Not that long ago, elementary schools were places where students could discover what they were good at, explore the subjects that appealed to them, or maybe just be content with enjoying school.

But for many elementary school teachers who joined the profession during the last decade, and especially those who work in high-poverty schools, classrooms that provide vigorous learning opportunities to all students never existed—thanks, in large part, to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Today, more than a decade later, the law is uniformly blamed for stripping curriculum opportunities, including art, music, physical education and more, and imposing a brutal testing regime that has forced educators to focus their time and energy on preparing for tests in a narrow range of subjects:  namely, English/language arts and math.  For students in low-income communities, the impact has been devastating.

“Shouldn’t these early grades be a time to discover, play, and explore?” asks Los Angeles art teacher Ginger Rose Fox. “We talk all the time about making our kids ‘college and career ready’—even at such a young age. Let’s make them ‘life ready’ first. But I guess that doesn’t fit into our testing obsession.”

Like countless educators across the U.S., Fox has witnessed the way critical subjects have been crowded out of schools or even eliminated entirely by the lethal one-two punch of deep budget cuts and the singular focus on improving reading and math. In Los Angeles alone, one-third of the 345 arts teachers were given pink slips between 2008 and 2012 and arts programs for elementary students dwindled to practically zero.

The good news is that money has begun to trickle back in—to California, at least. But slowly improving state budgets can only go so far. Breaking the nation’s fever over high stakes testing is a steeper challenge.

Across the nation, the testing obsession has nudged aside visual arts, music, physical education, social studies, and science, not to mention world languages, financial literacy, and that old standby, penmanship. Our schools, once vigorous and dynamic centers for learning, have been reduced to mere test prep factories, where teachers and students act out a script written by someone who has never visited their classroom and where “achievement” means nothing more than scoring well on a bubble test.

“NCLB has corrupted what it means to teach and what it means to learn,” explains NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Teachers have to teach in secret and hope they don’t get into trouble for teaching to the Whole Child instead of teaching to the test.”

In July, NEA launched a national campaign to bring an end to the testing obsession around the country, and to move real student-centered learning back to the forefront of public schools.

“It’s our job to bring back the arts and Social Studies and world languages and whatever it is our students need to leave behind the corrupting, unconscionable testing culture of blame and punish by test scores and move forward with an education that opens their minds to the infinite possibilities of their lives,” García says.

The One-Size-Fits-All Agenda

In a 2011 national survey, two-thirds of teachers said many academic subjects had been crowded out by an increased focus on math and language arts. About half said art and music were being marginalized, while 40 percent said the same for foreign languages; 36 percent for social studies; and 27 percent for science. The results were particularly striking at the elementary level, where 81 percent of teachers reported that extra time devoted to math or language arts meant less time for other subjects. Over 60 percent of middle school teachers and 54 percent of high school teachers reported the same in their schools.

The culprit? More than 90 percent of teachers blamed state tests in math and language arts.

“I’ve seen students reduced to tears from these tests,” says Tom McLaughlin, a drama teacher in Council Bluffs, Iowa. “We’re robbing our students of the joy and adventure of learning.”

Music education has suffered during the NCLB era.

Music education has suffered during the NCLB era.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When NCLB was implemented more than a decade ago, its promoters trumpeted promises about raising accountability and providing adequate resources to lower income students in struggling schools. But the law, with its sweeping mandates for standardized English and math tests in grades 4-8 and its crushing consequences for schools that fail to make “adequate yearly progress,” merely created a toxic culture of “teaching to the test” in order to raise test scores. It wasn’t long after its passage that a narrow, scripted curriculum blanketed schools coast to coast.

High-poverty schools across the nation have been forced to narrow the curriculum much more drastically than wealthier schools—with worse consequences for low-income students. While their more affluent peers may routinely visit museums or other cultural resources, many poor urban and rural students rely on their teachers to expose them to the kind of background knowledge that is essential to subject mastery. “It has been a disaster for social justice,” wrote E.D. Hirsch, a University of Virginia education professor who has championed the link between content knowledge and reading comprehension skills, in his book The Knowledge Deficit.

Richard Milner

Richard Milner

But the architects of these test-driven policies do think they are addressing equity—and that’s frightening, says Richard Milner, a professor of education and director of urban education at the University of Pittsburgh

“We should be appalled. It’s tremendously short-sighted,” says Milner. “They think they are being responsive to kids who are underserved. But they’re clearly not looking at the lasting damage they are inflicting.”

While opposition to NCLB and testing has strengthened over the past few years, Milner has been underwhelmed by the level of outrage, believing that the devastating impact of these policies on students of color in low-income communities hasn’t been given the national attention it deserves.

“It’s really sad when you walk into these classrooms in these urban communities because these kids sit all day,“ Milner adds. “We’re taking away all the things about school they could attach themselves to—physical education, arts, history. All because some adult in some office, somewhere far away, has determined that they don’t need any of that in order to ‘achieve.’”

Integrating Disciplines—But at What Cost?

Thanks to the burgeoning STEM movement (science, technology, engineering and math), Brian Crosby believes science education may soon be removed from the endangered curriculum list. Crosby taught science in the Washoe County School district in Nevada for more than 30 years, recently leaving the classroom to become a STEM facilitator for the state.

“I do think there was what you might call an ‘oops’ moment,” says Crosby. “Decision-makers basically recognized that you can’t educate students, especially at-risk students, by hammering reading and math all day long. At least for science, there’s some good news. We’re getting the curriculum ‘un-narrowed’ if you will.”

Unfortunately teachers of other marginalized subjects can’t say the same.

Brian Crosby

Brian Crosby

In January, Texas lawmakers passed a bill that, among other things, cut the graduation requirement for social studies from four courses to three. The state’s social studies teachers protested, wondering aloud how they would counsel their students to choose between classes: World history or world geography? Civics or U.S. history? How do you make that choice between such valuable courses?

If it’s not outright cutting of requirements, states are commonly rewriting curriculum to more easily “integrate” sidelined subjects into core areas. Physical education becomes part of math. Art becomes part of reading. But tossing a ball with numbers on it isn’t really physical education, and writing about Van Gogh isn’t the same as developing a passion for color or practicing brush technique.

While integrating subjects can foster collaboration between colleagues, a good thing, notes drama teacher Tom McLaughlin, he warns what might be lost in the long term. “I do think integration can be dangerous if (any one subject) becomes too consumed or morphed into reading or math. We run the risk of putting these other subjects out of business.”

Social studies often falls victim to “subject integration” with reading, notes Margit McGuire, director of teacher education at Seattle University and a social studies specialist. “It doesn’t foster a very sophisticated treatment of the subject matter,” she says.

Lisa Steiner, a social studies teacher at George Fischer Middle School in Carmel New York, also has seen her subject receive less time, staff, and professional development opportunities compared to school districts’ chief priorities: math and English arts. Still, integration can work, she says. “Social studies as a discipline can reinforce core reading and writing skills. I have a background and certification as a reading specialist, so I see the close relationship between reading and writing in the content areas and it has influenced my teaching philosophy and approach.”

For many music educators, the most compelling case to be made for music in schools is its value as a stand alone subject—to bring the focus back to the benefits to students, not to their standardized tests.  In April, the National Association for Music Education (NAfMe) began challenge the assumption that music is merely a “supplement” to the core curriculum, and said the organization would no longer frame the importance of music around its potential to raise test scores.

“Every time we profess that students should have access to music so that their brains become better wired to solve math equations, we provide ammunition to the camp of ‘education experts’ who proclaim that music is an interchangeable, or, even worse, expendable, classroom experience,” explains Christopher Woodside of NAfMe’s Center for Advocacy and Public Affairs.

The Inconvenient Truth: Many Students Can’t ‘Catch Up’

While no one discounts the very real problem of students who can’t read or do basic math, defenders of the status quo often claim that glossing over science, arts and social studies is merely a fleeting elementary school experience—later to be recouped in middle and later high school.

But by then, says Rich Milner, it’s probably too late.

“Without learning opportunities, these kids can’t develop the competencies and skills that will help them transition from elementary school,” Milner says. “Kids in urban areas are in most need of a well-rounded education and yet they are the ones who have had it stripped from their classrooms—and they don’t have other avenues available to them that students in suburban communities have to at least partly supplant what is missing in schools.”

Brian Crosby recalls shaking his head in disbelief when he would hear school discussions asserting that it wouldn’t matter in the long run if certain subjects for at-risk elementary students were suspended so they could focus on reading and math.

“The assumption was, you could catch the students up in middle school because by then they would have a science teacher,” Crosby explains. “But they couldn’t just catch up. And by the time they got to high school many of these students were so far behind they were put into remedial classes. And people would wonder why kids were dropping out of school.”

What kind of citizens are these practices creating? Margit McGuire believes that continually pushing aside U.S. History or Civics robs low-income students of the opportunity to tell their stories and become invested in democracy.

“We marginalize our students when we don’t allow them to bring their own lived experiences into the classroom,” says McGuire. “Maybe we’ll get their test score up, but at what cost? We need to help young people, particularly children from impoverished backgrounds, understand or value our democracy and their role in society. That’s why we have public education.”

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  • I don’t know what else anyone could have predicted from NCLB — the demon love child of an unholy marriage between Bush II and Ted Kennedy. Anyone with a basic understanding of economics or psychology understood at the time that if you create incentives for reading and math and not for other subjects it will not be long before all that is taught is math and reading. Worse, in spite of overwhelming NEA support in the elections, Obama has doubled down on the testing regime. But the Democrats don’t have to listen to the NEA because they know that no matter what they do, the NEA will their worst candidate over any Republican.

    This is what comes of the NEA’s strategic miscalculation in putting all its eggs in the Democrat bucket. If anyone wants any change, NEA support has to be open for bidding in every election. Make candidates work for NEA support, or face — at best — a non-endorsement.

  • Janel Mumme

    I agree with John R. NEA needs to stop giving a blanket endorsement to every democrat. And why are you not blasting Obama for his testing push.

  • Justin R

    My class is giving up days in the double digits so that my students can devote time to taking tests created by people who profit from giving them, are not tied to their experiences, and graded by computers. These testing days are taking the place of fun, reflective, and creative learning opportunities.

  • K Marie

    I agree, I support the idea of looking at Non-Democrat candidates.

  • Lisa H

    I am so glad to see this article appear in your publication!
    Having started my teaching career in South Texas, under Governor Bush, I saw first hand how the testing system hurt my students. I chose not to vote for Bush for those reasons.
    President Obama too has a narrow view of the problems with NCLB and it is important to start endorsing candidates that will stand up for children and make change. I am all for holding teachers accountable, but this isn’t working.
    In the meantime, I am opting my three daughters out of all state testing (contact your school testing coordinator) and letting others know it’s an option. My husband (who is also a teacher) and I watch with horror what is happening to children today and are amazed much like Mr. Milner at how quiet everyone is.
    Talk to your State Representatives, vote for candidates that will listen and make changes to help our children, and refuse to allow your child to be subjected to such cruelty.

  • Virginia M.

    Former Senator Ann Richards said it best, “No child’s behind left.”

  • Marcus Colgrove

    I do not believe that the NEA should be selling our support as a whole to any candidate, Republican or Democrat. Any crooked politician will say whatever they want to get that kind of financial support. I have been an NEA member for ten years and I am a registered independent and I do not believe that any of the money that I give to my union should be used to solicit any party. The more that the NEA decides to give, the less I am willing to be a part of the organization.

  • Daniel A. Morse, Ph.D.

    I agree with many of the responses in that NCLB began, and Common Core continues this very narrow focus on experiences and curriculum. Indeed in my science classes, incoming students have a very low experience level and an even lower ability to use inferential and synthetic thinking. NGSS (Science standards) are just recycling old ideas that didn’t work well in the 1990’s. STEM money seems to be encumbered in a lot of administration. Most of us old timers have not seen a dime to support our classes and labs in years. What is curious in all the discussions is the role that the publishers played in implementing and supporting all this just to create more problems and revenue to solve them. As with all politics, look to the lobbyists and contributions.

  • As a Family & Consumer Science teacher, it frustrates me that FCS is not even mentioned in the article as well as not even acknowledged by many as worthy anymore. I find it hard to state that we need to teach our students to be ‘life ready’ while not acknowledging FCS. FCS teachers are teaching students to be ‘life ready’ in the few districts that still offer it. Budgeting and banking skills, healthy meal planning and preparation, stress management, communication and interviewing skills, career exploration, conflict resolution, and social and emotional maturity is what we teach to get students ‘life ready’. Unfortunately, most students don’t receive the FCS curriculum anymore and many don’t acknowledge it as a loss.

  • Nancy

    Not only is assessment the norm, so is constant documentation. What happened to directed, experiential learning?

  • Melissa

    I’m also a Family and Consumer Sciences teacher. Our curriculum is starting regain momentum as people are recognizing its worth. Problem is, so many cuts were made that we lost several teachers and teacher preparation programs. We are facing shortages in several states, and in some cases programs cease to exist when people retire. It’s happening in other CTE areas as well. These subjects help so many students find their ways in life and career. Kids won’t have options anymore if this continues.

  • This article really hit home in my classroom. I teach Kindergarten and it is expected for me to spend 1 hour per day teaching math skills while literacy and language arts take up to 2-3 hours per class day. I teach in a full day program and that is a blessing, but I feel I am loosing a difficult battle for 5 year olds. Many students have never been in a structured program before and now they are expected to become strong readers with mastered math skills (no longer just introduced concepts) before they leave my classroom after 9 months. Is 5 the end of childhood creativity and imagination? Children no longer have the opportunity to grow as individuals with unique talents, but are required to be math and language arts experts before learning to tie their own shoes.

    • Joy

      and honestly you don’t think this is going on in other countries? We’re acting like kids aren’t capable of learning at a young age…. Do we want kids playing with dinosaurs for 2 hours a day at school or learning how to survive in this world… When my son is 17 things are going to be A LOT different in the job market than it is today…. It’s YOUR job as the teacher to make those subjects be creative. Who says you can’t do art/math in the same subject…. Learning is FUN, not some get in, hold on, and shut up ride…. YOU are what makes the subjects fun. AT what point does a concept need to become an actual ability… How many families know how to budget money, do basic grocery shopping that’s MATH people… take your kids on a trip to the grocery store and figure out price per lb etc… I wouldn’t want my kids spending their entire time in elementary school learning about “concepts” while the foreign countries are surpassing our kids ten fold and they CARE about it. Kids need solid learning foundation. Usually the “concepts” kick in around high school college when you have more room to story board. Honestly our whole education system of kids need to be kids and then time for serious learning needs to be reversed. Adults who have fun learning in a more open concept work environment do a lot better, and kids with structure and focus do a lot better.

  • Bob Foley

    In Massachusetts we now have DDM’s. Another joke of testing that will become part of our evaluation system. Superintendents, administrators, teachers have all rolled over and resolved themselves to this useless state mandated testing scheme. This is in addition to Bill Gates money making Parcc (?) standardized tests. More money for Microsoft.

    The evaluator (by state regulation) has subjective authority to rate students’ progress High, Moderate or Low (based on the DDM)and then use that result to evaluate the teacher. No accounting for anything but test scores.

    The teacher writes the tests, evaluates the tests, and reports the results to the evaluator. But if the results are bad: bad evaluation. I can’t see any flaws in this waste of time!

    Education associations need to stop blanket endorsement of Democrats and support candidates who have some common sense. The US education system is on the brink of total and wasteful breakdown. Taxpayers will tolerate only very little more of the waste of their money.

  • paul durham

    Curriculum? What curriculum. At one time most every STATE wrote the curriculum and the scope and sequence. Now..NOTHING.
    They say, follow common core. I say ok: how, when, where, with what?
    And in my state, they basically say, see what other states are doing…
    NOW we know where all the “LAZY” kids ended up.

  • Deborah

    I really agree with the FACS teachers’ earlier comments. Students can learn so many life skills from these classes that they will use their whole life. Parenting skills is one that comes to mind in this time. I have taught for 37 years in this field and still hear comments from former students who say how valuable the skills are that they learned in FACS classes.

  • Elizabeth

    How sad, how very sad it is in the educational field. This is especially true
    in Florida where we Civic teachers must spend one full day (5 classes) each week overseeing a computer based READING PLUS program without any content pertinent to the study of government. In addition, several weeks of fall and winter diagnostic testing along with an Civics EOC not to mention the state testing in April. All I can say is that it adds up to approximately 9 weeks of lost instruction. And we want our students to be broad minded?

  • Sonja Little

    When people say that the NEA has endorsed a candidate, we forget that the NEA is supporting the candidate that their members have chosen. Teachers from all over the country choose to support or not support a candidate at PIE conventions (or whatever NEA calls them in your state). So if you are a NEA member, and you want to have a voice in who NEA supports, get involved. NEA is a democratic organization. As for the article, it states exactly what so many of us have seen over the last decade. We clearly are not getting the message to our law makers if they are still so clueless. E-mail your representatives today.

  • WL

    State testing is responsible for loss of curriculum? This seems like a false cause fallacy. Just because they’re both happening doesn’t mean one is causing the other. In reality, shouldn’t more testing increase the curriculum a teacher has to teach? The testing is really only one grade out of high school anyway. I hate standardized tests and don’t believe they show much about a student, but the real thing that’s killing my curriculum is mandated collaboration in what they call common assessment and common learning teams or professional learning communities. All you need is a few older teachers who like doing it the way they’ve done it for decades with scantrons and arbitrary test questions and you’re hands are tied.

  • I sure hope this misguided loyalty endorsement conversation gains much more momentum. I seriously have a problem with paying union dues to support any political party even though our interest is the quality of public education as educators, I think we should really move to change the way our union dollars are spent (and that immediately). Both parties work for this problematic system and we need to hear the candidate that has a solution that we know from our “foot solider” experience is tried and true.

  • Monica Knuppe

    You do know that we have given up on the NCLB and are now on to the Smarter Balance testing…… which is no longer fill in a bubble, but a test to make your blood run cold.

    We are now doing progress monitoring or testing of some children once a week….. really? At the last inservice, I asked the teachers around me, “so what did you learn about the student that you didn’t already know?” “not a damn thing!” was the answer.

  • C. Staples

    I have similar experiences as Bob Foley with state mandated, teacher written and controlled tests tied to teacher effectiveness ratings. In Hawaii, beginning this year, our pay is related to our rating. We are being asked to write Student Learning Outcomes, or SLO’s, to document student learning. This ridiculous waste of time requires us to write a detailed learning goal, describe our teaching strategies, create the formative and summative assessments, create all related rubrics, and then create 3 readiness tests, document student scores, estimate in written form where students will be at the end of our testing period, and re-document with 3 more ending data points. We also have to meet 1 on 1 with an administrator to approve of our SLO, have a midterm evaluation, and an end of term evaluation.This is time-consuming, but how valid are the results when the test creator is also the test administrator, test scorer, results recorder, but most importantly, determines where we THINK a student’s achievement will fall within the rubric? The time I spend on this is directly taken away from the time I would have dedicated to creating engaging, active lessons for my students!

  • Fishn teach

    I am a male fourth grade science, social studies, spelling and handwriting teacher. I teach with two other teachers. One teaches math and one teaches ELA. My students used to get 2 1/2 hours of science a week. I was forced to give up 80 additional minutes of my instructional time so the students
    Can be on a supplemental ELA Computer program. I am forced to squeeze all of my subjects into a 1 1/2 hour block every day. Now, my students get about 1 1/2 hour of science per week and 6 1/2 -7 hours of ELA and math per week. On a daily basis I am told without being told that, basically, what I teach doesn’t really matter. VERY FRUSTRATING!!!!

    • Joy

      So why not give them extra science homework, and go on science field trips? give them more science books to READ (2 subjects with one stone). I think our teachers/staff need to be creative at finding how to make this all work. And it’s important to give the state/feds FEEDBACK on what’s working and what’s not. I can tell you as a 30 year old mother that I would’ve LOVED to see more hand on/real world life skills that ACTUALLY related to jobs. Not ONE social studies thing I did in school related to anything in the job field… History/current events more so. If we’re not teaching according to our job marke and what interests the students as well then we’re lost… there’s SOO many jobs out there that aren’t even talked about in schools…. In elementary they ask “what do you wanna be when you grow up?” and the answer is usually, dr, nurse, policeman, fireman….. Not entrepreneur, media arts, hair dresser, business owner. We really need to TALK about the options, the money you NEED to make a living etc…. What good is teaching science if you don’t talk about the jobs/money etc in the field!

      • Patrick

        Give them extra science homework? That is not instruction.

        Go on science field trips? With what time and money?
        I have to purchase tissue and soap for my classroom out of pocket, I have purchased gloves for students because they had none … where on earth would funding for field trips come from?
        Part of the issue mentioned above was about TIME. Even with the money, where would the time for the field trips come from?

      • Patrick

        Oh, and the article, if you didn’t notice, is about curriculum becoming scripted. The point is that teachers are not able to “be creative” as our profession becomes scripted for us.

  • Marie

    All of our professional development focuses on data…analyzing, creating, inputting. We make goals revolving around data. We receive a schedule created by the administration that reduces writing down to 25 minutes and science or social studies to 30 minutes. When asked, does the district even care about writing or social studies and science? The answer is no. Obviously. Our class sizes are 30+ and the demands are higher not only academically, but also the emotional needs of many kids. We never talk about real practices that we could learn to become better at this job. I feel that the spirit of the job is disappearing and my level of burnout is rapidly increasing. As a 20 year veteran teacher, I am figuring a way out of this madness.

  • Hillary

    Why aren’t there more school counselors? Mental health issues in this country have skyrocketed, yet the number of school counselors available to support and advocate for students and teachers has drastically diminished. As students are increasingly pushed to become robotic, over-stimulated testing drones, they are losing worthwhile opportunities to connect with adults who can help motivate them, teach them self-regulation strategies or just be there to listen. School counselors can also help ease the stress of overburdened teachers by targeting the more challenging students and providing interventions. Addressing the emotional needs of children is equally as important as addressing their academic needs. Metaphorically speaking, it’s hard to fill a cup with water when there are holes in the cup.

  • Steven M.

    Well! My how our teachers around the country feel that this article was nothing more than an attack on political allegiance to some erroneous party. In reading this article, I did not draw the conclusion that the republicans are to blame for our current state of education. I also did not see any finger pointing to the democrats indifference to the position of the educator. I did, however, see an outcry for the support of our children’s learning. Our finger pointing game is nothing more than just that, a game. I think we can all agree that the current status of U.S. education is nothing less than an embarrassment. The real question; how do we remedy this issue? Having seen the effects of this excessive testing first-hand, I can safely say that we are on the wrong path. So instead of falling into the trap set for us by the politicians, wherein we continue to present arguments that do nothing more than implicate the system as the reason for our failure. Perhaps we should rally together behind a belief in our future generations and utilize the thoroughfares established by our forefathers to bring about real change for the well being of our children. If we fail at this, then those politicians have truly won. They will have succeeded in breeding the most compliant generation lacking any individuality or intelligent thought. Ere go our political system will cease to function as was intended and we will have one of the most foul and corrupt dictatorships ever witnessed in our worlds history. Many may think this to be an incomprehensible and absurd perspective, but it is, nevertheless, a possibility. Don’t let petty bickering and the participation in the blame game get in the way if what is truly important. The kids are important. Their futures are important. If you never cared about them, you were never an educator anyway. Thus you have no reason to listen to these words. Normally, I would respond to such an article. In this case however, the article is nothing more than a catalyst. The responses to the article are what concern me most.

  • I believe some teachers are waking up and seeing that they need to be leaders in their fields of expertise.As a veteran teacher of forty years in K-3 I have seen some amazing gains in education. However, currently the trend is SO NOT child-centered based on highly motivating curriculum so that students are motivated to set personal goals and be responsible for their learning.This is key!

    The No Child Left Behind Act, Core Curriculum, and big business have all contributed to the devastation of our American education system. I believe that we should create THINK TANKS with highly regarded professional teachers who have recently been in classrooms and/ or are from classrooms from across the USA. In talking with many teachers the system is broken and corrupted by those not really interested in educating all students to their highest potential. I’d love to work in one of these THINK TANKS! How about you?

  • Gina Spencer

    Why do we look to political or union personnel for solutions. We are the experts in the field. We need to take back our educational system, convene and make recommendations of what is best for the students We supported this NCLB by not challenging it along the way or any other idea that has been implimented. We need to look at who is making these decisions at our union and tell the politians locally in our state and federally what we believe will work for us. We just seem to keep our noses to the grindstone and moan about it . Follow the money.

  • LD

    American educators bought into the hyperbole of federal regulation NOT because it made sense or would deliver meaningful improvement to the classroom. They baited to federal funding that improved their own status as educators, enriched them with certifications and raises for job security and lofted the era of the God-like teacher that could “will” one’s most prolific failure to academic preeminence with the wave of a white board marker. Federal “guidelines” assured parents their children were being educated by the most certified teachers in the field (have you ever visited a psych ward?) and promoted this magic show with SST dream teams, TEACHER celebrations and awards and union protection that would transform the likes of Richard Allen Davis into a successful junior high school teacher! Authentic core will ALWAYS be the founders but not in THIS Twilight Zone universe of the federally funded classroom. It’s got nothing to do with an achievement deficit. It the CIVICS, stupid! When you don’t teach government, classical literature and critical thinking, you get dumb, and I mean REALLY dumb “products”, and to keep people in the loop of dumbness you need equally dumb albeit highly certificated educators. Go USA education #1!

  • Teachers need to assess children to set the next learning step/s. It should be done more often with challenging students, yet we shouldn’t use the same tests to evaluate every student since people learn in different ways. I don’t believe that the same test will show what every student knows. Teaching and Assessment should be geared to individual learning styles. That has been researched thoroughly.

    I feel the NEA should use its membership to enhance learning and teaching not only for students BUT for its professionals.

  • Barb Stewart

    I teach Special Needs Preschool/ Visually Impaired children and my focus has changed as the expectations of kindergarten have gone through the roof. In previous years concepts were introduced in a fun way, and the child’s IEP ( Individualized Education Plan) drove instruction. Now it seems the IEP has taken a back seat to all the other requirements that are enforced by the state and federal standards. Who is thinking about the children? Most adults can not sit for an hour of instruction even if it’s interesting, but it is expected of our youngest students with little oppurtunity for movement during the school day. I feel sorry for our children who have to take muliple tests and we teachers who have to adhere to ridiculous standards. Our current education system is hindering creativity, on all fronts. There needs to be a massive change where teaching to the whole child is critical, complete with real-life experiences.

  • William Petrics

    As a HS Soc. Studies teacher for 18 years, I have noticed a continuing loss of Soc. Studies skills & content coming into the 9th grade. So much time is spent on PLPs, AGPs, PLCs, and some other new acronym that new teachers become so confused that they either quit or retreat into their classroom & try to hide. Most HS teachers teach because they love their dicipline & they want to share that enthusiasm. Too often Admin & the professionals who guide them lose sight of this important fact. One administrator once told me he was disappointed when a new teacher told him she wanted to teach, because she loves science. The Admin said that should not be her first priority, it should be her love of teaching; but the administrator missed the point, the two are forever joined and one is never more important than the other.

  • Nancy B.

    what a great article! Unfortunately, it is so true.. My district cut out science and social studies in the elementary grades (unless we are reading a story in the anthology about a topic). Reading, writing, and math. They talk about the importance of the kids having background information to understand what they read, but with no science or ss, the kids are not getting it. We are told that when they finally learn to read, they will read about science and social studies on their own..(not) What they don’t realize that the reading sections on the state test are all non-fiction topics. ones where they actually need to know about the content curriculum! Oh, and spelling is out.. Why? Well, if they read enough, they will learn to spell. I was so frustrated, that I finally retired!

  • MoriahP

    As so many people have discussed, we can finger point on past presidents, politicians, think tanks, money hungry people (most of America) on this issue of sucking the curriculum out of schools. But here’s the reality- If we as a country want to compare our education system to that of other countries, we have to compare apples to apples. That being said, countries around the world look to the United States at what our education system used to be like- developing the whole child and educating them in the direction they want to pursue. Maybe in 2014 in order to help children have a more focused education, we need more charter schools. I know many scoff at that idea, but we can’t have it all. Either we compare ourselves to others, or we go back to what we Americans are good at- promoting independent thinkers, dreamers, and doers. We need to let our leaders know that the direction of education is going down the way George Orwell in “1984” and Aldous Huxley in “A Brave New World” thought it might- with computers doing everything for us and our minds turning to mush. Our culture and society needs to change- have a positive change- in our education system here in America. But as for now, no one from either party has spoken up with a good or plausible solution.

  • I want to thank the NEA and Tim Walker for this article. I do want to expand on some to the quotations that were credited to me as I’m not certain they capture the entire message I hoped to send as a leader in the Arts Education Caucus.

    The comments from my NEA Arts Education Caucus (formerly the NEA Fine Arts Caucus) colleague Ginger Fox capture what is sadly true all over the country because of our nation’s obsession with tests that hardly capture some of the most important skills that are taught and cannot be tested in the arts: persistence, curiosity, courage, leadership, creativity, civic-mindedness, resourcefulness, self-discipline, sense-of-wonder, big-picture thinking, compassion, reliability, motivation, humor, empathy, sense of beauty, humility and resilience.

    Daniel Pink, Sir Kenneth Robinson, Robert Root-Bernstein and many others point out that the valuable transferable skills taught in the ARTS must be valued for the development of the entire child, for the passion that they capture in each of us and in order to make us globally competitive.

    We in the Arts Education Caucus value Arts Integration and the idea behind movements such as STEAM, STEAMi, STEM+A, STREAMS, STREAMS, etc. and believe that inclusion of the Arts increases student learning and achievement. The Kennedy’s Center definition seems to capture best practices in Arts integration.

    Having said that, we have become increasingly cautious of those who believe that Arts Integration is enough Arts Education for our nation’s students. Each of our disciplines: art, music, drama, dance, media arts has our own discrete and valuable curriculum. Unfortunately, there are many in our “test obsessed” society, culture and bureaucracy who would abuse this to eliminate “stand-alone” education in each of our very valuable disciplines for America’s students.

    We should look to measure and assess our student’s learning in more authentic (and yes, more expensive ways) that is driven by practitioners and not by policy-makers. We must also safeguard the arts for our students.

    Creativity is the new literacy and we must develop multiple paths to develop these difficult and immeasurable skills in our nation’s children.

    Please look forward to hearing more from us on the official launch of the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS)cornerstone assessment pilots.

    Thanks again to NEA and Tim Walker for his great work, hats off to our dear friend Anita Merina of the NEA and thanks to all of you who support the work of the NEA Arts Education Caucus in your daily work, with your membership and your leadership.

  • EAT

    I agree with anyone who knows that testing is out of hand, and that the arts have suffered. In addition, social studies and science have been given a beat down, as well. I am an SLP. (not a “speech teacher”), which is what I am called, and I am forced to “pull” my kids from fine arts. The kids don’t like it, I don’t like it, but that’s what I am told to do. Sucks.

  • Marian Eighe

    My district (a middle class Detroit metro suburb) has been chipping away at the music program for years. We used to have 5th grade instrumental music; now we start in 6th, for one example. Recently the staff has been given a new task: to teach “design/ tech” integrated into our music classroom, at the expense of our regular instrumental music curriculum.

    In order to qualify for International Baccalaureate (IB) certification, students must get 50 hours of design/tech per year. All the kids not in band, choir, or orchestra get it as a stand-alone class, going there every other day (alternating with art or a world language). But as music is a full-year class, our options were a) integrate it or b) we make music an alternating class as well–one day on, one day off, effectively lopping in half a music program that the district likes to tout in their pamphlets and advertisements.

    Moreover, the music teachers are asked to teach it, with minimal training in design/ tech, and with no class size relief. This is a problem, as class size minimums for music courses are routinely far more than regular classrooms. On top of this, no computer lab is large enough for our 45-to-80-student sized classes. But without class size relief, how do we teach them all at the same time?

    At the most recent training, the IB instructor in charge of instrumental music explained that, because the IB program is modeled on the European class setup, performance-based classes are not part of the equation–in Europe, such classes are all extra-curricular. To expect us to fit our square peg performance classes into the round hole of IB is to invite disaster, especially with the lack of support from Administration. Quite possibly, this could spell the end of a stellar instrumental music program as we know it, and it looks like Admin is just fine with that. Such thoughtlessness is infuriating, and ends up looking like intentional sabotage. I sincerely hope it is not, but the gnawing suspicion grows with each new hurdle thrown our way.

  • Marian Eighe

    To piggyback on what LD, above said: I have noticed that when a phrase gets codified, made official with capital letters, it becomes meaningless. (Consider the Apple Geniuses as opposed to actual geniuses.) The reason I bring this up is because of the new categorization “Highly Qualified.”

    In my district there was a teacher who was hired in back in the eighties, and her primary certification was Spanish, I believe it was, with a minor (not a certification, mind you) in Special Ed. Now, at some point she shifted over to SpEd full time (as I recall there was a sudden and desperate need, and she was the closest thing they had at the time), and discovered that she was really good at it and focused her time and attention on that. Years later, when the concept of being HQ came down the pipeline, it was determined that she should teach Spanish, a subject she hadn’t touched in easily over a decade (possibly close to two) because on paper she was not Highly Qualified to be in the SpEd classroom–despite the fact that, due to years of teaching it, she was obviously highly qualified for the position. Within two years she had retired.

    This kind of thing drives me batty. The experience in the classroom, not to mention the expertise of those in the trenches, should be given some consideration in such cases. This sort of top-down pronouncement generally leads to solutions that make the higher-ups feel better about having “done something,” but rarely leads to any outcomes that genuinely help the students get a better education.

  • Dan Brady

    As a local treasurer for our teacher’s association, I can state that no dues money is used to endorse a candidate at any level. All polical action money must come from non-dues funds. I also feel that professional development, including professional learning communities, only has value if performed correctly. Too often I have seen poorly planned and poorly executed PD activities; at the same time, some PD’s have affected my educational views dramatically. As a science teacher at a high school, I cannot claim to completely understand the viewpoints of the art, music, elementary and other teachers, but I agree that those subjects have value. I also would like to point out that I was certificated by the same state that is now questioning my abilities in the classroom. Every teacher acheives certification after passing a standardized test; if lawmakers are questioning the abilities of teachers in the classroom, maybe standardized testing doesn’t do a good job of evaluating a teacher’s abilities. If so, will applying a similar process in the classroom to evaluate student growth to judge a teacher’s abilities solve the problem that began with such testing?

  • Jeffery Hines

    I used to have a principal who would often say…”We should spend more time feeding this kids and less time weighing them.” This is a concern every teacher must have in the current assessment driven climate. Our goal should be that student graduate with knowledge and not statistical measures of a disassociated performance on standardized tests.

  • Trina

    Hello fellow colleages and friends, personally working in the public school have experienced already testing before 3 weeks of learning. Again, students come from all walks of life. Some may get exposed to learing during summer vacation but definitely not all. Have some consideration of this legislators/law makers. Teachers don’t even know all their students names yet nor if they are suppose to be in the class due to living arrangements they have no control over(students). Think as a whole for the learning of how children who will one day have to take care of you or your love one.

  • I was happy to see the comment on interdisciplinary teaching, incorporating the arts as well as the relationships between core subjects like English, Math, Science, and Social Studies. I taught as the English/social studies teacher on a two-teacher team with a science/math teacher for several years in “the last century.” We used simulations, like “The Middle Ages” from Interact of California, and created our own. We used owl pellets to simulate archaeological digs, used natural materials to draw on paper bags and simulate cave paintings after “Cave Man Day in the Park.” While we did a unit on TV in English class, in science they produced a school newscast which happened after a field trip to Channel 4 in Washington, D.C. In an earlier do-it-yourself-simulation on a Middle Ages theme, we produced a play, “Twelve Bright Trumpets,” and class groups representing manors had the students create a manor out of cardboard etc., we learned to dance to “The Earl of Salisbury’s Pavane, designed heraldry, etc. and ended with a “banquet.” The brain retains memories by association with original concepts, and students brains really had a storehouse of information to “network” for that theme. Using curriculum content to produce various products, writings, and creatve projects assures better retention. Brain research has shown this. MTL

  • Consuela

    I agree with Hillary: more mental health services are needed in schools. As a social worker and educator in the field of special education, I have seen that children may not receive the services of a school social worker, counselor, or psychologist until they are identified as students requiring special education services. Many children, not just those identified as needing special education, come to school with a variety of life circumstances that make it difficult for them to access the curriculum. In order for students to be prepared to learn, educators and other school professionals need to address the whole child. It’s also important to remember that many of the programs that have been “nudged aside” teach valuable life skills. What about relationship building, conflict resolution, self-regulation, empathy, and problem solving?

  • Sharon

    Having had time allowed this week for a fun time on a field trip with my Kinders, I took time to go through The CCCS checklist and discovered just how many standards can be addresses when children are given opportunities for fun. The KRA given to kindergarten students takes so much time! It may give some important data but most of it is a waste for me as a teacher. This is followed by more testing. How does administration really believe that the time to teach rules and routines needed at the beginning of the school year gets the time it deserves? The most appalling thing I have heard recently is that the testing nightmare is now going to preschool (3-5 year olds). When is a child allowed time for play? I don’t see how this testing regime is improving education in our country!

  • I miss being in the classroom and teaching. I began in 1978 when teachers were allowed to teach curriculum, motor skills, and the joy of learning. I was able to stay out of the profession when I began having children. When I returned to teaching, it was a shock in finding out what had been eliminated in the regular classroom. My children went through advanced programs from 3rd grade to 12th where they were given the total curriculum. rnrnI recently retired because I missed teaching to the student and not the test. All you have to do is look around at the “workers” and see the disastrous results of this whole system. Penmanship is horrendous, grammar is abused by many who are “well-educated”, comprehension of material and directions needs further one on one explanations, and the ability for college students to write is a major complaint of their professors. rnrnWhen will America wake-up? Have we already “stupefied” the USA?

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  • Belle


    Brilliant anti-Common Core Speech by Dr. Duke Pesta … by Sara Noble • June 1, 2014. Dr Duke Pesta. This really is a brilliant speech and it’s all you need to …

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  • Joy

    I think it really depends… I was in 3rd grade and we had an Asian student that was WAY smarter than any of us in the class, and they have free time in Asian countries. Their families actually CARE more, and If we’re going to keep up in America and compete globally our kids need to be doing more than playing an exploring. There’s recess, there’s sports, there’s summer time and after school to be doing all of that. Kids absorb MUCH more information at a younger age. Teaching a kid a foreign language vs an adult and the kid will catch on quicker. I definitely think that there needs to be “some” standardization because ALL kids deserve an EQUAL education. That said there should always be time for extra curricular activities and more JOBS need to relate to what’s taught in schools and vice versa… Kids need to be prepared for the economy and they are our future leaders, entrpreneuers and i we lead them to think they should spend their pre-teen years screwing around and playing all day then they’re going to have it really hard when they get older… It’s called work-school/life balance.

  • Kelly Cakes

    “Teachers have to teach in secret and hope they don’t get into trouble for teaching to the Whole Child instead of teaching to the test.” This is absolutely true. My district spent tens of thousands of dollars a highly marketed (and laughably substandard) writing curriculum (here’s a hint — Lucy) that completely cut grammar from language arts instruction. We were told to stop teaching grammar unless it appeared in our script (which it did, three deeply buried mini-lessons for the whole year). I shut the door and secretly taught grammar. Soon thereafter, the principal boxed up the grammar books and shipped them to the warehouse. Busted. I gave up and changed professions this year. Here’s the awful part — the teachers without degrees (or proficiency) in English are still in those classrooms reading the scripts.