We’re not quite sure what to think of a new study out today from CIRCLE, the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement. CIRCLE is in part to blame for our confusion because their study is full of mixed messages. It is titled “Narrowing at the Base: The American Curriculum after NCLB.” So it sounds like they found that NCLB has narrowed the curriculum. But then the executive summary declares: “NCLB is not mainly responsible for the narrowing trend in elementary school” and “we dissent from the theory that NCLB has directly caused a narrowing of the whole K-12 curriculum.” Well…okay.
Incoherence aside, we do agree with CIRCLE that the narrowing trend predates NCLB. It has its roots in the anti-core trends of the 60s, the back-to-basics reaction to the anti-core movement, and the push for STEM. So, yes, it is a problem with a complicated history.
But there is good reason to think that NCLB has only made matters worse. When Brown University education professor Martin West looked closely at data on what gets taught from the Dept of Ed’s Schools and Staffing Survey he found that, after NCLB was enacted, elementary school teachers spent 40 minutes more each week on reading and less time on other core subjects including history and science. You can read West’s paper here: http://www.commoncore.org/liberalarts.php.
We plan to delve deeply into CIRCLE’s research that found a 10-year narrowing trend in the curriculum in grades one through five. And we applaud their concluding summary statement: “Narrowing is a trend that deserves public attention as NCLB reauthorization is debated.” But we don’t understand why an organization so adamantly committed to the idea that NCLB has not narrowed the curriculum would urge us all to use the law’s reauthorization to debate the matter. Alas, our confusion remains…