Monday, August 15, 2011

Arts Education Blog Forum - Final Week, Day 2

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

Week 4, Day 2

Category: Research

Question: We have argued for a long time that the arts teach the necessary 21st Century skills our students 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?

Chris Shearer (Education Program Officer, Hewlett Foundation Past associate executive director of the National Geographic Society Education Foundation, former Secretary of the Board of Washington Grantmakers, and the son of a visual artist. He has a BA in English Literature and Biology and an MA in English, both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

Let me speak first as an education reformer who aspires to see this nation provide a truly “elite” education for all American schoolchildren. We know that the Arts are a vital element in a quality education.

We see Arts education in highly selective private and public high schools. We see it in top-tier higher education institutions. We see it in affluent communities. We see as a hallmark of national pride and success. So, at some prima facie level, a look at what educationally elite institutions provide their charges leads us to claim that Arts education is a must.

We might also simply trust the personal decisions made for their children by our most advantaged and affluent parents. US Education Secretary Arne Duncan has ensured that his own children get an arts-infused education. Consummate power-broker, Obama insider, and Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel was trained as a ballet dancer.

After they are done crushing us on standardized international achievement tests, other nations come to the US to ask us how to better inject creativity into their schools. The oft-referenced “secret sauce” of the American economy is that our workers are innovative and creative in a way that allows us to stay ahead of the hard-working, lower-paid global pack.

Also, many “next century skills” groups agree that creativity is a vital element of schooling. Organizations such as the Partnership for 21st Century Skills--created by the nation’s leading tech businesses--make it a hallmark of their reform model.

We see it in what elite organizations already offer, we see demand for it among our global competitors, and we see consensus for it as a key element of “next-gen” school reform.

All that said, let me now speak as a cold-hearted policy wonk. Without at least some research base, Arts Education advocates are at risk of being branded as zealots who rely solely on their own convictions. Research on design, effectiveness, impact, and scale is important for at least four reasons:

• Without it, Arts is an easy target for the classic question used by overwhelmed policymakers and leaders. “Got any evidence?” they ask? If the answer is “No,” the conversation defaults to “Come back later when you can prove your case.”

• Without it, even the most committed reformer is at risk of re/allocating resources to well-intentioned but ineffective educational schemes that may waste the time and energy of teachers and students alike.

• Without it, no program can get to scale. Arts Education may languish in the sphere of reforms that reach few kids via programs that are “precious exceptions” to the norm. It may never jump the innovation gulf into reaching large numbers of systems and students.

• Without research, even successful Arts Ed programs may stagnate in the educational status quo. Without rigorous reflection on successes and challenges, programs may fail to continuously improve in a time of rapid demographic, technological, financial, and global change.

So, if research is essential to advocacy, quality, scale, and innovation, what kind of research do we need? Typically, reforms should be judged based at least in part on their own claims.

Let’s ask if Arts Education programs do, in fact, promote better achievement in such deeper learning skills as critical thinking, reflection and metacognition, and communication. Do they foster creativity? Do they--say, in the performing arts--actually teach teamwork and collaboration?

Evaluation could be based in analysis of whether or not Arts Education programs are designed toward these impacts. Do they provide rich access to such learning opportunities? Do they result in better student achievement on valid and reliable measures?

It would help to develop a commonly agreed-upon study agenda and promote it to researchers in academia and private institutions. Strong tests should be identified that measure the outcomes the community itself is looking for.

Practically speaking, reforms are also judged against current needs. In a competitive and under-resourced school system, reform agendas must often demonstrate that they have a positive impact on the “Three Rs.”

Research could determine if students who participate in Arts Education do better than their peers on common assessments of reading comprehension, writing and communication, and applied mathematics. Research might measure a variety of Arts programs against common measures of basic educational achievement.

One area I think gets overlooked is student engagement. Students who are deeply engaged in their work will spend far more time on their academic projects. I suspect that Arts could be well-correlated with student satisfaction, time on task, persistence, learning-to-learn, and even drop-out prevention. Research backing this up would go a long way to making a stronger case for Arts Education.

At the same time, I would caution educational reformers not to hang themselves with their own research rope. It is not often wise to set the evidence bar higher for your programs than the state of the art can measure or than other programs are held accountable to.

Much research of even successful programs shows a “no-effect” finding. Far too much high-end research is conducted inside an artificial construct so that every factor can be controlled--robbing it of real-world relevance. And, in education, research typically shows only small rates of improvement. Our sector does not typically have findings such as “hand washing by surgeons reduces fatalities by thirty-fold.”

The primary recommendation I have is to support more research and to communicate a common research agenda--and its results--more deliberately.

It is less attractive, more risky, and more difficult to support research than to simply offer a new program. Research requires a different kind of expertise. And research may take quite a long time to pan out. Moreover, the field may not agree on shared measures or, indeed, any perceived new accountability. But, the aggregated decisions by institutions and funders not to pursue better research leads to a sort of reverse tragedy of the commons. Without research the field cannot adequately defend itself, cannot find a toehold for expansion, and has too few ways to discuss impact and improvement.

Bernie Trilling (21st Century learning expert, author)

The Arts and Deeper Learning: Power Tools for an Innovation Nation
“What we can do – what America does better than anyone else – is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.”
– President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 25, 2010

Innovating Learning, Learning to Innovate
A few years ago an official delegation from the Chinese Ministry of Education visited an innovative California school, now part of the Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning initiative.

The Chinese educators watched as students took energy measurements; analyzed student surveys; did online research on energy alternatives; created energy awareness videos, an energy song and a short play; and rehearsed their upcoming presentation to the school community.  One very excited Ministry official asked as he held up the school’s curriculum guide, “Where in here do you teach innovation and creativity? I want to know how you teach this – this is just what we need to teach Chinese students!”

The official was very disappointed to hear that Creativity and Innovation were not official subjects in the curriculum, but vital parts of the fabric of American culture – a rich history of inventors and entrepreneurs, like Franklin, Edison, Ford, Gates, and Jobs; a deep culture of tinkering, problem-solving and inventing, taking risks, failing and trying again; and an openness to celebrating artistic and cultural expressions from an incredibly diverse population.

Though there are some indications that our innovation edge may be dulling a bit (see the July 10, 2010 Newsweek article “The Creativity Crisis”), and that this edge may be disappearing from our schools (such as Ken Robinson’s “schools kill creativity” theme), there is a rising wave of support for restoring and reinvesting in creativity, invention, ingenuity and innovation in our nation’s schools.
Arts experiences are an essential part of getting back our “edge in education”.

The Arts Edge

There is little dispute from a compelling and growing body of research (summarized in the PCAH report) that integrating the arts into student learning experiences can help:

· Raise learning engagement and motivation levels
· Boost academic achievement in many subjects

· Develop critical and creative problem solving skills

· Deepen and widen communication skills and student expression

· Support collaboration and social competencies

· Build innovative and entrepreneurial habits of mind

There is growing evidence, from both theory and practice, that these essential skills (for more, see 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times), applied to a common core of knowledge, lead to deeper understanding and a more motivated and capable lifetime learner ready for the tough challenges of our times.

There is growing proof that integrating a deeper understanding of academic subjects with 21st century skills, the arts, invention and innovation, is not only achievable, it is happening in schools every day. Some of the most compelling evidence is coming from the Deeper Learning Network of schools.

The Deeper Learning Network
Over four hundred schools in eight networks are currently part of the Deeper Learning Network, an initiative supported by the Hewlett Foundation, which includes:

· Asia Society, International Study Schools Network
· Big Picture Learning
· ConnectEd
· EdVisions Schools
· Envision Schools
· Expeditionary Learning
· High Tech High
· New Tech Network

These school networks are providing proof that academics, 21st century skills and the arts can be learned together, and that all students can achieve high levels of performance across this expanded definition of student success.

Some of the common learning approaches and practices that engage students in their learning and enable them to reach high levels of performance are:

1) Learning – deeply engaging, personalized and collaborative learning motivated by relevant questions and deep inquiry, problems and the design of creative solutions, and real world issues and challenging projects, all with a focus on high quality student work

2) Teaching – teachers as learning designers, model learners, mentors, guides and
school leaders

3) Evaluation – student work evaluated through public presentations and by a variety of authentic performance assessments incorporated into everyday learning

4) Culture/Climate – for both students and educators, a professional culture of high expectations, responsibility, ownership, and self-direction; and a personal culture of caring, respect, trust, cooperation and community

5) Development – teacher and student development focused on improving the quality of student work through collaboration and embedded coaching, modeling, mentoring and leadership

6) Tools – pervasive use of technology and other learning resources to support Deeper Learning outcomes and practices

A study has been launched to provide further proof that this “ecosystem” of deeper learning approaches consistently provides students with the learning experiences and “power tools” they need for personal success and for securing our country’s position as a leading “innovation nation”.
Stay tuned.

Larry Scripp (arts educator / researcher, New England Conservatory)

As a long-time researcher in the field of arts and human development (from my early days at Harvard Project Zero, to the establishment of the CMIE ‘s Music-in-Education National Consortium and its Learning Laboratory School Network, my first response to the point of departure argument that arts ‘teach’ 21st century skills is to be at first skeptical, if not a bit argumentative, about the premise of this assertion.

On a relatively superficial level I find the personification of ‘the arts’ teaching skills a bit awkward. From the viewpoint of a research agenda, this aphoristic assumption, as yet, makes little sense. Shouldn’t we know more about high quality arts teaching and learning practices before we make any assumptions about its relationship to the current proposed framework of 21st century education outcomes?

At the very least, I feel researchers still have some research methodology housekeeping to do. What do we mean by the ‘arts’? Is one art form in depth sufficient enough to learn 21st century skills? Or do we need the traditional four arts disciplines of music, dance, theater and visual arts? Why do we not usually include English Language ‘Arts’ as part of the arts curriculum? Can only one or two arts disciplines represent ‘the arts’ because of shared concepts or processes across all art forms? Do we really mean arts learning? Where do arts learning processes fit in, especially with multi-disciplinary media arts or opera-based learning? When will schools finally embrace the challenge of administering individual arts learning assessments for all children?

If conceptual conflations and lack of data abound in school-based arts learning research, we will have no less of challenge trying to grasp what is meant by the enormous complexity of new core subjects and support systems that constitute 21st century learning skills.

It is reassuring to me that the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities report (PCAH) makes a final recommendation in the form of an exhortation: we must ‘widen the focus of evidence gathering about arts education.’ This is important to researchers because, in part, research in schools has been limited to reporting that participation in arts learning is associated with higher test scores in reading, in math. From my viewpoint, we have yet to see a broad consensus on the association between relatively deep measures of arts learning and its association with comparatively better understanding of mathematical or language arts skills that have been reported in isolated studies . As the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities concludes in its report:
“….PCAH found much less sustained research on the connections between arts education and 21st century skills such as creativity and innovative thinking, as well as the effect of arts education on engagement, attendance, behavioral problems and other factors that are early indicators of a student’s likelihood of dropping out. PCAH recommends support for research on arts education and its effect on innovative thinking and creativity, and on engagement, motivation, focus, and persistence. While it is hard to find the resources for these evaluations, they are vital to demonstrating the ability of the arts to solve a number of problems at once.”

Thus, the assumption of that the ‘arts teach 21st century skills’ may sound good for hunches, provocative rhetoric or advocacy for arts in schools in general, yet not so simple for the concerned, yet aptly confused, arts or non-arts teacher, parent or the school administrator wants to create an research-based view of arts learning as a catalyst for a high quality 21st century education.

Yet, as a researcher and consultant for schools committed to measuring arts teaching and learning outcomes, I do welcome the research challenges of investigating the impact of particular arts and arts integration practices in the context of well-defined standards a high quality 21st century education. The list of 21st century outcomes  is comprehensive and sophisticated. They point to multiple factors as the path toward optimizing teaching and learning. By expecting students to deal with change and complexity effectively, a much more dynamic and flexibly applied education is likely to result.

And by working backwards from this last question in this Research topic– – In what ways can we demonstrate and verify that arts learning does prepare our kids for the future?” --I think a clearer path of investigation can evolve in the next few years. By introducing the qualifier that it is the ‘deeper learning’ in the arts that promises to deliver the skills and knowledge students will need to succeed in our fast-changing world, we will need to assess rigorously the impact of arts learning in schools while testing for the relationship of the arts to projected 21st century education outcomes.

The problem is, as the previous research questions suggest, we have only begun to work through our comprehensive understanding of the role of arts learning in our schools. At the top of the pyramid of available research, we now can see that a fortuitous mixture of arts and arts integration teaching and learning practices produces evidence of higher academic performance and positive changes in school culture. Yet, we have not yet recognized fully what quality of teaching that is needed to produce these results, nor do we yet acknowledge what difference ‘deep learning’ makes to those students who excel or do not progress well with arts learning.

My suggestions to researchers, teachers who participate in action research, and those who seek to apply research findings in education is threefold:

*Consider the ‘strategic priority’ modeling and investigating the impact of arts learning in laboratory schools first and followed by school district dissemination later. As our Music-in-Education National Consortium school-based research project demonstrates, school communities that are committed to the challenges and rewards of school reform leadership, accountability and rigorous research based school practices  provide an optimal method for investigating arts learning factors and disseminating change in school district policy based on these outcomes . It seems no accident to me that several of the case study examples described in the PCAH report were associated to some extent from our MIENC laboratory school network in Chicago, Maryland and New York. Research-based methods of school reform do not happen all at once, nor should it. Multiple levels of leadership are required in schools in order to conduct sustained research that is relevant and valid for practical application.

In summarizing my thoughts I offer three suggestions for researchers and their school community partners in interested in the relationship of arts learning to 21st century learning goals:

* Provide the best evidence available for the effectiveness of arts-in-education practices in your community before investigating the assumption that arts learning embodies 21st century education ideals. That is, be reluctant to make assumptions about the connection for arts learning to 21st century outcomes prior to a research-based understanding of how these outcomes are can be measured. The impact of arts learning in schools needs to be sufficient for applying these findings toward answering new questions about the contribution of arts learning to 21st Century outcomes, or vice versa, how 21st century skills can optimize arts learning outcomes in schools.

My hunch is that the proof of the pudding will be clear only when future consensus on education policy stipulates that artful thinking, teaching and learning is needed to define, measure, or create optimal conditions for what a broad consensus of educators think 21st Century should be like. My hunch is that the unique contribution of arts learning to 21st Century education outcomes can only be determined through the validation of comprehensive arts learning curriculum as a core subject for all children in schools, arts integration as a key strategy for understanding concepts and processes that are cross curricular, arts as a key component of a new emphasis on multiple literacies, and arts metacognitive skills shared across disciplines (such as creative problem solving, systems thinking,), and social-personal skill development (self-discipline, collaboration).

* Stick to the principle of ‘differentiation and synthesis’ as a prime factor in assessing human development in the arts. Arts learning and 21st Century education research will be hopelessly complicated if we do not allow for certain paradoxes to be recognized as part of the journey of our growing understanding of arts learning. For example, the more each student knows about a wide ranging set of core disciplines, the better all students will come to an understanding of the factors that eventually connect them; the more all students understand a wide ranging set of fundamental concepts and processes shared among disciplines, the more all students will understand the unique contribution of each discipline. And, as Richard Kessler suggested earlier, try to bridge ‘false dichotomies” in arts learning research that look at the synthesis of arts plus arts integration learning rather than pitting arts learning vs. arts integration learning.

* Embrace the inherent complexities of education research in schools. Approached through the lens of 21st century education outcomes, arts learning research should now embrace the rich complexities of human development rather than narrowing the scope of learning assessment, as has been done in the past, to the point of decontextualized isolated subject areas devoid of the factors of social dynamics or social conscience, let alone the cognitive and meta-cognitive complexities of understanding the myriad processes of arts making, response, and analysis that lead to a broader understanding of the place of the arts in education. We can be optimistic that the effort to create new kind of research focused on 21st century learning outcomes will inform what educators, parents and administrators are most interested in: an education for our children that differentiates and interconnects conceptual understanding within and across disciplines, that fosters lasting forms or critical thinking and creativity skills, that is fueled by a social context of equity of resources and respect for the diversity of learners, and which promises to be infinitely applicable to the demands of our new century.

Ayanna Hudson (Director of Arts Education, Los Angeles County Arts Commission)
We know from the Americans for the Arts Ready to Innovate: Are Educators and Executives Aligned on the Creative Readiness of the U.S. Workforce?report that business leaders put a high premium on applicants who can demonstrate an ability to approach the workplace with a sense of creativity and innovation. Intuitively we know the arts are about creativity and innovation and therefore arts education must be important. In fact, when leaders in 80 of the 82 Los Angeles county school districts were interviewed in 1999 every single one – 100% – said they believe in and value the arts. This single unanimous response led to L.A. County approving the countywide collaborative, Arts for All, with the directive to focus on policies, long-range plans, tools and resources to support districts as they renewed their commitment to arts education for all students. They believe in it and Arts for All helps them to make it happen.

Now, fast forward 10 years to our School Arts Survey, which Laura Zucker referred to in her blog post, where we measured quality, access and equity in arts education across 100 schools in five Arts for All school districts with a high commitment to the arts - districts Arts for All has supported for years. A major finding was that in the majority of schools, the arts curriculum doesn’t include real-life applications that prepare students for postsecondary education, focused training, and eventual employment.

Yet, since 2007 the Otis College of Art and Design began publishing its annual Report on the Creative Economy in Los Angeles Region, which defines and documents the impact of the creative economy in Southern California as providing one out of six jobs in the region and emphasizes the importance of a K-12 arts education pipeline to this economy.

So even though 100% of school district leaders value the arts, we found a huge disconnect between a commitment to quality arts instruction and an understanding of how the arts prepare students for the 21st Century world of work. We had mistakenly assumed all these years that the link was clear.
Clearly we all now have a strong mandate to focus our attention on raising the visibility of the link between arts education and workforce development. Arts for All has begun in earnest to look at developing cross sector relationships, such as becoming a key strategy for the Los Angeles County Strategic Plan for Economic Development to achieve its goals for workforce development. Additionally, a number of Arts for All leaders from the business sector, specifically The Boeing Company and Sony Pictures Entertainment, are on the frontlines making the case to their peers and colleagues that a creative workforce is dependent on an education that includes all of the arts. Boeing also supported our district leaders’ attendance at the unveiling of Otis’ 2010 Report on the Creative Economy.

But it’s not enough to have education and business leaders talking to each other about preparing our students for the current and future workforce. It has to happen in a real way inside the classroom. To this end, Arts for All and the Los Angeles County Office of Education have developed a professional development series, “Teaching Creativity with the Core Curriculum,” that will be offered in three different regions of the county three times during the 2011-12 school year.

We need more opportunities for our business and education partners, as well as arts partners and students to make these connections. I have two questions for colleagues: how are you creating cross sector partnerships and what do they look like? How are you making creativity and innovation relevant in the classroom?

Don't Quit.