Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Arts Education Blog Forum - Final Week Follow Up Questions

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

Week 4 Follow Up Questions:

Day 1, Question 1:

1. Sandra talks about coming together on common messages in arts education, with the PCAH research providing a few key points that we can all get behind. Who is the “we” in this case? Do the key recommendations coming out of the report resonate with people who are not in the arts education field? How do we go about leveraging a report like this to build public will in a way that translates directly to specific constituents – parents, students, policymakers, educators - and meets them where they are? As Sandra states, the definitions of key terms alone are enough of a barrier to further engagement in the discussion.

2. Some have cited as a fundamental flaw in the PCAH report the absence of any discussion about the costs of implementing the recommendations, and that without some integration of consideration as to where the funds might come from, the report ends up somewhat meaningless and irrelevant. How do you respond to that criticism? Should we zero in and prioritize the recommendations based on funding considerations?  Which recommendations are short term, which are longer term?

3. Narric mentions a number of national and state research reports from the past few years that can help inform the debate on arts education on a broader level. However, when policy is driven from a bottom-up approach, what can the more local and regional arts education advocates do to provide data to the local decision makers? As Narric says, information has to be used by those engaging in public debate; how do we make that information resonate more effectively at a variety of levels?

4. Is there really any "public" debate about arts education going on at all? Isn't whatever debate and discussion that is happening basically within the arts sector and not even within the larger education community - let alone the public? How do we make the debate a truly "public" debate?

Day 2, Question 1:

1. To Chris’s point, where are the gaps in arts education evaluation and research? And how much data is too much? Who can come up with a “simple” common research agenda, who funds it, who does it in a way that has credibility outside of the arts education field? What do decision makers outside of the field need to know in order to make favorable policy and funding decisions?

Chris Shearer: These are great questions and, frankly, where the devil lives for reformers. I am by no means a research designer nor am I an Arts Education expert, but I see a few possible answers woven into the questions themselves.

For example, could we ask proven Arts advocates inside Congress or state capitals what research THEY want to see? What results THEY would value to help them make the case? Back in the days of free-flowing earmarks, Arts did have supportive policymakers who ensured at least a modest spotlight in authorizing language and at least some appropriations funding. These same folks may be the best place to start a discussion for the future.

I am a big fan of asking major research shops to conduct evaluations. They often help signal an issue’s importance by even accepting the work. Their results have import. They have very strong signaling and dissemination capacity to fuel future research. Not everyone agrees with me here, but I still throw out the idea as one solution.

It is hard but essential for Arts Educators to come together and ask, “What measures can we agree to in common?” “What results would we consider essential to our collective efforts?” This is hard, hard work, but it is not a debt-ceiling debate. We can expect it to yield actionable results without permanently ruffling feathers, even in a relatively small community.

I am for prioritizing fewer and better-prioritized sets of data to start. Once Arts has some more signature studies on impact, the research ecosystem will emerge more clearly. The relative need for smaller or even replicated studies will show up after a few, higher-profile issues are assessed. Larry-like sophistication regarding agenda- and study-design will be essential.

Finally, I’d ask researchers in other better-studied education sectors to help define what the most obvious gaps are in Arts Ed research. I’d ask. “What do the well-funded, more broadly supported fields do?” “What do they need to prove their point or to foster innovation?”

2. - All of our responders have indicated the value of various types of research to moving forward an arts education agenda. Are we in danger of assigning too much problem-solving responsibility to arts learning? Are we forgetting about those intrinsic values – the joy of creating art, the ability of young people to self-express, have fun together, take risks, figure out how to play “Purple Haze” just like Jimi Hendrix, for no other reason than to play like Hendrix – in the need to justify the existence of arts in schools?

Chris Shearer: I make it a point never to disagree with someone as nice, smart, and influential as Bernie Trilling. Full stop.

What I hear him saying, though, is that there are strong trend-lines in research that make us optimistic. That a major new research study is underway around the “deeper learning” mix of knowledge + skills that should help inform our discussions. That there are many sites where the Arts are being well-taught in their own right, or where Arts are an essential element of rigorous academic study and performance-based demonstrations of student achievement.

What I think Bernie and I would agree on is that – with strong trends, clear exemplars, and growing examples of Arts and 21st Century Skills travelling together – we now can and should redouble our attention to research on proof points. Maybe we start by asking someone to pull together a compelling narrative we can share with non-experts around what we already know from the evidence base. Then we can kick-off a new discussion about what research we want to see going forward.

I know of no discipline that better blends teaching to exemplars while encouraging individual creativity (often, complexly, within a team approach). In other words, the Arts in practice are uniquely open to critique. Uniquely open to revision toward excellence. Uniquely given to public presentation. Arts Education – though better research – can conform to that heritage and simultaneously foster improvement and build broader support.

Parting shot. These questions of utility, emphasis, and implementation are vital. Regardless of where Arts Ed ends up on them. They are a part of a larger discussion that I see as being about whether or not Arta gets the place it deserves in every child’s education. Remember Picasso’s dictum: “He can who thinks he can, and he can't who thinks he can’t.”

3. In the politics of decision making at the government level, research is often embraced or denied based on the position the 'politician' wants or needs to take. It provides cover for those disposed to be supportive, and a place to attack for those who are not . Where do "research" and politics intersect in terms of arts education and to what extent should that phenomenon be taken into account in our research models - especially if one of the primary goals of research is to impact political decision making?

4. Chris implies that we are really in the very earliest stages in terms of credible, reliable research and advises that we do more, and focus in on what kind we should do as we create that research agenda. Larry similarly questions how far we really are in design of our research. In contrast to both Chris and Larry, Bernie says there is little doubt the arts do most of the things we claim they do. Which is it? Do we have credible research to make the case now, or do we need more? If we need more, what else do we need?

5. Is a vibrant and healthy “climate” conducive to creativity just that -- an ecosystem that does not itself make creativity happen, but rather encourages, nurtures and supports it happening. And if so, then how do we conduct research into how the arts plays a part in the growth of that kind of ecosystem as opposed to arguing the direct link of an arts education to the very specific skills that we claim are part of, and linked to, creativity and the creative instinct?

Final wrap up tomorrow.

Don't Quit

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