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Kill The Music (and Art and PE and…)

Anyone involved with education is well aware of the many negative ways that No Child Left Behind is affecting American education.

But the worst of these consequences (possibly unintended) is the way the all-testing-all-the-time mentality is narrowing the curriculum students are studying to just two subjects, reading and math.

Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

Schools from Vermont to California are increasing – in some cases tripling – the class time that low-proficiency students spend on reading and math, mainly because the federal law, signed in 2002, requires annual exams only in those subjects and punishes schools that fall short of rising benchmarks.

I have a lots of cynical comments I could toss in here but this very eloquent analogy says it so well.

“Only two subjects? What a sadness,” said Thomas Sobol, an education professor at Columbia Teachers College and a former New York State education commissioner. “That’s like a violin student who’s only permitted to play scales, nothing else, day after day, scales, scales, scales. They’d lose their zest for music.”

However, maybe his comparison to learning the violin doesn’t work after all. With the influence of NCLB, there’s not much music left in public schools anyway.

nclb, narrow, curriculum


  1. Steve

    Isn’t this a good thing? Shouldn’t we herald this accomplishment?

    In school districts where kids are not proficient in reading, the districts -which have been roundly criticized for being inflexible and overly beaureaucratic- are now rapidly changing their curriculum to meet the specific needs of their kids. Isn’t this a success story

    Now, kids who are not proficient at reading and math are getting the attention they need.

    If a kid cannot read, they will not end up a scientist. We need to first teach these kids to read. . . .

    I fear that this negative view of curriculum narrowing is harmful. These kids aren’t your average suburbanites with all kinds of options, these are the poorest of the poor, coming from generations of semi-literate parents. Hoping that these kids become violinists seems so removed from reality. . . seems very ivory tower.

    We had an integrated curriculum for the last 30 years, and it really was not working at the lower ends.

  2. Doug Johnson

    Hi Tim,

    I completely agree with your concern. I would add, that if you believe the case Daniel Pink makes for the importance of right-brain skills in the future, dropping art, music and PE keeping students from developing genuine survival skills.


    Thanks for the post,


  3. Jessica

    As a future teacher, and a child that was greatly affected by music education, have great concerns about the “no child left behind” act. ‘Non-core’ subjects, many times, are what keeps kids in school. Yes reading and math skills are important and music, in particular, helps to build these skills. By sending kids into the World with only Math and reading skills we are basically handicapping them. Students will be at an incredible disadvatage of generations before them. These programs NEED to stay in schools!!

  4. Loralee

    As a music teacher and choir director for over 20 years and a handbell director for over ten years, as well as a classroom primary grade teacher, I can only say “Alleluia, Amen” to the importance of music in elementary education. Music helps students in math, history, and gives them the skills they need to cooperate with others to fulfill a specific goal–certainly a lifetime learning skill.

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