Sunday, July 24, 2011

Arts Education Forum Day 1

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

Introduction to the Arts Education Blog Forum

For the next four weeks, Julie Fry, Program Officer  in the Performing Arts Program for The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, and I will host an ongoing discussion on arts education and the myriad issues and challenges facing the field in moving arts education forward.   So far, thirty-one arts / arts education leaders from across the country have agreed to participate over the course of the month as responders to initial questions put to them:

Week 1:
Kristine Alexander, Executive Director, The California Arts Project
Paul Ammon, Professor, UC-Berkeley, CA
Arnie Aprill, Founder and Creative Director, Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education, Chicago, IL
Eric Engdahl, California State University-East Bay
Nick Jaffe, Teaching Artist / Musician, Chicago, IL
Sabrina Klein, Executive Director, Teaching Artists Organized, Oakland, CA
Bob Lenz, Co-Founder, Chief Executive Officer, Envision Schools, Oakland, CA
Jessica Mele, Executive Director, Performing Arts Workshop, San Francisco, CA
Louise Music, Arts Learning Manager, Alameda County Office of Education, Hayward, CA
Ruth Nott, Director of Education, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco CA
Chike C. Nwoffiah – Director, Oriki Theater, Mountain View, CA
Nick Rabkin, Teaching Artist Research Project, National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, Chicago IL
Eugene Rodriquez, Executive Director, Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center, San Pablo, CA
Ben Sanders, California Education Partners/CORE, San Francisco, CA

Week 2:
Gigi Antoni, Executive Director, Big Thought, Dallas, TX
Richard Kessler, Executive Director, Center for Arts Education; new Dean of Mannes School of Music, The New School, New York, NY
Joe Landon, Policy Director/Executive Director-designate, California Alliance for Arts Education, Davis, CA
Pedro Noguera, Professor of Teaching and Learning, NYU, New York, NY
Paul Richman, Executive Director, California State PTA, Sacramento CA
Laura Zucker, Executive Director, LA County Arts Commission, Los Angeles, CA

Week 3:

Janet Brown, Executive Director, Grantmakers in the Arts, Seattle, WA.
Cyrus Driver, Program Learning and Innovation, Ford Foundation, New York, NY
Bob Lynch, Presidednt and CEO, Americans for the Arts, Washington DC
Narric Rome, Senior Director for Federal Affairs and Arts Education, Americans for the Arts
Laurie Schell, outgoing Executive Director, California Alliance for Arts Education

Week 4:
Ayanna Hudson, Director of Arts Education, LA County Arts Commission, Los Angeles CA
Laurie Lock, Senior Director of Programs and Policy, VH1 Save the Music
Sandra Ruppert, Executive Director, Arts Education Partnership, Washington, DC
Chris Shearer, Education Program Officer, Hewlett Foundation, Menlo Park, CA
Larry Scripp, Director, Center for Music-in-Education

Each week will focus on one to three opening questions within different categories of issues as follows:

Week #1:  Practice
Question #1 (today, Monday July 25th):  Where does the debate on arts integration stand at present and what are the principal arguments and concerns on either side – pro or con?   What role can the arts play in the new Common Core standards?
Question #2:  (Tuesday, July 26th): Where do we stand with higher academia in their participation in moving forward arts education?
Question #3: (Wednesday, July 27th):  What is the role of artists and arts organizations in the wider arts education paradigm?

Thursday and Friday – follow up comments and questions.

Week #2:  Field Building
Question #1: (Monday, August 1st):  What are we doing to help parents and the public understand:  a) Why arts education is essential to their child’s future, and b) What constitutes a high level arts education component?
Question #2: (Tuesday, August 2nd):  How is the field addressing barriers to arts education beyond budget decreases – the need for relevant assessment and accountability methods, lack of equity and access, high turnover of education and arts leadership, the unspoken territorial divide between arts education people and the general nonprofit arts sector, and the history of the arts education segment’s ability to organize itself?  How do we get to innovation in the field?

Wednesday through Friday – follow up comments and questions.

Week #3:  Policy
Question #1: (Monday, August 8th ):  What opportunities are there for developing a national arts education policy that can inform state and local policy? How important is it that the arts are part of Common Core Standards and the reauthorization of ESEA?
Question #2:   (Tuesday, August 9th):  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?

Wednesday through Friday – follow up comments and questions.

Week #4:  Research
Question #1: (Monday, August 15th):  How does the recent report from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities help to inform public debate on arts education?  What other new research data is out there? (FRSS, NEA, WESTAF, etc)
Question #2: (Tuesday, August 16th ):  We have argued for a long time that the arts teach the necessary 21st Century skills our students will need to be globally competitive, - that deeper learning in the arts delivers the skills and knowledge students will need to succeed in a world that is changing at an unprecedented pace, but what research or data to we have to back up those claims?  In what ways can we demonstrate and verify that it does prepare our kids for the future?  Along the same lines, what areas of research do we need to shore up?

Wednesday and Thursday– follow up comments and questions.  Friday final wrap up.


We hope that both these initial questions and the initial responses to them each week will spur dialogue and discussion that will drill deeper into these and other issues.  We’ve invited and encouraged all our responders to follow along over the course of each week and comment and post their own reactions and conclusions to what is being said after the initial responders have weighed in.  Julie and I may have, from time to time, some follow up questions as well.  All readers are encouraged to enter their own comments and observations at any time to whatever is said by clicking the “comment” line at the end of each blog. 

I would like to thank all of those who agreed to participate in this forum.  While no group of participants could ever be definitive, nonetheless this assembled group includes some very accomplished and critical thinkers, and we hope that others will join in the discussion from across the country and throughout the field over the next few weeks.  I am especially (and deeply) indebted to Julie Fry for all her extraordinary help in putting this Forum together.  Her insights, knowledge, extensive networks and passion for the arena were critical in bringing this idea to reality.  I simply could not have done it without her help .

Let’s get started.
Week #1:  Practice

Question #1:   Where does the debate on arts integration stand at present and what are the principal arguments and concerns on either side – pro or con?   What role can the arts play in the new Common Core standards?

Arnie Aprill /(Founder and Lead Consultant for the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE), comes from a background in theater as an award winning playwright and director. He consults nationally and internationally on school improvement through the arts.)

So What’s New? A Brief History of Arts Integration

Before we investigate the pros and cons of arts integration, and whether the “arts integration vs. direct instruction” opposition is itself a false dichotomy, it may be useful to consider the history and context of art education’s connection to the rest of the curriculum in this country:

Is Arts integration a new idea? John Dewey may have been the first formal advocate for arts integration, with his 1934 classic Art as Experience, and his commitment to inquiry based teaching and learning. Building on Dewey’s theories, Leon Winslow published The Integrated School Art Program in 1939, proposing that the arts and all subject areas be connected in order to provide a richer educational experience for learners.

In the Forties and Fifties, it was normal for grade school classrooms to include pianos, and for teachers to be expected to know how to play them. Many classroom teachers were unselfconscious arts integrators.

In 1957, the launching of the Russian satellite Sputnik created a national technological inferiority complex, and a call for “back to basics” put a chill on arts education for many years, creating a perceived divide between “hard” science and “soft” arts. Ironically, science education is also currently perceived to be a “soft” subject, with only math and reading seen as “hard” enough to merit time in the curricular day.

The sixties saw the rise of the Civil Rights movement, the War on Poverty, the Vietnam War, identity politics, and the creation of Headstart and the National Endowment for the arts. Visiting artist programs began to emerge, and new vocabulary was created: artist-in-residence, comprehensive arts, aesthetic education, arts infusion.

The 1983 report A Nation at Risk: the Imperative for Educational Reform sent new chills through U.S. educational systems, and the arts were again placed on the sidelines. The Getty Center for the Arts was launched in this period, with its theory of Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE), integrating arts appreciation and criticism into regular classrooms, and simultaneously segregating the arts as their own distinct subject areas kept separate from the rest of the curriculum. DBAE, with its emphasis on looking at visual art, was perceived by some arts educators to be hostile to studio art practice and to other arts disciplines. School systems across the country suffered drastic budget cuts, and many arts education programs were eliminated.

The 90s saw the rise of the Standards movement, focused on clear sequences of instruction and on accountability measures; and simultaneously, the rise of arts integration and partnership initiatives such as the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE).

Arts integration has been around in different incarnations for a long time.

So what’s new?  New technology, for one thing. The access to information on the internet and students’ access to new tools for composing, producing, and distributing films, texts, images, music, blogs, podcasts, websites, etc. shifts all education toward increasingly student centered learning, more project based learning, greater need for “soft” 21st century learning skills (comfort with ideas and abstractions, analysis and synthesis, creativity, innovation, self-discipline, organization, flexibility, ability to work on a team), more cross-disciplinary learning, more differentiated instruction, more inter-age work, more connections between life inside and outside schools, and more “real world” tasks. Rapidly changing technologies call for “just–in-time” learning, and flexibility in dealing with technologies that become obsolete before they are perfected. All this argues for an increasingly integrated curriculum – not just between the arts and other subjects, but between all other content areas as well. New technologies also support more comprehensive curriculum in the performing arts – moving beyond performing into composing, curating, publishing, filmmaking, directing, choreographing, and playwriting.

Another change in the terrain of arts education is the creation of new classics and new canons. Popular and “outsider” arts are now considered legitimate subjects for arts learning. Students study quilting. There is a classic Jazz program at Lincoln Center. Film study has become a regular subject in many high schools. Middle-schoolers study computer game design. Most of this was unimaginable twenty years ago.

What else is new? Inter-cultural global communications systems creating whole new “languages” (young people are adept, unlike their elders, at multi-tasking and at composing and “reading” multi-media messages), and massive shifts in world populations. “Everyone” is has a camera in their telephone. “Everyone” is both a filmmaker AND a film distributer. Old identities are morphing, the U.S. is rapidly become a bilingual nation, and all the clich├ęs about moving from an industrial economy to an information economy require a “whole new mind”, to use business writer Daniel Pink’s phrase.

Again, this suggests the need for more arts education, as well as for more integrated instruction in general. The whole discussion of the merits of arts integration and of direct instruction in the arts needs to be framed within this larger shifting educational context. It is this educator’s position that the old turf battle between arts integration and “arts for art’s sake” is the wrong lens for resolving the challenges to providing equitable arts education for our nation’s children. It is my belief that the focus needs to be on creating leadership capacity inside schools for engaging the arts in MULTIPLE ways, including sequential arts instruction by certified arts specialists, the engagement of visiting artists in long term relationships, in-school and after-school programming, and the co-planning of integrated studies among all stakeholders.

Nick Jaffe, Artist / (Musician, recording engineer, teaching artist, Illinois certified K-8 teacher, and curriculum designer based in Chicago. Nick is the Chief Editor of the Teaching Artist Journal, a print and online quarterly published by Routledge under the auspices of Columbia College Chicago.)

I should clarify that my comments here represent only my own views as a musician, teaching artist and curriculum designer, and certainly not those of the Teaching Artist Journal of which I am Chief Editor.  Along with a great team of editors, I work hard, to make the journal a genuinely inclusive forum for the work and thought of TA’s of all kinds, regardless of the philosophy or methodology they espouse or the organizations with which they are affiliated.  We feel strongly that TAJ belongs to the whole field and to all teaching artists everywhere.

Integrate schools.

The discussion around arts integration is shaped by scarcity and inequality, just like every discussion of education and pedagogy in this country.  As a field we are constantly asked to provide reasons why learning the arts is “good” for people or for society. And, perhaps inevitably, we often respond with utilitarian arguments about math skills, “creativity,” and self esteem.  These arguments might be valid, but they should not be the point.  They represent the logic of scarcity and race and class segregation; placing them at the center of what we do as artists and educators can only lead to curriculum and programming that is a deformed adaptation to a deformed social reality.  We’re artists; we’re supposed to be teaching people to make their own art and make it well.

In spite of the endless handwringing, scapegoating, and search for magical solutions that is the “education debate” in America, the solution is obvious.  To provide a balanced, thorough, rigorous but engaging education you simply need to replicate what is in place now at properly funded, well-run schools.  Some of these are expensive private schools; others are public magnets, or simply public schools in wealthier, predominantly white neighborhoods or suburbs. While such schools may also have their problems and weaknesses, the ones I’ve seen generally seem to educate students well without much reference to pedagogical fads.  They attract teachers who are well trained and provide them with good support (though they are often underpaid); curricula are heavy on content but also allow for lots of interpretive and creative work by students; class sizes are reasonable, and there’s plenty of equipment, books and computers.  There's recess, and comprehensive athletic programs.  And, there’s lots of art and music making; usually a nice balance of classes taught by full-time arts specialists, and more integrative or cross-disciplinary arts projects led by teaching artists.  In these schools no one ever seems to feel it necessary to debate whether one should teach “art for art’s sake” or explore “arts integration.”  They just do both and often it’s hard to tell the difference.

It seems clear to me that as artists and educators we should advocate for universal access to the full range of arts teaching and learning as part of a larger fight for equal, (“not separate but equal”), democratically funded, comprehensive and rigorous public education for all.  More teaching artists; more full-time arts teachers; recognition of both as educators and practicing artists; decent pay and benefits.  And incidentally we should be very vocal in defense of teachers and teachers unions in this climate that outrageously seeks to scapegoat them for the grotesque inequalities of segregation.  It’s really part of the same fight.

We should also be proud, as arts educators, when we find ourselves bearing the torch for the reintroduction of curricular depth in classrooms where boring, superficial, algorithmic curricula have become the rule.  We are the natural allies of teachers in this fight, and we can help them to carve out space and time to really teach what they know and what interests them.  If that’s what Arts Integration means then I am an enthusiastic proponent of it.

All art making is integrative.

As I see it, all art making involves the investigation of many different areas of knowledge, experience and material reality.  The earliest preserved cave art is replete with highly anatomically and behaviorally accurate depictions of large mammals in action.  It appears to be the work of people who were very interested in their own lives and the world around them, and had clearly had studied both in great detail; after all, the artists achieved such accuracy and expression in their work some time after they viewed their subjects—they were painting in caves from memory.  The fact that much Paleolithic cave painting appears to be the work of adolescents and children makes this evidence of careful study all the more striking (see Guthrie, R. Dale.  The Nature of Paleolithic Art.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).  So it would seem that as long as we’ve been artists we’ve also been arts integrationists.

Also, any area of human work and thought, from plumbing to theoretical physics, engages the tools of art making, whether visualization, improvisation, or expressive experimentation.  So why not sometimes consciously combine art making and other types of study and work?  It’s fun, and potentially generative and educative.

Integrate what you know.

Can 6th graders write poetry about physics?  Sure. Can it be good poetry?  Absolutely.  Will it lead to novel insights, and a deeper understanding of the science?  It might well.   The models and questions of physics, both classical and modern, are full of astounding and moving metaphor, symbol and narrative, some of which might only be well expressed in poetic language.  Poetic expression of the same is also a reinterpretation and reframing of scientific truth in ways that can bring clarity, and even new insights that are not only literary, but may spur scientific thought.

It also might suck. A superficial, formulaic or forced attempt to use an arts medium to explore academic content often leads to confusing false analogies, oversimplifications, and sterile, unoriginal art making that is alienating to students, teachers and teaching artists.

It won’t suck if: 

-The teacher knows the physics.
-The TA knows poetry.
-Both the TA and teacher are personally interested in exploring the connections between their disciplines, and both have time and space to find real, and interesting points of intersection.

In the absence of any or all of these conditions I think it’s probably a better and more fun use of everyone’s time (especially the students’), to just teach the physics, teach the poetry writing and forget about a mechanical “integration.”  If the teaching is any good it’s likely at least a few students will write some cool poems about physics.  They’ll certainly be equipped to think about metaphor physically, and physics metaphorically, and isn’t that really the point anyway?

Bob Lenz / (Chief executive officer and cofounder of Envision Schools - an innovative educational model through its four urban high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mr. Lenz is recognized nationally as a leader in high school redesign, project-based learning, twenty-first-century-skills education, and performance assessment. He served as president of the Buck Institute of Education and serves on the Advisory Board for the Kalmanovitz School Of Education at St. Mary’s College of California.)

"I wrapped up this trip in Oakland at the Envision Academy of Arts and Technology. We saw some performances by the students, and we also visited some of their classrooms. It’s very inspiring to see what they’re doing there. The arts are integrated into the entire curriculum, and you really see points of intersection between the arts and other subjects… It was really neat to see this kind of intersection. It became very personal for them. And it’s clear that in this school, and in so many of the arts charter schools, it’s not really about art, it’s really about the intersection of art and everything else. Art becomes a very useful portal to almost any subject, and it’s neat to see."

Rocco Landsman, Chairman - NEA

Envision Schools is an education non-profit that started and runs four innovative arts and technology themed college prep charter schools in the Bay Area. We believe the “basics,” including reading, writing and arithmetic offer a necessary but insufficient foundation for success in today’s world. The extent to which a young person possesses a critical, creative mind and is capable of using, applying, and communicating knowledge is ultimately what will determine success in college and beyond. In today’s global, interconnected, digitally driven economy, one must collaborate, be technologically adept and remain aware of intellectual strengths and areas of growth. Envision Schools has been successfully modeling this kind of education for First Generation College Bound students for almost a decade: 90% of our graduates attend college and over 90% of our graduates are still enrolled in college in their second year (as opposed to only 40% college going rate and 60% retention rate in California.)

The integration of the arts is critical to the success of our students and to all young people. The power of this type of learning is best demonstrated by examples:

Who Am I Project
This is a six week 9th Grade integrated project exploring the question, “Who am I?” The students worked on the self-portraits in both their visual arts and language arts classes. Chuck Close's portraiture inspired the students to further their exploration of self through the use of portraiture. The essential question was “How does a portrait inform the viewer or tell facts about our lives?”

Using their knowledge of scale, proportions, and the grid process, students first enlarged a photograph of themselves on a 14 x 17 inch sheet of Bristol paper. The second part of this large-scale portrait included a personal symbol, created in the first quarter of visual art, and a color scheme that reflects a metaphor about who they are. The final part of this exhibition piece was an artist statement. In this statement, students connected their personal symbol, literature read in language arts, short stories written in their language arts class, and their color scheme to who they are socially, potentially, metaphorically, and creatively. Students presented their work and read their statements to a live audience of parents and other adults in an evening exhibition. This is the first project that all students in Envision Schools complete.

Self Portrait and Artist Statement by Isais Garcia-Ramos

The importance of all my different representations of myself was best shown throughout my painting’s unique use of colors and blending values to create a distinct mood. The background is painted in different shades of orange to show how the outside world is always teaching me to find the strength to recreate myself in a better future. I am painted with many shades of blue to show how I am always trying to find a deep inner peace, but I’m not always easy on myself as I’d like to be. I’m always trying to find answers to my inner struggle and that is why I am looking up at my personal symbol in a thoughtful posture to show how I am always thinking of ways to better myself. The way all of these elements come together, despite their contrasts, is what I believe gives my painting its power and balance. This is who I am, and I’m very happy to be exactly me.

Integrating the arts achieves simultaneous outcomes: Students master core academic content knowledge and skills; students learn the artistic discipline; students learn important deeper learning skills like collaboration, critical thinking, communication and project management and students learn to be metacognitive and reflect on their learning so they can transfer their knowledge and skills to new context in the future. Students accomplish all this learning AND have fun through the arts!

The new English Language Arts Common Core standards lend themselves very well to this type of learning. The Next Generation of Assessments of the Common Core promise to include performance assessments. Schools that integrate the arts and ask students to not only master knowledge but demonstrate it and apply that knowledge through the arts are most likely going to out-perform schools still using a traditional approach to teaching and learning. The Common Core and the new assessments are a great opportunity for arts integration to move into the mainstream of education reform.

Louise Music / (Arts Learning Manager at the Alameda County Office of Education; she is the Region IV Arts Lead for the California County Superintendents of Education Services Association.  Recent publications include “Arts Learning as Equitable and Meaningful Education,” in Artful Teaching (Teacher’s College Press, June 2010).

Quality arts integration keeps students in schools, and prepares them for the challenges of work and life. For more than a decade, prominent arts educators have established the value and inter-relationship between discreet, disciplinary arts education and arts integration..  As a growing movement of academics, classroom teachers, parents, students and community artists, we have moved past the false dichotomy of “straight arts instruction” and arts integration as an either/or.

The Alameda County Office of Education’s Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership has developed expertise in demonstrating the effectiveness of arts integration through more than a decade’s worth of experience working with strong partners in higher education, the arts community, school districts and multiple growing networks of schools. In this time, 38 Arts Learning Anchor Schools in Oakland, Berkeley and Emery School districts have successfully integrated the arts to improve student success across all content areas.  These K-12 schools vary widely –small / large, elementary / secondary—and all are committed to arts learning for their students, arts integration and professional development for their teachers, and community-building through effective partnerships with community arts providers.

The arts, by themselves, are not a silver bullet.  They are an essential, and currently largely missing, component of a quality public education that fully engages students, and provides multiple entry points and means for expression according to student interests, strengths and learning styles.  Teachers in all content areas need to build confidence and skills in teaching and integrating the arts.

Effective arts integration is designed to connect with and build upon student interest and prior knowledge, and is intentionally integrated with, and aimed at, important learning goals across the curriculum.  What’s important to understand is that effective arts-integration promotes learning across all areas of curriculum which includes teaching the discrete arts discipline where students learn methods and techniques through active practice.  Integrating the arts with other subject areas also provides clarity about disciplinary learning goals in both content areas and creates opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning in new and original work through artistic application.

Instructional Thinking Frames for the Real Benefits of the Arts in Schools

Our work towards effective arts integration has been greatly informed by researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Project Zero, who have made an important contribution with the Studio Habits of Mind.   The Studio Habits of Mind have been adapted by teachers across the curriculum to dance, music, drama and math, science, history, social studies and English language arts.   The Studio Habits of Mind provide a vocabulary for what is taught and learned, beyond skill and technique, in and through the arts, including: how well students observe closely and learn to focus, how they envision what can be and generate new ideas, how they express themselves, how they engage and persist through problems, and how they reflect on their work, revise, and improve it.

Using the Studio Habits of Mind allows teachers to design intentional arts integrated instruction that creates multiple opportunities for students to develop subject matter understanding by applying their knowledge in original work: drawings, dramatizations, videos, sculptures and dioramas, etc.

Across the country, students and teachers in arts classrooms in Boston, New York, Minneapolis, Berwyn Illinois, Los Angeles and the northern California region are working with networks of schools and school districts are using this vocabulary to provide a fuller picture of students as learners.  There is a transition underway from Studio Habits of Mind to Student Habits - as these habits map onto the 21st century workforce skills students will need for success in their futures. In Arts Learning

Anchor Schools in Alameda County, arts teachers, teaching artists and their students use the Studio Habits of Mind and Teaching for Understanding thinking frames to focus and deepen their arts integrated instruction, and to combine the use of those thinking frames with techniques from Project Zero’s’ Making Learning Visible project to document student work and classroom practice, reflect, revise and improve.

Arts Integration Engages students and keeps them in school:
Across a four-year period, overall graduation rates for students in Arts Learning Anchor Schools were significantly higher than for students in the general population in Emery, Berkeley and Oakland school districts (92% for Arts Learning Anchor Schools, compared to 69%).  The difference is most profound for African American students; in 2006, 94% of African American students in Arts Learning Anchor schools graduated, compared to 64% of their peers in non- Arts Learning Anchor Schools.  

 Arts Integration addresses the “Achievement Gap” through culturally responsive teaching:
Arts instruction that is intentionally integrated with, and aimed at, other important learning goals can, and is, eliminating the racial predictability of success in school. In year two of a three year US department of Education funded project in San Leandro Unified School District, 82% of teachers reported increased ability to differentiate instruction; and 92% percent of teachers reported that the project presented opportunities to create and implement culturally responsive teaching strategies.  District Superintendent, Cindy Cathey, reflects that while administrators and teachers had engaged national experts, and embraced the notion of squarely addressing issues of racism, it was only when the arts were intentionally integrated to build on the strengths and assets of every child, that the district began to see the improved student outcomes they were looking for.   Click here:

Arts Integration provides tools for teacher effectiveness and builds reflective, professional learning communities:
The Alameda County Office of Education has formalized a decades’ worth of experience, with growing networks of schools and districts in arts learning and arts integration, into a regional Teacher Action Research Institute, and an Arts Integration Specialist Program where arts teachers, teaching artists, multiple subject, and single subject non-arts teachers are building the capacity to lead school-site based professional learning communities through the use of research based, analytical thinking frames for curriculum design and assessment, collaboration, and teacher action research.  As a regional lead in the CCSESA (California County Superintendents of Education Services Association) Arts Learning Initiative, this is a model for regionally developing communiteis of educatorsm
, artists and universities that can respond to the ongoing, ever-changing learning needs of California's students.

Arts Integration and Common-Core Standards
We are at a critical time in public education, where educators are acknowledging the failure of the No Child Left Behind policies and accountability systems.  We need new ways to assess how well our schools are educating our children, not by counting and sorting who has succeeded and who has failed, but by providing both ongoing and summative assessments so that teachers can revise their instruction according to student misunderstandings, and so that educators can provide students with useful information and next steps about how to improve and achieve.  The arts and arts integration are essential to finding new and responsive ways to address the instructional and assessment needs of students and communities in our large and diverse state.

When the most daunting and urgent of educational challenges is the count of students who either drop out or graduate unprepared for college and the 21st century workforce, we must ask ourselves which strategies will actually support educators in addressing the problem at hand. Educators make a mistake when they privilege teaching standards, over teaching students.  In thinking about the value of arts in public education and the role they play in the new Common Core standards, an important, fundamental question should also be raised, “what are the Common Core Standards good for?”

As leaders in education, we are challenged to move out of our silos and to respond as a collective field to make good on the promise of a high quality education for every child, in every school, every day.  We must ask ourselves how we can work together to apply what we know about the essential role the arts must play in a high quality education that engages students purposefully in school today, and prepares them with the knowledge, skills, enthusiasm and abilities to be successful in career, college, community and citizenship.

Our Unified Voice and a Collective Call to Action

What will it take to bring pockets of practice where arts integration is transforming teaching and learning, so that all students are building the knowledge, skills and dispositions to engage the world and participate in global solutions, into a comprehensive approach to public education?

 As educators and community leaders, we can be confident that arts integration is an essential part of the solution.  There is no topic more pertinent to preparing our young people as participants in a healthy, multi-cultural national democracy to address global challenges of human conflict, economy and environment.

Ben Sanders / (Center for Education Policy/CORE)
I am not aware of anyone who doesn't think the arts can and should play a central role in K-12 education.  Indeed the arguments in favor of arts integratrion are myriad - everything from what it means to be a fully educated person (in the 21st or any century); to how, as research shows, a sustantial grounding in the arts can directly contribute to achievement in other content areas; to how the arts provides a hook for many students to persevere in school (when they might otherwise retreat); to the ways in which the arts provides a complementary, sophisticated means of expression and communication of ideas (along with reading and writing); to the ways in which the arts can help students build and refine the knowledge, skills, discipline and habits of mind that will serve them well in virtually all future endeavors.

The arguments against arts integration, such as they are, seem to me mostly practical.  The main culprits are a) a perceived lack of time in the school day (available to adequately address the “core” subjects of ELA, Math, Science and History), b) dire budgetary pressures which take their toll first on so called non-core areas like the arts—resulting, for example, in slashing arts programs and school-based arts specialist positions, c) a lack of what we might call arts-related “pedagogical content knowledge and expertise” on the part of regular classroom teachers as to how to fully integrate the arts, and d) a general lack of awareness and/or understanding of the central role that the arts can play in increasing overall achievement.   

I believe the arts can play a central role in the new Common Core standards. The very nature of the standards themselves, with their emphasis on sustained, “deeper learning;” on vertical and horizontal/cross curricular alignment and connections, lends itself extraordinarily well to the full integration of the arts.  For example, a quick glance at the “mathematical practices” that recur and guide learning at every grade level, illustrate this potential.  After all, what studio artist, musician, dancer or dramatist does not, at one time or another, need to attend to: making sense of problems and persevere in solving them, reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, constructing viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others, using appropriate tools strategically, attending to precision, looking for and making use of structure, and looking for and expressing regularity in repeated reasoning (all of which are the Common Core’s “mathematical reasoning standards”)?  

In short the skills and habits of mind that one develops through a rigorous study of the arts—i.e., precision, attention to detail, discipline, preparation for performance, ability to connect with an audience, recognizing interconnections—are all directly relevant and transferable to the learning expectations outlined in the Common Core.  It is exciting to envision the possibilities!

Check back as additional participant comments are added.  Tomorrow will post question # 2.

Don’t Quit.