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Professional Opinion

Broadening K12 Curriculum in ESEA Reauthorization

Recommendations for how the federal government can better support a well-rounded education for each child.
During a policy briefing on Capitol Hill in July, ASCD and 20 major education organizations released consensus recommendations for how the federal government can better support core subjects beyond reading and math.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said the single biggest complaint he's received about the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is how the law's emphasis on reading and math has led to a narrowing of the curriculum. At a recent event at the National Press Club, he agreed with NCLB's shortcomings related to other core subjects, saying, "I don't think art is an extra; I don't think social studies is an extra; I don't think PE is an extra. [These subjects] give students a reason to be engaged and come to school. ... Making sure every student has access to a well-rounded education is hugely important."

At ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), we couldn't agree more. Indeed, our Whole Child Initiative is predicated on the comprehensiveness of health, social and education services for children—including a complete and engaging curriculum. We believe math and language arts are fundamental to learning, but other core subjects are just as critical to success in higher education and employment, and to promoting an active and engaged citizenry.

Does Obama Support it?

Secretary Duncan's words indicate support for comprehensive education, and the Obama administration has backed up those words with dollars: Its FY 2011 budget request includes a $38.9 million (or 17 percent) increase in funding to support teaching and learning in the arts, history, civics, foreign languages, geography and economics. However, the budget request proposes to combine eight subject-specific grant programs into a single competitive grant program that would pit these subjects against each other for resources. Such an approach could threaten district leaders' wishes to provide each student with a well-rounded education. Furthermore, President Obama's blueprint for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) equates college and career readiness with mastery of English language arts and mathematics standards, continuing to prioritize these two subjects at the expense of all others.

ASCD's Recommendations

As part of ASCD 's ESEA reauthorization efforts, we convened a diverse group of organizations from a wide array of subject areas to develop recommendations for how the federal government can better support a well-rounded education for each child. The recommendations call upon the administration and Congress to:

  • Include all elements of a well-rounded education in any definition of college-, career-, and citizenship-ready standards.
  • \Maintain discrete funding streams for all subjects to ensure that each retains federal support and that all receive a minimum level of resources.
  • Promote grant competitions within disciplines, not among them, that prioritize underserved or high-need schools and students and emphasize best practices, scalability and cross-subject collaboration and integration.
  • Develop a rigorous evaluation process, including significant input from professional educators, to measure the effectiveness of the funded activities and to propose improvements in the respective grant programs.
  • Establish meaningful public reporting and accountability requirements regarding student achievement in each core academic subject in school, district and state levels.

More than two-dozen organizations have endorsed these recommendations, and ASCD and its partners are sharing them with members of Congress as they develop new ESEA legislation. These recommendations should also assist school districts in showcasing the valuable work they are already doing across multiple subject areas.

For too long, NCLB has taken a black-and-white approach to education. The Obama administration's ESEA proposals recognize the shades of gray in education policy and practice. But what we really need is a Technicolor strategy that illuminates students' minds with learning and knowledge from a variety of subjects and prepares them to succeed in our complex and ever-changing global society.

To learn more about ASCD's work in support of well-rounded education, visit

David Griffith is public policy director at ASCD, a nonprofit educational leadership association.