How Recess has changed since No Child Left Behind

In the 2001-2002 school year, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was passed, and the emphasis on accountability in elementary school education increased greatly.  As a result, there have been large shifts in the amount of instructional time spent on each subject and the amount of non-instructional time in elementary schools.  A Center on Education Policy report from February 2008 revealed the following points using 2006-2007 survey data.

  • 58% of school districts reported that since the effect of NCLB, they have increased instructional time for English Language Arts (ELA) at the elementary level.  Districts that have increased time for ELA have done so by an average of 141 minutes per week.
  • 45% of school districts reported that since the effect of NCLB, they have increased instructional time for mathematics at the elementary level.  Districts that have increased time for math have done so by an average of 89 minutes per week.
  • Most districts that increased time for ELA or math also reported substantial cuts in time for other subjects or periods, including social studies, science, art and music, physical education, recess, or lunch.
  • 20% of school districts reported that since the effect of NCLB, they have decreased time for recess, and by an average of 50 minutes per week.
  • Among districts reporting an increase in instructional time for ELA and/or math and decreases for various subjects, the average total time for recess before NCLB was 184 minutes per week, compared with 144 minutes per week after NCLB.  The average decrease for recess was 50 minutes per week, or a 28% loss of time from the pre-NCLB level.

Another alarming fact I discovered is the growing gap in recess equality across school districts.  Children who attend high-minority, high-poverty, or urban schools are far more likely than other children in different locations to get no recess at all.  Check out these statistics from the Center for Public Education 2006 analysis, “Time Out: Is Recess in Danger?”

  • 14% of elementary schools with a minority enrollment of at least 50% do not schedule ANY recess for first graders.
  • 18% of schools with a poverty rate over 75% do not provide ANY recess for first graders.
  • 14% of urban elementary schools do not provide ANY recess for first graders.
  • This trend extends through the sixth grade also: 24% of sixth graders in high-minority schools, 28% in high-poverty schools, and 24% in urban schools do NOT receive recess, compared to 13% of sixth graders overall.

So what do all these statistics mean? It means that due to the pressure on schools to have high standardized test scores even at the elementary age, more time is spent on academics and less time is given to kids for recess and free play.  The average time for recess is 29 minutes per day in elementary school, and the gap across schools is alarming.  I believe that it should be mandatory for ALL elementary schools to have 45 minutes per day of recess.  Arne Duncan, you can make this happen!

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1 Comment

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One response to “How Recess has changed since No Child Left Behind

  1. I just can’t believe that schools are doing this. No wonder no one is creative anymore. Schools are trying to create sheep and have everyone fit into a certain mold and therefore, keep everyone in line and the way society wants them. Children have the right to be children and have playtime, so seeing those statistics are just crazy to me. Recess was one of my most fond childhood memories and every kid should have it. This is definitely an interesting choice of topic and one that should be addressed more often. Thanks for the insight!

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