All Is Well with Arts Education? Not So Fast
Do recent NAEP results showing arts education holding steady in eighth grade suggest that No Child Left Behind has not narrowed the curriculum? Not really.
Most evidence points to a decline in arts education at the elementary level, which the NAEP results don't directly address. (See, for example, the Center on Education Policy's 2008 study on the matter.)
Then there's the strong evidence of decline in other subjects. Take, for example, the results of a very recent study of foreign language instruction: The Center for Applied Linguistics found that share of public elementary schools offering foreign language has dropped by almost 40% over the last decade. This, despite the raft of research pointing to benefits of staring early with language instruction. NCLB supporters who trumpeted the NAEP results have been quite silent about that study.
And then there are the concerns about subjects like social studies and civics. The Center on Education Policy report shows even larger elementary school declines in social studies than in the arts. Their findings from 2008 support my own findings in a 2004 study of curricular erosion: The largest drops occurred in elementary school--particularly in schools serving mostly students of color. High schools, by contrast, saw an increase in instructional time for social studies.
The NAEP results do raise questions about the reach of elementary arts education, given that 8th-graders' performance on the arts assessment hasn't fallen despite likely erosion in the earlier grades.
And all the research I've cited raises questions about how schools use instructional time. Should we condemn public elementary schools for increasing time for reading and mathematics, especially in schools where students struggle with basic skills? Do we have to lock reading and other critical subjects in a zero-sum game? Can we successfully integrate literacy and numeracy in other subject areas? Are there effective alternative assessment and accountability systems that minimize the risk of curricular erosion?
So the danger of curricular narrowing still gives us much work to do. We certainly shouldn't use the slender evidence offered by the NAEP results as justification for ignoring the problem.
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