from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Friday, November 18, 2005

arts and education 

Stateline.org is a useful site for those who want to track public policy and related news state by state. It is also the source of the article, written by one of their staff writers, on how arts are struggling to maintain a place in the public school curriculum. Entitled Arts vying for a place in school day , I think it contributes an important piece to the picture of what is happening to education in this country. As you will see, either by reading the article, or the annotated selections I offer below, this is not a partisan issue.

The article focuses on the effort of Republican Mike Huckaby, Governor of Arkansas, describing him and other arts advocates as
on the offensive to try to keep the fine arts from getting squeezed out as the federal No Child Left Behind Act ratchets up pressure on schools to raise reading and math test scores.

Huckaby is the current chairman of the Education Commission of the States, which is not only an interstate compact on education, but also the primary sponsor of the National Teacher of the Year Award (a fact not mentioned in the article). He is clearly committed to the arts, as Arkansas
is emphasizing the arts as a regular part of schools’ curricula with a new law requiring 40 minutes of music and 40 minutes of visual art per week for every elementary school student.

This is not the pattern in all states: because of the increasing emphasis (due to NCLB) on math and language arts, which must be tested under NCLB
there’s a growing trend to relegate dance, music, theater and visual arts classes to lunch periods, after school or on weekends, said Nancy Carr, a visual and performing arts consultant for the California Department of Education.

California, which used to have the nation’s finest public education system before voter initiatives gutted the funding,over a 5-year period appropriated the massive sum of $1 / student per year for 5 years, until the funding was penciled out in 2003-2004. Further, funding from the California Arts Council which issued grants that enabled schools to bring painters and Shakespeare troups into classrooms has been cut from $36 million to only $4 million.
Huckaby understands that this is wrong:
“Some states are still making the huge mistake of eliminating arts programs, thinking that they’re doing the kids a favor academically, when in fact, they are hurting their children,” Huckaby, a guitarist since his teen years, told Stateline.org.

There is research showing that having arts “raises standardized test scores and ingrains students with essential creative and problem-solving skills necessary for tomorrow’s workplace. “ I would note that I personally object to defending arts on the basis of test score results - it is an example of accepting a false framing that distorts the real issue. It is, however, the path that - unfortunately to my mind - many arts advocates are taking in order to defend arts education. Thus we read in the article

“People want education to lead not only to a whole person but a person who can compete in the global, high-tech and creative economy. … This becomes something you would ignore at your peril,” said Dr. Jonathan Katz, executive director of the National Association of State Arts Agencies, the collective voice of all 50 state arts agencies, which partner with state departments of education to set arts achievement and assessment standards.

That arts are particularly helpful for at-risk groups, who both score at lower rates and drop out at higher rates, is another argument that is offered. The examples cited in the article, including Dallas ArtsPartners,  are justified at least in part that those who participate score higher on standardized tests than do those in a control group.
Dallas ArtsPartners, a partnership between the city’s school district, government and cultural organizations, reported students with a heavy arts involvement – especially special education pupils and English language learners — scored higher on Texas standardized tests than a control group.

I will offer the hyperlinks from the article for the three examples cited in case anyone would like to explore a bit more:

Dallas ArtsPartners

YouthReach Initiative

Arts Education Partnership
This last group released a study a few days ago which found
high levels of student development and teacher job satisfaction in 10 schools with high concentrations of low-income students but vibrant arts programs.

Despite all the evidence of the positive influence of arts programs, schools and systems are far more likely to hire a new math teacher than an arts teacher, because the fear of the punitive actions that can be taken if math (or reading) scores do not improve. This happens despite the recognition in NCLB of the arts as important:
In fact, NCLB recognizes the arts as a “core academic subject” and will require teachers of the arts – the same as reading, math and science – to be highly qualified in their subject matters. The arts aren’t tested like reading, math and, soon, science, yielding results on which funding, bonuses and penalties hinge.

Of course, there are many other ways of measuring success besides paper and pencil testing, but NCLB does not allow for them, and since the penalties and bonuses often depend on test scores, commitment of resources tends to be shaped by those financial carrots and sticks.

Let me offer the snippet of the worst cases in arts education as noted in the article:
In Illinois, one of seven states without an arts education mandate, only 63 percent of schools offer visual arts, according to an October study by the Illinois Arts Alliance. The report found Illinois lags behind the national average in every arts discipline.
The other six -- Alaska, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, South Carolina and South Dakota -- do not mandate arts education statewide, according to Arts Education Partnership data. However, local school districts can still elect to have an arts requirement in place.

The rest of this diary is my commentary, which I will attempt to keep relatively brief.

For those who do not know my work, I am a high school social studies teacher. But my undergraduate major was music. While I cannot draw or paint to save my life, I have a background that includes visual and plastic arts, literature, architecture and dance (my wife Leaves on the Current was trained as a ballet dancer and has done dance evaluation and dance criticism). In my own teaching I try to include - even in government - material that invokes the interest of those students with artistic and musical orientations as well as those whose orientations are those favored in the traditional classroom: verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical (the language is that of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences -- don’t get hung up on his theories). I have found it an effective approach of reaching a far broader range of students.

But to me there are far more important reasons for the inclusion of a vibrant arts (and music) curriculum in our public schools. First, I do not understand how we can consider our children to be educated if they do not learn about the arts. Here I think of the words of John Adams that are inscribed on the wall of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in our nation’s Capital:
I study war and politics, so my children can study business and commerce, so their children can study literature and the arts.

I note that far too often our education is limited to only the first two clauses, and when it is we are impoverished as a nation and as individuals. I would note that my high school classmate Tom Horne, who is now Superintendent of Public Instruction in Arizona and with whom I strongly disagree on the emphasis he places on tests, nevertheless included an emphasis on the arts (albeit largely because of how they improve test scores) in his first state of education speech on January 6, 2004. He quotes the words of Adams as one of his favorite quotes. (side note -- Tom grew up fascinated by politics but also as one who seriously played the piano, and his wife is/was a harpist).

Further, one cannot understand much of history without understanding culture, of which arts are an essential part. Here I note that one essential part of Western Civ when I studied it in the 1960’s was things like architecture, painting and sculpture.

Finally, not all of our students are going to be engineers and scientists, entrepreneurs and businessmen. Some will be lawyers and doctors, to be sure. But some will also be artists, or those working in the arts fields, and many will be interested (and hopefully knowledgeable) consumers / patrons of the arts.

I have recently posted about the importance of extracurricular activities, including sports. I believe in using all possible avenues to reach our young people, to give them the widest possible range of possibility of development. And as I believe that physical education should be an essential part of our schooling, and not restricted to extracurricular activities, I feel equally as strongly that our children should have the opportunity for organized learning - within the school day - to learn about the arts. Thus I view this posting as a logical followup to my last effort.

I hope this is of some use to someone.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
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