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ERIC Number: ED494088
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2006-Aug
Pages: 6
Abstractor: ERIC
The Hidden Costs of Curriculum Narrowing. Issue Brief
Jerald, Craig D.
Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement
A 2003 survey of principals found that middle and high schools were more likely to increase social studies and science instruction than decrease it. This suggests that districts are not cutting social studies and sciences entirely but merely "deferring" those subjects until the secondary grades. This strategy provides more time for reading during the elementary grades and more time for other subjects in higher grades, especially as states move to increase high school course-taking requirements for a diploma. On the surface, that strategy makes a lot of sense. A persuasive body of research in cognitive science suggests that the deferment strategy most likely will fail. The long-term costs might be much greater than educators and administrators imagine. Cognitive psychologists have found that there is another step in between fluent decoding and comprehension in which readers call on background knowledge about a topic to understand what the text is saying and what it is not saying. Readers without adequate background knowledge can comprehend some of the text, but they will not understand it fully. Available evidence strongly suggests that narrowing the curriculum in elementary school deprives students of an important opportunity to develop broad vocabulary and background knowledge necessary for strong reading comprehension later on. That lack of opportunity results in several negative consequences as students move into upper elementary school and the secondary grades. Educators should be made aware that cutting too deeply into social studies, science, and the arts imposes significant long-term costs on students, hampers reading comprehension and thinking skills, increases inequity, and makes the job of secondary level teachers that much harder. (Contains 4 endnotes.) [This document was produced by The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, administered by Learning Point Associates in partnership with the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) and WestEd, under contract with the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education.]
Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. 1100 17th Street NW Suite 500, Washington, DC 20035. Tel: 877-277-2744; Web site:
Publication Type: Opinion Papers; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: Teachers
Language: English
Sponsor: Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (ED), Washington, DC.
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A