Saturday, September 25, 2021

Balto. City schools could move beyond math, reading


School starts for public school students in Baltimore City Tuesday, and the Baltimore Sun reports that their teachers and other school leaders, at least in some schools, hope to offer more than a focus on math and reading, including—get this—science, social studies, music, and other art classes.

In 2014, then-Gov Martin O’Malley at Holabird Academy, Baltimore (Richard Lippenholz/MdGovPics/Flickr CC)

Reporters Liz Bowie and Talia Richman quote schools CEO Sonja Santelises about her “vision”:

The limited time that has been spent on those subjects, Santelises says, has “kind of undercut, or helped stymie, our literacy achievement.” What makes kindergartners want to write, she says, is seeing a great bug and spending time looking at it under the microscope, or going to see the tall ships in the Inner Harbor.

“Kids actually need something to write about,” Santelises says.

In other words, Ms Santelises really only wants to serve the literacy expectations of students in Baltimore City, without paying much attention to their development in science. Or music.

“Policymakers are beginning to see what educators have been saying for a long time: Students need more than just reading and math,” the Sun quotes Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association, the union that represents most of the state’s teachers, as saying. “There is plenty of evidence that students who have access to all those courses actually do better in math and reading.”

Again with the subservient role of science, social studies, music, art, theater, and other subjects. For masses of kids, these subjects are all equal. In 2013, Voxitatis reported (but apparently nobody in Baltimore listened) that kids’ need for these other subjects is exactly equal to their need for math and reading.

One middle school in the article actually seemed to be excited that they will have a teacher dedicated to social studies this year, as if reading and math teachers were the top priority and social studies was an afterthought, if budgets allow. Budgets are admittedly short in Baltimore City, but putting the hiring of a teacher dedicated to social studies in middle school up as a star on your wall is setting the bar too low.

I suppose educators, including Ms Santelises and Ms Weller, are accustomed to the federal government punishing schools, under the now-defunct No Child Left Behind law, that don’t perform well in reading and math. That is not to excuse these educators for their viewpoints, which support a well-rounded education for the “whole” child with utmost paucity, but it’s to say I understand where those viewpoints might have originated.

What is needed, however, in any healthy school setting is equity—not just in meeting the needs of all students with regard to funding but in meeting the needs of all students with regard to their individual goals and those of their parents.

In our world, we will have great writers, great scientists, great mathematicians, great musicians, great engineers, great actors, and so forth. Not every kid even wants to be a great mathematician or musician, and trying to fit a given child into a mold that only measures reading and math, placing all other subjects in a supportive or secondary role, is entirely inadequate.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.


  1. as long as the state requires standardized testing in ELA, math, science, and gov, schools will prioritize those subjects and teaching to the tests will go on. curriculum is permanently narrowed until the state gives up its addiction to standardized testing which, I should add, favors kids from wealthy families as they have more opportunities to learn outside of school. do we really need tests to measure family income?

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