Thursday, July 28, 2011

Arts Education Blog Forum Follow Up Questions

Good morning.

"And the beat goes on........................"

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Follow Up Questions to the First Week Blog Posts :
Here are our reactions and thoughts about some of what this week's blog participants said. We will include their responses to these questions as and when received, and we encourage any of the readers who have thoughts to enter their own comments at the end of this blog).

1. More than one responder alludes to the positive situation in what could be called the “have” schools / districts – private and to a lesser extent, public – wherein the situation is pretty good, but that only raises the equity issue for that huge portion of schools wherein the situation is not as good, and is very likely bad. No doubt that disparity is the result of a variety of causes, chief among them lack of funds. How do we deal with that? – because that continued inequity is going to result in a ‘have’ and ‘have not’ arts education world (and education outcomes) for generations to come. If we are striving for, as Nick says, “properly funded, well-run schools” for every child, where do the public will, the policy and the funds come from to make that happen? That is one of our principal challenges: if we cannot address the inequity challenge, then much of the whole edifice will come crumbling down - hard.

Nick Rabkin: I don’t think the ‘whole edifice comes crumbling down’ if we don’t deal with the equity problem. To the contrary, the whole edifice of public education in America has been built on inequality, and it always has been. Inequality in arts education is just one manifestation of inequalities built into systems of public education financed by property taxes that will always disadvantage poor communities and advantage wealthy ones. Until that is changed, it’s not likely we’ll see big changes in access to arts ed for poor kids. “We” – advocates for arts education - are not capable of dealing with the inequity problem on our own. It is the central issue in American schools, as it has been since long before Brown v. Board of Education. That doesn’t mean we should give up on fighting for arts ed in poor schools. To the contrary, successful programs in low-income schools are our best arguments for arts education for all.

2. Somewhat along the same track, both Paul and Eric pointed out the problem of too many classroom teachers not having had any experience with the arts in their own educational background, another problem that is likely to get worse as even fewer kids (including future teachers) today have arts education. How do we deal with that? Does this point to teaching artists – those people who have the skill and expertise in the arts – as the best hope, in partnership with those “under-arts-educated” classroom teachers? Should there be a systemic approach to providing teachers with ongoing arts education training, both pre-service and in-service?

Nick Rabkin: We actually have no reliable data about what kind of arts education classroom teachers had in American schools historically, but I’m skeptical that there was ever a ‘golden age’. The best available data shows that just 25% of 18-year olds had any arts education in 1930. That figure slowly climbed up to about 65% by 1980 or so. It has declined since and is now below 50% again, about the level it was at in the mid-1960s, and not nearly as low as it was in 1930. The popular explosion of the arts in the 1960s was a cultural phenomenon, associated with all sorts of other cultural phenomena of the time. It was certainly not the result of an appetite for the arts that was cultivated in schools! I had a music appreciation class in junior high school, in which I learned about the classical composers, but my lifelong interest in music was not shaped deeply by that class. Listening to the radio had much more to do with it. Just because classroom teachers have had little in the way of formal arts education does not mean that they have limited interest or ideas about the arts. Just like their students, they come to schools with lots of ideas and lots of questions about the arts that are waiting to be explored with a little help from the outside.

Eric Engdahl:
The issue of the “under arts educated” teacher is not a simple one to resolve. Given the complexity of educating students in the diverse eco-system of educational environments there are have to be multiple solutions that work in their own context. “Under arts educated teachers” are also only part of a larger problem that includes “under math educated teachers,” “under science educated teachers,” etc. situated in an educational system does not work well or equitably.

Here are a few thoughts about how to deal with “under arts educated” teachers now:
First, I think we need to work on helping teachers to re-think what arts experience means. I had a preservice teacher in my VAPA methods class once who stated she had no experience in the arts. I was surprised one day when she told me she had to miss class because she had been performing hula for the last twelve years and her professional ensemble had a performance. When I asked her why she said she had no experience in the arts she explained that she meant “school arts.” I have had similar conversations around photography, church choir, website design, West African music and dance, and mariachi to name a few. I think we need to help teachers see a broader definition of the arts, especially as more cultures are represented and as technology evolves.

Second, how do we educate the teacher who truly has had no arts experience? It cannot occur in a teacher training program. Teacher training programs focus on how to teach, not in teaching the content the teacher will be teaching. But arts education can happen in the undergraduate educational process; in which case those pre-education majors need more arts content. But it also needs to happen in the high school level, the middle school level and to my mind most importantly in the elementary school. It also needs to happen in community-based arts education organizations, for example the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts in Richmond, Ca. I don’t think there is a systemic approach to educating the arts uneducated teacher, it needs to occur where the best opportunities can be found in context.

Third, I don’t think the resources exist for teaching artists to fill the gap. I doubt if there are enough of them to meet the meets of urban, suburban and rural districts. Nor do I think there is money to pay them. I did a little rough math. There were 467,278 4th graders in the state of California last year. For one hour of arts instruction with a teaching artist assuming that the artist taught 50 students and was paid $50 for that hour the cost would be $467,278. On the one hand that’s a bargain - $1 per instructional hour per student. But once you start multiplying hours taught and additional grade levels the costs are astronomic. This leads us back to collective impact and doing more with less – which means that we need to get talking now – and thank you Barry, because this is a great start.

3. From Kris’ comments, and those of both Paul and Eric, it seems that the time might be fruitful for an arts education summit meeting that focuses solely on the role of higher education in preparing teachers as arts teachers or arts integrationists. Could such a bold move yield progress or would it be a waste of time? Has this happened anywhere else in the country?

Eric Engdahl: I think that a convening of teacher education programs would be useful, but it needs to include a cross section of all teacher training programs, including the so-called “for profit” institutions and alternative credentialing programs run by charter schools and districts. It also needs to include the educational leadership programs. In California, a beginning location for that meeting could be among the CSUs (which educates the majority of California teachers) or at the organization of teacher training programs, the California Council on Teacher Education which already has an Arts Education Special Interest Group.

That convening needs to be part of a series of meetings in which regional arts education providers meet to look at how they can work together in a time of diminished resources. Some of us in the arts education community are looking to the idea of collective impact, eloquently described in an article by John Kania and Mark Kramer in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Part of the notion of collective impact is that we are working on a continuum from preschool through college and beyond; that arts education can happen in the schools, in community based organizations, in the home, in cultural organizations, in churches as well as in traditional venues.

Another idea from collective impact is that in bringing together arts educators to closely examine what we do, share our work, and study the effectiveness of our work we are creating a network in which the outcome is the process.

By using the idea of collective impact, we can also join educational reformers from many fields and become part of the greater educational reform movement. I believe that in this way we can make deep structural changes in the educational system and make under educated teachers a thing of the past.

Ayanna Hudson (Director of Arts Education, LA County Arts Commission): On Friday, May 7, 2010, Arts for All, in partnership with California State University at Northridge, hosted the Arts for All Higher Education Think Tank. This event brought together decision makers throughout the education and arts community to begin to discuss how to strategically address quality arts education in teacher preparation programs in order to impact teacher practice and student learning. Over 60 people attended representing 13 institutions of higher education, 3 foundations, 6 school districts and partners from the Los Angeles County Office of Education, Orange County Office of Education and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Think Tank attendees participated in several sessions throughout the day to:

• Identify and analyze trends in higher education
• Build consensus on the role of higher education in quality, access and equity in arts education

In one session, Sandra B. Chong, Director of Arts Education, Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication, California State University at Northridge, led a panel discussion with generalist classroom teachers called the “Benefits of Arts Education in the Elementary Classroom,” which focused on the inadequacy of training in arts education in pre-service programs, the use of the arts in the classroom setting and the impact teaching through the arts has on their teaching practice and student learning outcomes.

Although panelists felt that ongoing professional development in the arts is necessary, incorporating arts training into teacher preparation programs would be most beneficial. All panelists felt that strong training in the arts in pre-service programs for teachers would improve teachers’ capacity to teach in a classroom setting and equip teachers with a tool that would support them in improving student learning across all subjects.

After reviewing documentation from the all of the day’s sessions, participants identified the following key priorities:

1. Develop a collective vision of arts education in teacher preparation programs
2. Deliver strong teacher preparation in the arts in pre-service teacher training programs
3. Model best practices throughout teacher training programs
4. Develop and empower advocates in institutions of higher education
5. Establish a culture that values the arts in teacher preparation programs
6. Conduct research and distribute data among stakeholders

These key priorities establish the foundation for the creation of a Higher Education Initiative, especially for California.

4. Can Jessica be right? Will education professionals always see the arts as “outside” of education? Don’t we have to figure out how to change that dynamic if we are ever to again provide arts education to every student K-12? Jessica’s piece illustrates a certain disconnect in belief between educators / teachers and artists / arts organizations as to whether or not the relationship is indeed as solid as she thinks. It’s possible that her perspective is not necessarily shared by the majority of the educator / teacher community – and that might very well be a problem for improving the role of the artist / arts organization within the arts education ecosystem. Chike’s piece further demonstrates some distance between those who run arts organizations and the teacher / educator. Not that he (or Jessica) is in any way wrong in his (her) observations, but their optimism may not be shared across the board outside our community. What are your thoughts?

5. Sabrina seems to be a tad more realistic and experienced in the arena of the arts organization working in the classroom. She rightly sees the artist as leader and partner – but the artist also needs to come into that situation as the learner and the follower too – and it’s not apparent that they do. Her comment that not every artist or arts organization has a role in the wider arts education discussion also resonates: there are a number of arts groups working in schools because the burden of arts education/enrichment provision has fallen on them – but may not be a critical part of their mission. They may not have the resources or expertise to do it effectively. Ruth’s observations are valuable in this light. She has a practical approach. How do we expand on the experience of those that have grappled with this problem for a long time already?

6. Perhaps we need to develop a comprehensive policy position as to the role of artists and arts organizations in the future of classroom arts education (and beyond as part of Eugene’s pyramid including the community) – a policy that reflects the real and genuine needs of both teachers and educators and artists and arts organizations – jointly and separately. Have we even taken baby steps to arrive at such a unified approach to the role of each? We may be living in a somewhat fantasy world - each side clinging to antiquated, outdated and largely erroneous beliefs about what the other wants, needs, thinks, believes and will accept. Can you comment?

Nick Rabkin: There are enormously successful partnerships in schools that include teaching artists, arts organizations, and faculty arts specialists. I would suggest that a serious study of the dynamics of these partnerships would yield the very best ideas of the principles that underlie roles in the provision of arts ed in schools.

7. Thinking of John Abodeely’s and Talia Gibas’ comments about the lack of national leadership for arts integration – and later on in the blog we’ll be discussing national leadership overall for arts education – it would be interesting to hear what type of organization might take on that role. Is it one with an education focus, or an arts/arts education perspective? Should the government provide this role? And is there an opportunity in Common Core standards implementation for this arts integration leadership?

Nick Rabkin: The Getty made an investment in DBAE in the 90s that has had a sustained effect on American arts education. (It’s really too bad that Getty abandoned its efforts under its disgraced president, Barry Munitz, about a decade ago.) It is high time that there was an equivalent philanthropic investment in arts integration, probably the most substantial innovation in arts education pedagogy and curriculum in our time. The practical leadership for this is ready, in my view. There are brilliant practitioners and theoreticians across the country, but no infrastructure to support building the field. What a lost opportunity!

Next week the Arts Education Blog Forum continues - Category: Fieldbuilding

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