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Should middle schools increase required classes and reduce electives?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and any sources on this!

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I personally don't think so.  If a fundamental shift were to occur in American classrooms I would say that teachers need to focus on truly engaging their students and not taking away electives.  The mantra that more is better is not always true, and students need time to explore their own self interests and electives often provide that framework.  Art classes provide opportunities for creativity and expression, the connection between music and math is very well researched, and with the obesity problem in the United States I think eliminating physical education programs would be a monumental mistake.

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I think the primary issue at hand is what the Common Core Standards are attempting to address; public education should be primarily focused on teaching skills with less of on emphasis on content. 


As a teacher, the commonly held idea that elective classes are “easy” or less challenging then a required class is frustrating.  Every class should be an opportunity for student’s to explore their critical thinking skills and flex their cognitive muscles.  Art class shouldn’t be viewed as merely drawing pictures anymore than a literature class should be seen as simply decoding words. 


The trick is not to mandate more required classes, but to increase the level of student engagement in the required classes that currently exist.  If educators want students to feel as interested in their required classes as they do in their electives, then they need to make their required classes more relevant to their student body.        

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As others have noted, budget reductions are going to continue to make the building of curriculums and program offerings more difficult. Given that complication, what we are all doing is expressing our wishes for inclusions that may not be seen as possible or practical in the near future.

In the ideal situation, middle schools should be able to offer electives to allow students opportunities to explore many areas in order to experience a variety of activities and identify areas in which students have particular interests or abilities. The field that has not been mentioned in any of the previous posts has been the arts. With research demonstrating that music training benefits students in many areas of learning, the steady elimination of music classes, bands, orchestras, and choruses is counterproductive.

Lengthening the school day is, in my opinion, an option that needs to be seriously considered. Required coursework may be, and possibly/probably should be, reorganized or restructured, but electives serve other equally important functions in educating a responsible future citizen.


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I think electives are vitally important to creating a well-rounded education; if students are forced to focus only on the required classes, they will lose out on the interests they gain from elective studies. Many students change their personal interests depending on what they find personally compelling, and without the ability to examine other topics, the next generation might lose out on doctors, scientists, politicians... however, electives should be entirely optional, and never be allowed to interfere with the core curriculum. Otherwise, I think elective classes should be encouraged and expanded, with qualified teachers who can connect with the students and inspire them to search for their personal calling in life; this will also affect their college years, as they are quickly able to identify and focus on their preferred areas instead of taking unnecessary classes.

Needless to say, necessary budget cuts could make this difficult.

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I think that you can have electives and still work on essential skills. Writing and reading, for example, should be taught across the curriculum, in electives and in core classes. So while I see the point made by many people here that there isn't room in the schedule for electives, if room could be made, you could have them without compromising instructional time in important skill areas. I do think that Health/PE ought to be considered as essential as other courses, perhaps especially in the early teen years, when we develop so many of the habits that stay with us through life.

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During my years of middle school teaching, students had few elective from which to choose. At the previous post mentioned, only one elective is usually offered most middle school students, and taking that away would give students little independence or flexibility when it comes to choosing their classes. Many schools have eliminated or reduced yearly P.E. classes in the hope of improving student academics, but the result has seen an increase in obesity found in middle schoolers.

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This depends completely on what is required and what is optional at a given middle school.

My daughter is in middle school right now.  Her required classes are Social Studies, Science, Math, and English.  There is also an "Exploratory" class in which different novels are offerred and kids pick which ones they want to read (my daughter picked The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963 as her first novel).  She has one elective, which is band.  She will do that for three quarters and will be required to take one quarter of PE. 

I would love for her to have more electives such as foreign languages.  However, it is hard to see which of these required classes should be deleted.  I suppose they could merge Exploratory and English and offer foreign language, but that would be about it.

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My ideal curriculum for a middle school student would encompass these classes which will prepare him for the next level of his learning: 

Reading/literature class

Intensive emphasis on genre, contextual reading, inferential skills, vocabulary reading

One novel should be studied intensively per semester

Language arts/writing class

This should be a separate class from the reading/literature class. It should be  based on learning to write and improving basic mechanics, variety in sentence structure, and paragraphing.



History divided into three parts: History up to the Civil War; after the Civil War through the depression; FDR to the present.

This is the time to instill a love of history.  Re-enactments, costuming, plays--all of these activities will create a life long love of American history.

Computer training including how to type

This is a quotation from an article from Janice C. Cuny, a program director at the National Science Foundation: Today, introductory courses in computer science are too often focused merely on teaching students to use software like word processing and spreadsheet programs. The Advanced Placement curriculum concentrates narrowly on programming. We’re not showing and teaching kids the magic of computing.

Introductory courses in programming should not happen in high school. They should happen in middle school.  But the training must also include typing basics so that we are not creating a world of hunt and peck students.

Foreign language (selecting one particular language)

Students who begin world language courses in the middle grades will develop good language learning skills, such as paying attention to context clues, guessing at cognates heard or read, repeating sounds, making mistakes and learning from them, memorizing high frequency vocabulary for rapid recall in conversation and interpreting.

I would love to throw in a humanities class.  Hopefully, that will come in Junior High classes.  These classes should be the core curriculum for my ideal middle school instruction.  Mastery in the appropriate grade level material will prepare the student for the future he is working toward.


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