You can’t even make this stuff up. The Dallas Morning News reports that teachers at Field Elementary School in Dallas have been fabricating social studies, science, music, art, and physical education grades for students. Was it because students were doing poorly in those subjects? No. It was because Field’s principal simply would not allow teachers to teach those subjects.
According to Field teachers they had to give students phony grades because the principal required them to spend all of their instructional time on math and reading. A third grade science and math teacher told investigators his request to teach science for 10 minutes twice a week and social studies for 10 minutes once a week was denied. Field’s principal told the teacher that students would “pick up” science knowledge though math lessons on creating and interpreting graphs. According to a school counselor: “I do not know of science being taught in 3rd or 4th grade, and I am unaware of social studies being taught at all.”
Many Field Elementary students also missed out on art, physical education, and music classes because they were pulled out of these “specials” for extra tutoring in math and reading. A music teacher reported giving students all a grade of 95 because after the first six weeks of school she “never got to see them in music again.” In one affidavit a math instructional coach reported “90 percent of third graders did not attend specials because of TAKS [Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills] tutoring.”
Field has earned the state’s highest school rating–“exemplary”—the last two years. That judgment is based significantly on students’ performance on state reading and math tests, of course.
So, is what happened at Field a singular, potentially criminally extreme example of educational negligence? Perhaps. But the pressure that spurred Field’s principal is felt by public educators nationwide. And this is far from the first time we’ve seen folks buckle under that pressure and do the wrong thing. We’re reminded of the well-documented cheating scandals in DC and Atlanta.
Pressure can be an effective source of motivation. It can also be used as an excuse to do the wrong thing—and to get others to go along. As we begin to implement the CCSS and the new assessments to come we need to keep these stories in mind. With its emphasis on informational text, academic vocabulary, and research, the CCSS in ELA provides an opportunity to fight curriculum narrowing, not an excuse to give in to it. Social studies, science, and the arts are among a wide array of core subjects that can be taught in powerful ways via the new standards. They should also continue to be taught in their own right, in part because no student will become a strong reader, writer, or researcher without the key knowledge those subjects impart. No one should make the mistake Field did—and many other schools are likely doing in less dramatic ways–and set these subjects aside.