RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Claudio Sanchez Reports.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ: The Center on Education Policy, based in Washington, D.C., surveyed 299 school districts in 50 states, and found that the No Child Left Behind law has had a profound impact on instruction and learning.
JOHN JENNINGS: But it's also having the effect of narrowing the curriculum, so that the overwhelming majority of school districts are saying they are teaching other subjects less, in order to teach reading and math more.
SANCHEZ: Jack Jennings is the center's director, and a former aide to congressional Democrats on education issues.
JENNINGS: Most of the kids who are getting this extra attention for reading and math tend to be kids of color, tend to be poor kids. And you had hoped that they would be well educated and well rounded.
SANCHEZ: Too many students, though, especially in urban school systems, are not getting nearly enough instruction in history, science, or the arts. In fact, says Jennings, 71 percent of the nation's 15,000 school districts now spend less instructional time on everything else in order to devote more time to reading and math.
JENNINGS: The saying in education is that what's tested is what going to be taught. And what is being tested now, under this federal law, is math and reading to the neglect of other subjects.
SANCHEZ: In some states, this fight over the curriculum boils down to a turf war. In California, for example, state law requires that schools spend an allotted amount of time on core subjects. No Child Left Behind, though, has put teachers under enormous pressure to skimp on subjects like history or science.
PAT PETERSON: It's a complaint from our classroom teachers.
SANCHEZ: Pat Peterson is an administrator with the Escondido Union School District, a system with 17,000 students in grades K through eight. Kids here, she says are doing better academically overall.
PETERSON: We also feel that if children can't read, they can't really do much else in the other content areas. So, the fact that we are putting more emphasis on reading, language arts, is justified to that degree.
SANCHEZ: Which is precisely the point that U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has made repeatedly about this issue. The Education Department's Chief of Staff David Dunn said Spellings wasn't able to comment. And he wasn't sure if anybody at the department had read the full report.
DAVID DUNN: But the key point, I think, is that you can't learn other subjects if you can't read, or if you can't, you know, add and subtract and divide. Those are the key foundational skills.
SANCHEZ: Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.
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