California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II
Beyond learning the foundational skills of reading-language arts and mathematics, students need a rich and varied curriculum to be prepared to take courses that fulfill the a-g Guide (Outside Source) of the University of California and California State University necessary for entry to college. Furthermore, as Thomas Friedman points out in The World is Flat, American students need to develop mastery in foreign languages, science, and technology to be competitive in the world economy.1 As a result, students in the middle grades need a full complement of required and recommended courses.
The California Education Code guides schools on instructional content. However, it mandates the number of instructional minutes only for physical education. The amount of instructional time for all other subjects is only recommended by California curriculum frameworks and by national organizations. The linked chart on Middle Grades Courses of Study and Instructional Time (2007) (DOC; 107KB; 9pp.) lists recommended instructional minutes for the following courses:
Sometimes it is difficult to work all courses into a student's daily schedule, especially if a student needs many support classes or intensive interventions. If the school schedule precludes students who are enrolled in intensive interventions from taking core courses in science and history/social science or electives, before- and after-school or intersession programs can offer core courses so students can still consider advanced high school courses or college.
The State Board of Education is committed to helping all students master the content standards in the core curriculum: English language arts, mathematics, science, and history/social science.2 Without a solid ability to read and comprehend text, a student’s success in most other subjects is unlikely. Likewise, mastery of mathematics prepares students with the logic and skills needed for college and for success in a global society. As a result, reading/language arts and mathematics are often the focus of instructional attention—particularly as school leaders plan the master schedule.
California emphasizes science and history/social science as well as reading and mathematics by using the results from California Standards Tests in those subject areas in calculating a school's Academic Performance Index and by developing frameworks and adopting instructional materials in science and history/social science.
In spite of the importance of all subjects in preparing middle grades students for high school, a recent study on the effects of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act found that 71 percent of school districts nationally reported having reduced instructional time in at least one other subject to make more time for reading and mathematics, the topics tested for NCLB purposes.3 The challenge in the middle grades is to teach reading and mathematics without neglecting any of the other disciplines.
As a result, the goal for middle schools should be to provide all parts of the grade-level curriculum to all students while supporting them with the additional assistance (strategic or intensive intervention) they may need in English language arts or/and mathematics during the regular school day. In addition, effective middle schools provide interest-based electives to keep young adolescents connected and coming to school.
A focus on learning—habits of mind
1Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat; A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.
2California’s Revised State Plan for No Child Left Behind: Highly Qualified Teacher (DOC; 857KB; 75pp.). Sacramento: California Department of Education, 2006, 3.
3Majority of School Leaders Report Gains in Achievement, but a Narrower Curriculum Focus under No Child Left Behind. Washington, D.C.: Center on Education Policy, March 28, 2006.
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California Department of Education
1430 N Street
Sacramento, CA 95814