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Center on Education Policy: NCLB Narrows the Curriculum (February, 2008)

Last summer, the Center on Education Policy's groundbreaking study  (PDF news release, 43Kb, 2 pages ) on the use of instructional time in elementary schools documented our members' concern that NCLB was narrowing the curriculum.

A key finding from that study: 44 percent of school districts reported cutting time from one or more subjects or activities at the elementary level-social studies, science, art and music, physical education, lunch and/or recess--to devote more time to reading and math.

Now CEP has taken a closer look at the magnitude of those changes in instructional time in elementary schools since NCLB took effect in 2002. According to the new report, Instructional Time in Elementary Schools: A Closer Look at Changes for Specific Subjects,  (PDF, news release, 126Kb, 2 pages ) districts increasing time for English language arts and math had done so by an average of 43 percent, or about three hours each week.

To make room for the added time for English and math, districts reducing time in other areas averaged cuts of about 32 percent across those subjects, nearly 2.5 hours each week. Some of the districts reduced their time in one subject, while other districts decreased instructional time in several areas.

"We knew that many school districts had made shifts in the time spent teaching different subjects since the No Child Left Behind was enacted, but we had little evidence of the magnitude of these changes within those districts," said Jack Jennings, CEP president. "Digging deeper into the data, we now know that the amount of time spent teaching reading, math and other subjects has changed substantially. In other words, changes in curriculum are not only widespread but also deep."