Behind the Headline: ESSA Can Help States Offer a Well-Rounded Education, John King Says

On Top of the News
ESSA Can Help States Offer a Well-Rounded Education, John King Says
Politics K-12 | 4/14/16

Behind the Headline
ESEA and the Return of a Well-Rounded Curriculum
Education Next blog | 12/9/15

ednext-johnking-april16In a speech he gave on Thursday in Las Vegas, Education Secretary John King urged states to use the flexibility they’ve been granted by the Every Student Succeeds Act to expand their focus beyond the subjects of reading and math.

As King said

“I count myself among those who worry that the balance has shifted too much away from subjects outside of math and English that could be the spark to a child’s interest and excitement, and are actually essential to success in reading, and are critical to a child’s future.” 

He continued

“Music and art, world languages, physics, chemistry, and biology; social studies civics and geography, and government; physical education and health … these aren’t luxuries that are nice to have. They’re what it means to be ready for today’s world.”

King identified several different ways that the new education law allows the states to focus on a broader range of subjects. Among them: states are free to include things like access to coursework in arts, foreign language, and STEM classes; advanced coursework in science and social studies; and scores on assessments in these subjects in their accountability systems for schools.

Robert Pondiscio has been writing about the ways that the new education law could bring about the return of a well-rounded curriculum since just after the law was signed.

In December 2015 he wrote

This is a good place for states to start thinking through their newly won freedom: Does what you are about to do in the name of accountability tax or subsidize student knowledge across the curriculum? Does it incentivize adding more social studies, science, art, and music to the school day, or does it encourage schools to do less?

He and Lisa Hansel have written more recently (and at greater length) about how the new flexibility given to states will allow them to improve reading comprehension by investing in building knowledge across a range of subjects.

As your broad, general knowledge grows, so will your broad, general reading ability. The sheer volume of subjects a literate individual has some knowledge of, and the size of a proficient reader’s vocabulary, mean that the race to improve reading comprehension is by definition a marathon. But our testing and accountability policies have tended to demand that teachers treat it as a sprint…

By returning control to the states, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides an opportunity for states to rethink the enticements baked into accountability policies. They can now incentivize long-term investments in building knowledge and vocabulary over short-term investments in boosting scores, which too often spike quickly before plateauing or even fading.

Pondiscio and Hansel lay out their specific advice for designing accountability systems that will boost content knowledge here.

—Education Next

Last Updated


Notify Me When Education Next

Posts a Big Story

Business + Editorial Office

Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard Kennedy School
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone (617) 496-5488
Fax (617) 496-4428

For subscription service to the printed journal
Phone (617) 496-5488

Copyright © 2024 President & Fellows of Harvard College