New education secretary wants well-rounded learning

Posted April 20

In a landmark but not entirely surprising speech this week in Las Vegas, new Education Secretary John B. King called for a broadening of school curriculum beyond the narrow emphasis of reading and math.

"There is a lot of reason to believe that students are not getting the instruction in science, social studies, the arts and world languages that they need," King said, according to NBC News. "I count myself among those who worry that the balance has shifted too much away from subjects outside of math and English that can be the spark to a child's interest and excitement, are actually essential to success in reading, and are critical to a child's future.

"The simple fact is, every child in this country needs and deserves access to the subjects that go into being a well-rounded, well-educated person. Music and art; world languages; physics, chemistry and biology; social studies, civics, geography and government; physical education and health; coding and computer science — these aren’t luxuries that are just nice to have. They’re what it means to be ready for today’s world," King said, according to transcripts on the Department of Education website.

In his speech, King cited a 2005 study that showed grade school children spending fewer than 21 minutes a day on social studies, and only a little more on science.

"Often, teachers and administrators have told me, it’s because math and English language arts were focused on so intensely by some districts and schools under No Child Left Behind that other subjects were under-attended to or even ignored," King said, according to prepared remarks published by Politico. "The consequence for teachers in some places became daily choices between the well-rounded education their students needed and deserved, and too narrow a definition of accountability."

The Department of Education comes a bit late to this party, as King's predecessor Arne Duncan was a driving force in the testing-centered No Child Left Behind era. Duncan stepped down after seven years as Education Secretary earlier this year. The new law is known as the "Every Child Succeeds Act."

Standardized testing and a narrowed curriculum go hand in hand, critics have long argued, because schools tend to home in on what gets measured and divert time and resources from what does not. The passage of the new federal education law that junked NCLB was driven by a backlash against such narrowing, the Deseret News reported last year.



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