equivalent of doing deep knee bends. Eating well, resting, playing, and doing a broad series of exercises is the equivalent of a curriculum that exposes kids to art, music, drama, dance, and recess. The decathlon competition is the equivalent of life.
So which group of kids is more likely to do well in the decathlon of life? Unfortunately, for folks like Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama, the answer is not obvious.
Let me give you a glimpse at what this looks like here in Portland, OR.
At Rosa Parks Elementary, Kindergartners have 3 “specials”: drama, PE, and library. They are all 30 minutes each.
But wait: here’s the ringer — they are all offered back-to-back on Wednesdays. So for an hour and a half, the kids go from one to the other.
Then, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, they do nothing but the academic curriculum. No art, no music, no PE, no library, no nuthin’ for 4 out of 5 days.
They have a single lunch/recess period that lasts about 40 minutes. The kids eat lunch first and then go to recess. The teacher I spoke to estimated that recess was about 20 to 25 minutes long, depending on when the kids finish lunch. School starts at 8:30 and goes until 2:45. So that means for those 4 out of 5 days, they have 25 minutes to be goofy and run around and be little kids in a span of 6 hours. The rest is all business.
91% of the kids there are eligible for free and reduced lunches. The school is right smack dab in the heart of a new public housing project.
Meanwhile, in a highly-affluent part of Portland called the West Hills, Kindergartners at Ainsworth Elementary School have three (3) recess periods per day: morning recess, lunch/recess, and afternoon recess. Kids get PE, music, art and singing once a week each. They get 30 minutes for PE and music and an hour for art. Singing happens every Friday. They are also taken to the library once a week.
5.9% (five point nine per cent) of the kids at Ainsworth are eligible for free and reduced lunch.
Rosa Parks is rated as a “satisfactory” school by the state. Ainsworth is given an “exceptional” rating.
Something stinks here.
The poor kids do deep knee bends while the rich kids sing every Friday.