Education chief looks for more well-rounded learning

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s time for a return to a more well-rounded education for schoolchildren — one that spotlights the importance of science, social studies and the arts, Education Secretary John B. King Jr. says.

In remarks prepared for delivery Thursday in Las Vegas, King says some schools have focused too intensely on reading and math and testing in those subjects under the 2002 No Child Left Behind law. It was a complaint King heard before coming to Washington, when he was New York’s education commissioner and oversaw the state’s elementary and secondary schools.

Now, with a new federal education law in place, King says it’s time to reset instruction to embrace other subjects that also are critical to learning.

There is “reason to believe that students are not getting the instruction in science, social studies, the arts and world languages that they need,” King says.

He says he worries 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.”

King cites a survey that found elementary school students spending 21 minutes a day or less on social studies, and not much more on science. The department issued guidance to states this week suggesting different ways schools can use federal money to expand learning in science, technology and other subjects.

King was confirmed by the Senate last month, and is overseeing implementation of the bipartisan education law passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in December.

The law revamps the widely criticized No Child Left Behind Act and returns to states more control over schools, including a shift away from tying student performance on statewide reading and math tests to teacher evaluations. Teachers’ unions hated that idea, saying the high stakes associated with the tests were creating a culture of over-testing and detracting from the learning environment.

King says the testing became “excessive, redundant and overemphasized” in many parts of the country.

He plans to visit Tulsa, Oklahoma, to talk with officials who have cut the overall time students spend on district-mandated testing by reducing the frequency of some tests, and eliminating one entirely.

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