Earlier this summer, I attended a launch event for Learn Together Live Together, a D.C.-based coalition that promotes racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity in schools. The event featured a conversation with John King, CEO of The Education Trust and a former U.S. Secretary of Education. King spoke on many of the issues affecting poor children and children of color in our education system — they’re more likely to attend segregated schools, where students score below proficient on standardized tests in math and reading and which receive less per-pupil funding. But King made another surprising comment about these students: they’re also less likely to attend “well-rounded schools.”
What is a well-rounded school? The National Center on Time and Learning describes well-rounded schools as ones that provide students with opportunities to engage in “critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork,” and that include “arts, music, and other enrichments in their curriculum.” These enrichments can include classes like physical education, drama, or debate, as well as hands-on versions of science and more in-depth social studies and civics classes than are offered in many schools. The instructional time being spent on these subjects is declining nationwide and King is right: students of color are less likely to be in schools that offer these opportunities.
I’ve seen this decline first-hand, teaching both urban and rural public school districts that serve predominantly children of color. At one school, there was no science or social studies time on my administrator-provided schedule, only a block for teaching “informational text.” There was one art teacher for 500 students, and it was impossible to fit every class on her schedule each year. At another school I had a 20-minute block on my schedule in which to teach science, social studies, and P.E. There were no art, music, or other enrichment teachers at all.
Those who make curriculum decisions often choose to prioritize reading and math instruction with good intentions. They might believe they’re doing right by their students, ensuring that they have the necessary grade-level reading and math skills they’ll need to be successful. They might also believe they’re doing right by their schools: as instruction time in “tested” subjects increases, increased test scores will follow, bringing more students, funds, and opportunities to their schools.
But there are three big reasons why increasing the instructional time spent on the arts, science, and social studies might help accomplish these same goals: Continue reading