Monday, August 8, 2011

Arts Education Blog Forum - Week 3, Day 2

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on............................................."

Week 3, Day 2

Category: Policy

Question #2: Many contend that arts education advocacy has largely been a failure. Others disagree. Where are the successes? Where will funding come from in the future to implement policy?

Narric Rome (Senior Director for Federal Affairs and Arts Education, Americans for the Arts)

Not long into my tenure at the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton administration, I came to understand the limits of what the federal government can do for K-12 education. At the time, the Department boosted funding to support the hiring of 100,000 new teachers and the launch of a new national after-school initiative, an initiative that is now a $1.1 billion program. Arts teachers were among the 100,000 new hires and many of the after-school programs embraced the arts. Federal investment had an important impact. But many arts education advocates would not rank these two accomplishments as major successes. Why? Because a new arts teacher and a new arts after-school program did not appear in every school in every community.

We all need to remember that the federal share in total education spending is only 11 cents on the dollar. The remaining funds come from state and local sources.
Which brings me to federal policy.

The single most powerful provision in federal education law benefitting arts education is the designation of the arts as a “core academic subject” in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This allows schools to use federal funds to support arts teachers, arts programs, and services provided by local cultural organizations. Even more importantly, the designation also sends an essential policy signal. It affirms the value of the arts as an area of instruction. This is why Americans for the Arts, and our national advocacy partners, have worked so hard to protect this designation from being weakened or removed.

It appears to me that the secret to being effective lies in vertically integrating our federal, state, and local advocacy strategies. It’s a complex web of jurisdictions and policy inputs that determine whether and how a public school student in a given school gets formal training in, and through, the arts. We cannot hope to make change for every public school student unless we begin to work to impact the system as a whole. Pushing the lever on federal policy---while critical---in and of itself is not enough. We have to concentrate on impacting federal policy that can impact state administration that can in turn affect local implementation.

Americans for the Arts hosts more than 80 national arts and arts education groups at the annual Arts Advocacy Day as part of the ongoing effort to influence K-12 federal education legislation. We are working in a narrow space. NCLB (otherwise known as the Elementary & Secondary Education Act, or ESEA) became law in early 2002, and there hasn’t been a major K-12 education law passed since then—just short-term grant opportunities funded through appropriations bills. Reauthorization of ESEA, which is now several years beyond its intended shelf life, has become that piece of legislation always “expected” to be considered, but which fails to be because of Congressional dysfunction and the electoral calendar.

Our federal advocacy opportunities, however, are much larger than ESEA reauthorization. Recently, the White House and U.S. Department of Education have taken a number of important, and independent, steps to advance arts education. I believe that the report recently issued by the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities represents the broadest and most detailed statement of support for arts education from any administration in recent history. The President and First Lady have hosted a half dozen arts education events and the White House recently highlighted the work of 14 arts education “Champions of Change” on its web site. This year, the U.S. Department of Education is spending more on direct arts education projects than ever before through the Investing in Innovation and the Arts in Education programs. In early 2012 the Department will release the full results of the Fast Response Survey System report—the most comprehensive look at the status of arts education in our nation’s public schools since 1999. At Americans for the Arts we continue to work to convince the Department of Education to include measures of the arts in their national research efforts and in their school turnaround efforts. (We think that arts education can lead school turnaround through individual student turnaround.) We continue to ask for an end to the narrowing of the curriculum, for less of an emphasis on summative testing and for the use of multiple measures to gauge student achievement. We work with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) leaders to find ways to bring in the arts and concentrate on strategic alliances to make it happen, alliances like our work with the American Association of School Administrators and The Conference Board on research like the Ready to Innovate: Are Educators and Executives Aligned on the Creative Readiness of the U.S. Workforce? report.

But all of this work—if confined only to the federal level—will not be enough to get where we need to go. As articulated by the Stanford Social Innovation Review in a recent article on how foundations, and others, can evaluate advocacy, “Successful advocacy projects must simultaneously pursue opportunities at the local, state, and federal level, as well as across governmental institutions.”

State Local
That’s why we have been so focused on building a state and local advocacy network to integrate with our federal network. In 2009 we took an important step forward when the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network joined our State Arts Action Network. Together these 73 organizations reach arts education leaders and advocates in 47 states. Our Arts Education Council and Network connects the statewide work to the local level, to decision-makers, community organizations, and the general public. It was the combined effort and impact of this federal, state, and local nexus that recently helped advocates in Pasco County, FL, Transylvania, NC and San Diego, CA win their battles to keep arts education alive even as other communities underwent grueling budget cuts.

Investing in Change
The challenge, not surprisingly, is sustaining financial support for this work. Many funders mistakenly equate advocacy with partisan lobbying—and shy away from supporting work that could help advance shared public policy goals. I think that our field could and should do a better job of helping funders overcome this barrier, explaining why advocacy is needed and why as decision-maker education it is fundamentally different from lobbying. As the seminal 2008 report from The Atlantic Philanthropies stated, “…funding advocacy too often is the philanthropic road not taken, yet it is a road most likely to lead to the kind of lasting change that philanthropy has long sought through other kinds of grants.”

We need our private sector partners who care about arts education to support advocacy for the issue as strongly as their colleagues in the larger education arena support advocacy on behalf of education reform. Arts education will not simply materialize in every school– it will emerge when thoughtful and directed resources at the federal, state and local levels have been aligned to make it possible.

I hope we can work together to realize this vision.

Laurie Schell (former executive director of the California Alliance for Arts Education. During her tenure at the Alliance, the organization coordinated a successful campaign to secure over $100 million in state funding for arts education, created responsive local strategies to advance policy change at the local level, fostered enduring partnerships with key statewide parent, arts, and education agencies, developed a new governance structure with a Policy Council and governing Board, and mobilized a vast constituency around budgetary and legislative issues of critical importance for arts education.)

Advocacy. The A-word. The word everyone loves to hate. The slippery word that has multiple meanings, depending on whether you’re talking to a funder or the IRS, to an elected official or a concerned citizen. The word that no one knows how to measure effectively. The word that elicits a groan in polite company, only one step removed from another unfairly tainted word: lobbyist.

Yet for my money, we would not have achieved – or been able to hold ground— on any of the arts education policy and budgetary (however fleeting) gains in California of the past 5 years without good, old-fashioned advocacy work. And widespread systemic change in education—including the arts-- cannot happen without changes in public policy. But policy doesn’t live only in Washington or Sacramento these days; it lives in every one of our communities and school districts. The trick is in the implementation-- getting the policies to align and be mutually supportive at all levels.

Policy change is the result of a multi-layered, iterative process. Progress is measured not only by outcomes such as more students have access to arts education, but also by the degree of constituent engagement and the depth and quality of conversations across a broad spectrum of stakeholders and policymakers. Looking back on recent arts education policy-related events in California, the most notable achievement might be the historic 2006 allocation of $105 million in ongoing categorical funds and one-time funding of $500 million. No less significant is the defeat—twice—of a bill that threatens to dilute arts graduation requirements with the addition of a new career technical education requirement. This year, the California Alliance is working to defeat this bill for the third time, while also advancing a new bill that promotes creativity and innovation in California schools. Consistent message, multiple fronts. Big victories, small ones. It’s all important.

The external environment has always been the wild card. Were it not for the current state and national economic and political firestorms, I am convinced the impact of the ongoing categorical funds would be now be visible and measurable; and we would be well on our way to creating a stronger accountability mechanism for California’s existing arts education policies. Although policymakers (and the public!) view the arts positively, there is a gap between existing policy and accountability for arts education in California-- what my colleague Sandra Ruppert calls a “policy paradox.” This trend toward local control is the real culprit here, and is going to make it increasingly difficult to solve the access and equity issues of arts education through national and state policy alone.

In California this means mounting advocacy efforts in more than 1,000 school districts. The California Alliance’s theory of action is a dual “top-down/bottom-up” approach that addresses distinct perspectives: to continue to cultivate decision-makers, legislators and thought leaders at “the top” while creating regional advocacy coalitions at the grassroots “bottom” to organize and advocate for policy change at both the local and state level. Combining the approaches of the environmental movement and High touch and high tech.
But really, the main point I want to make is we have to stop treating advocacy like a third-cousin-twice-removed who isn’t always welcome at family gatherings. It doesn’t work if you believe it’s someone else’s job.

On balance, though, we have seen great progress in arts education advocacy, as measured by expansion and sophistication in constituent engagement. We know from colleagues in other fields that it can take time, measured in years, if not decades, to see impact. We know also that advocacy works best when the message is consistent, the thinking is visionary and strategic, the work is focused and coordinated, and above all, connected to the students’ well being at its core.

Cyrus Driver (Director, Program Learning and Innovation, Ford Foundation)

Disclaimer at the author’s request: ‘The opinions expressed here are those solely of Cyrus Driver.’

I offer a few observations on arts education policy from my vantage point as a former funder of projects to scale-up arts integration in cities, a current board member of the New York Center for Arts Education, and a public school parent. My point is pretty simple here – arts education policy is in fact educational policy, and those of us who are committed to arts education must be capable of working effectively in the educational policy space, to become part of the struggle for educational equity more generally, and to assure that arts learning is at the core of how the education field envisions 21st century schooling.

We know much about the types of policies that would further high quality arts education and we see some of these enacted in various places and various times. These include policies enabling essential resources – enough arts teachers, supplies, time in the school day, professional development to plan integration, funds to engage teaching artists, public resources for CBO’s/arts organizations to train teaching artists and facilitate partnerships etc. We also see policies on the books, if not enforced, to assure accountability, including minimum expectations around time (e.g., ‘minutes per week’), staffing etc. Arts education policies can also be testing policies, as in the performance-based assessments used in various states and locales over the years (e.g., Rhode Island).

All of these– whether teacher training, professional development, planning time, length of school day and funding – are matters squarely of educational policy writ large. Moreover, the state of arts education policies at local, state and national levels show us the extent to which policymakers’ are committed to educational equity, and thereby how they choose to define educational quality, for different groups of students. We need only compare wealthy suburbs or private schools and their myriad arts programs with big city public schools that often have no arts whatsoever to recognize how arts education provision is a barometer of privilege as well as public will for equity.

The fight for arts education in our cities and rural communities – our main order of concern – should be viewed as core to the struggle for educational equity as a whole, and so arts education advocates need to effectively participate in this larger struggle. To date, we have largely tried to go it alone, and as a result we have stayed on the margins of educational policy. To become more of a partner in this broader struggle, we first need to strengthen capacities to be effective education advocates, including research capacity to document inequities and system failures, and policy development that directly ties into core equity issues of the day, whether school finance, teacher quality, extended school day or student assessments. We also must be more capable of building coalitions and partnerships with other educational advocates, including the investments of time needed to build relationships and to develop a shared language and platform for reform. New York’s Center for Arts Education (CAE) has done brilliant work to build such relationships with a wide range of allies, from the teachers union and administrators’ association to parent and community organizing groups to city council members. These groups have helped show CAE what it takes to shape educational policy more generally, and built CAE’s political acumen to pick the right battles. It also means understanding how to navigate multiple sources of power, from policy elites, funders and business leaders to parents, as Big Thought has done so successfully in Dallas, leading to policies to restore arts teachers in every Dallas public school in 2008, for the first time in 30 years. Finally, it means in fact participating in the rugged politics and exercises in political power that define educational policy.

Arts education advocates, however, need not give up core identity – what we bring to the table is a broader vision of education that evokes the centrality of student experience, imagination, creativity, and voice to the process of learning. Our work helps rekindle more democratic and humanistic purposes of public education as opposed to the almost singular emphasis around economic concerns. From CAE’s work and others’, it is clear that this perspective is what excites our allies, what they feel is often lacking in policy debates, and what draws them to ally with groups like CAE. Moreover, high quality arts education programs provide real-world examples for anyone concerned about public education about what’s possible and desirable, informing a much-needed, broader vision of 21st century education.

But, to succeed in realizing this vision, arts education advocates must learn how to work more effectively in the center of this murky, messy terrain that is educational policy writ large, not go it alone as much, and without the clout to shape policy. We will need to build relationships, forge new common ground and shared language, learn myriad educational policy inside and out and ultimately partner with other equity advocates, unions, community organizations, supportive policymakers, school system and business leaders to weave a perspective on arts education into all forms of relevant education policy. As a friend once said to me, ‘if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together!’

Don't Quit

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