No Time for Recess, No Need for Nap

K-12 Testing

The ever increasing pressure to cram more instructional time into the school day in an attempt to boost test scores has put the squeeze on recess and naptime in districts around the country.

In Gadsden City, Alabama, schools reportedly scratched naps for kindergartners to find time for test preparation. Wynell Williams, elementary education director for the Gadsden system, placed blame for the loss on accountability measures. “If the state is holding us accountable, this is the way we have to do it. Kindergarten is not like it used to be.”

In Kenosha, Wisconsin, parents were shocked when the principal of the Bain School of Arts and Language announced that recess would be eliminated because the school’s test scores threatened to place it on the state’s watch list of schools not meeting NCLB test score standards. “If teachers want to bring their students outside, it will be only for educational purposes and will include studying,” said Bain Principal Margaret Carpenter.

Clark County School District elementary schools in Nevada ended recess to provide more time for “core academic areas,” to the dismay of many parents. Agustin Orci, deputy superintendent of instruction, explained the thinking behind the change. “If you have a 15-minute recess scheduled, you spend five minutes getting (students) to the playground, another five getting back and then five more minutes getting them calmed down and ready to learn back in the classroom. You end up blowing 30 minutes of potential instructional time to gain the limited benefits of having recess. It’s become a luxury we can’t afford.”

In April, the Washington Post reported that Deale Elementary School in Anne Arundel County had shortened recess and reduced time for cultural activities like chorus, band and orchestra. Recess has also been scaled back in Olathe, Missouri, to allow more uninterrupted time for language arts.

Marching in unison to the tune of “more is better,” many school systems seem eager to do whatever it takes to find more time to cram math and English test preparation into students’ heads. In some cases, resistance to this trend comes from parents, who worry that that their childrens’ overall well being will suffer from the loss of time for play, exercise and socializing.

Matthew Young, a PTA president and parent at a Nevada elementary school that cut back on recess, objected. “I think at a young age they need to burn off the energy and get outside,” Young said. “That’s too long to be cooped up in school.”

But educators also question the wisdom of squeezing out time for recess and naps. When Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews solicited views from readers on the impact of the federal No Child Left Behind law, he received many letters from educators who “bemoaned the limits on recess and other chances to blow off steam.”

Martha Young, associate dean of the College of Education at the University of Nevada, challenges the quantity-over-quality approach to instructional time. “We’ve unfortunately bought into the idea that more is better, and that isn’t always going to be the case, particularly when you’re talking about elementary school students. In some cases you can have a 12-hour school day and not make any more progress than you would in six hours.”

Young blames NCLB and related policies that ignore documented benefits to students of breaks in the school day. “Research suggests recess should be an essential component of the school day,” Young said. “Unfortunately with the push of No Child Left Behind I don’t think we’re going to see it re-integrated.”