Ms. Frizzle has a very interesting post this weekend looking at the new plan to offer middle schools in New York State "flexibility" in their offerings of exploratory courses. These classes allow students to explore subjects like foreign language, art or health as part of their regular schedule. The new policy allows low-achieving schools to take time from these classes so students can work on "core" subjects. Students in high-achieving schools, on the other hand, are allowed to do even more exploring.
While the idea of providing more help in reading and math for kids who need it is a good one on the surface, Ms. Frizzle thinks the policy will widen the gap between high and low achieving schools rather than narrow it.
The examples given by the state seem romantic to me. I’ve seen how policies REALLY get implemented, no matter how well-intentioned. The first school I worked in had drastically cut exploratory courses. The students in "top classes" got more art, more foreign language, more PE (which isn’t even an exploratory course!), more music, more of everything that makes life rich, that gives people reasons to read, reasons to write, reasons to think. Students in the lowest track classes got lots and lots of reading and math instruction, sometimes more than 2 hours a day, and usually from the same teacher for the entire time.
She nails this later situation exactly when she notes: "I fail to see how giving kids twice as much of what already isn’t working is going to help them read better."
Read the whole thing for some great insight on why every kid needs to be able to explore.