Archives for category: Arts Education

Mitchell Robinson, who teaches music at Michigan State University, writes here about the madness of assessing teachers by “value-added” or growth measures, especially when they don’t teach the tested subjects.


State officials listen attentively to the unaccredited National Council on Teacher Quality, which was created by the conservative Thomas B.Fordham Foundation and kept alive by an emergency infusion of $5 million by then-Secretary of Education Rod Paige.


A state official explained why VAM was necessary:


Venessa Keesler, deputy superintendent of accountability services at MDE, said measuring student growth is a “challenging science,” but student growth percentiles represent at “powerful and good” way to tackle the topic. “When you don’t have a pre-and-post-test, this is a good way to understand how much a student has progressed,” she said. Under the new law, 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on student growth through 2017-18. In 2018-19, the percentage will grow to 40 percent. State standardized tests, where possible, will be used to determine half that growth. In Michigan, state standardized tests – most of which focus on reading and math – touch a minority of teachers. One study estimated that 33 percent of teachers teach in grades and subjects covered by state standardized tests.


Robinson comments:


What Dr. Keesler doesn’t seem to understand is that the student growth percentiles she is referring to are nothing more than another name for Value Added Measures, or VAM–a statistical method for predicting students’ academic growth that has been completely and totally debunked, with statements from nearly every leading professional organization in education and statistics against their use in making high stakes decisions about teacher effectiveness (i.e., exactly what MDE is recommending they be used for in teachers’ evaluations). The science here is more than challenging–it’s deeply flawed, invalid and unreliable, and its usefulness in terms of determining teacher effectiveness is based largely on one, now suspect study conducted by a researcher who has been discredited for “masking evidence of bias” in his research agenda.


Dr. Keesler also glosses over the fact that these measures of student growth only apply to math and reading, subjects that account for less than a third of the classes being taught in the schools. If the idea of evaluating, for example, music and art teachers by using math and reading test scores doesn’t make any sense to you, there’s an (awful) explanation: “‘The idea is that all teachers weave elements of reading and writing into their curriculum. The approach fosters a sense of teamwork, shared goals and the feeling that “we’re all in this together,’ said Erich Harmsen, a member of GRPS’ human resources department who focuses on teacher evaluations.”


While I’m all for teamwork, this “explanation” is, to be polite, simply a load of hooey. If Mr. Harmsen truly believed in what I’ll call the “transitive property” of teaching and learning, then we would expect to see math and reading teachers be evaluated using the results of student learning in music and art. Because what’s good for the goose…right?


The truth is, as any teacher knows, for evaluation to be considered valid, the measures must be related to the actual content that is taught in the teacher’s class–you can’t just wave some magical “we’re all in this together” wand over the test scores that miraculously converts stuff taught in band class to wonderful, delicious math data. It just doesn’t work that way, and schools that persist in insisting that it does are now getting sued for their ignorance.


Why should teacher evaluation be standardized when there is so much messy human, social, and economic intervention in the scores that cannot be controlled or measured?


Robinson disputes the value of standardization:


Teachers work with children, and these children are not standardized.


Teachers work in schools, and these schools exist in communities that are not standardized.


And teachers work with other teachers, custodians, secretaries, administrators, school board members, and other adults–none of which are standardized.


So why should teacher evaluations systems in schools in communities as diverse as the Upper Peninsula and downtown Detroit evaluate their teachers using the same system? And why is the finding that “local assessments can vary among ‘teachers at the same grade, in the same school, teaching the same subjects'” a bad thing?


The thing that we should be valuing in these children, schools and communities is their diversity–the characteristics, talents and interests that make them gloriously different from one another. A school in Escanaba shouldn’t look like a school in Kalamazoo, and the curriculum in each school should be tailored to the community in which it resides. The only parties that benefit from “standardizing” education are the Michigan Department of Education and the testing companies that produce these tests, because standardizing makes their jobs easier. Standardizing teaching and learning doesn’t help students, teachers or schools, so why are we spending so much time and money in a futile attempt to make Pearson and ETS’s jobs easier?



Steven Singer’s post is part of the series that Anthony Cody is running on his blog about the importance of the arts in education.


He writes:


Sometimes in public school you’ve just got to cut the crap.


No testing. No close reading. No multiple choice nonsense.


Get back to basics – pass out notebooks, crack them open and students just write.


Not an essay. Not a formal narrative. Not an official document. Just pick up a pencil and see where your imagination takes you.


You’d be surprised the places you’ll go.


You might invent a new superhero and describe her adventures in a marshmallow wonderland. You might create a television show about strangers trapped in an elevator. You might imagine what life would be like if you were no bigger than a flea.


Or you might write about things closer to home. You might describe what it’s like to have to take care of your three younger brothers and sisters after school until just before bedtime when your mom comes back from her third minimum wage job. You might chronicle the dangers of walking home after dismissal where drug dealers rule certain corners and gangs patrol the alleys. You might report on where you got those black and blue marks on your arms, your shoulders, places no one can see when you’re fully clothed.


My class is not for the academic all stars. It’s for children from impoverished families, kids with mostly black and brown skin and test scores that threaten to close their school and put me out of work.


So all these topics and more are fair game. You can write about pretty much whatever you want. I might give you something to get you started. I might ask you a question to get you thinking, or try to challenge you to write about something you’ve never thought about or to avoid certain words or phrases that are just too darn obvious. I might ask your opinion of something in the news or what you think about the school dress code or get your thoughts about how things could improve.


Because I actually care what you think.


Methinks that Steven is thinking of the famous line by David Coleman, architect of the Common Core standards, who once said that when you grow up, you learn that no one gives a —- what you think or feel. Steven Singer cares what his students think and feel. He wants them to think and feel.


He writes:


At times like these, I’m not asking you to dig through a nonfiction text or try to interpret a famous literary icon’s grasp of figurative language. It’s not the author’s opinion that matters – it’s yours – because you are the author. Yes, YOU.


You matter. Your thoughts matter. Your feelings. YOU MATTER!

Amanda Koonlaba teaches kindergarten students in Mississippi. This post is part of the series on art in school that appears on Anthony Cody’s blog “Living in Dialogue.”


Koonlaba writes:


I believe arts education is the antithesis of the corporate reform and privatization regime. I believe arts education is the best tool that schools have to reach all learners. I believe the arts belong in every school because they are important to our humanity. I believe all students deserve access to high-quality arts instruction. I also believe that the arts should be integrated with the traditional subjects of math, science, reading, etc.


You don’t have to take my word for it though. There is more than enough meritable research to back up my arts belief system. In fact, my school partners with the Whole Schools Initiative (WSI), which is a special project of the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC). The MAC has conducted more than one research study that shows the significant role the arts play in closing achievement gaps and creating a school culture that is most conducive to meeting the needs of the whole child.


This partnership began three years ago. I was asked by my administrators to write a grant to the Mississippi Arts Commission to fund the start of this partnership and to serve as the coordinator of the program. I was thrilled to do this. I had previously taught at two Model Schools for arts integration (both public schools) as a third and first grade teacher. Now, as the visual art teacher at my current school, I was so proud to be able to bring such an amazing opportunity to my new students.


So, the teachers at my school began attending professional development workshops on the arts and how to integrate the arts into instruction. These weren’t the typical, mundane workshops that come to mind when you think about CCSS and data analysis. These were fun workshops where teachers were able to participate in artistic processes and learn how to use those to integrate their instruction. They were engaging and worthwhile. The same as what we want for the instruction of our students.


We put a very concentrated effort into using this new partnership to change the image of our school within our community. Over time, our school began getting positive press which had been lacking for many years. The staff led students and the community in painting murals, revamping outdoor spaces, and hosting events to get all stakeholders into our school. This speaks to the cultural change we are experiencing as a result of our efforts.


I certainly feel happier at my job than I ever have in eleven years of teaching. Yes, we still have to test and we still have data conversations. It is still stressful, but we are combatting that for ourselves and our students with the arts. On the days a teacher is able to integrate an art project into their instruction, both the teacher and students enjoy being at school….



Last year, a fourth grader asked me if I realized they had been doing art in their math class. I said, “Of course, I helped your teacher get those materials for you guys.” He was surprised. He said he hadn’t realized you could do art and math at the same time. He went on to say, “I needed that. I only get to come to your class once a week. I need art more than once a week. It helps me forget about all the bad things.” I know that student very well. I have been his visual art teacher for three years, and I know what he is referring to when he mentions “bad things.” I know what his home life is like, and I know he was being so sincere.



The National Association for Music Education is very happy with the new Every Student Succeeds Act. For the first time in anyone’s memory, the act specifically refers to music and art as important subjects.


Here are two examples of what the music educators love:


Title I: Improving Basic Programs Operated by State and Local Educational Agencies

o Section 1008: Schoolwide Programs (Schoolwide Program Plan): Plans which may be executed via a combination of federal, state and local funds, in efforts to improve the overall educational program of a school meeting the appropriate threshold of disadvantaged students to become eligible. Strategies should seek to strengthen academic programs, increase the amount and quality of learning time, and provide a WELL-ROUNDED education (music, arts). (pg. 164)

o Section 1009: Targeted Assistance Schools (Targeted Assistance School Program): Aimed at assisting schools and Local Educational Agencies with support in ensuring that all students served meet the State’s challenging student academic achievement standards in subjects as determined by the State. Criteria includes the potential to provide programs, activities and courses necessary to ensure a WELL-ROUNDED education (music, arts). (pg. 169)




Clyde Gaw is a veteran art teacher, K-12, in Indiana. In this post, part of Anthony Cody’s series on the importance of art, Gaw describes the teaching and learning of art and how it brings out interest, motivation, and passion in students. They become invested in their work. They want to do it; they want to finish it.


Here is a small part of a thoughtful and provocative post:



At the end of the day, I ask myself, if art experiences optimize developmental pathways and provide learning experiences that allow students to make sense of content, why are fine arts programs not fully funded and supported by federal and state policy makers whose mantra is “We should do what’s best for children?” President Barack Obama, whose presidential theme of “change” propelled him to the White House in 2008, defaulted on that promise with RTTT, an initiative resulting in the de-emphasis of arts learning and new emphasis on testing and data collection. Despite happy talk from politicians about arts education, federal and state lawmakers should know if schools and educators are going to be penalized for low standardized test scores, a school’s curricula structure is going to emphasize test-taking skills in a myriad of ways including increased time spent on tasks and subjects preparing for tests.Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 10.58.35 PM


In the classroom, I look at my watch. “Children, it’s clean-up time. The next class has arrived and they are waiting outside for their turn in the art room.” “Tell them to wait,” chirps Frank, “We don’t want to go!” After clean up, Frank’s class lines up at the door and reluctantly waves good-bye while the next class moves in for another 40-minute art experience. This sequence is repeated 37-39 times a week, for 36 weeks. My thoughts race back to a comment a student made to me a two years earlier, “Art should be….like the whole school!” What would happen if students spent most of their day learning through creative experience?


What would that look like?


At the end of the day, I review photo-documentation of student art-making activities in our studio where child initiated ideas to build, paint, draw, sculpt, act, sew, write or develop other trans-disciplinary ideas are honored. Democratic education is emergent and means children have a voice and co-collaborate in the design of the curricula experiences they participate in.


After decades observing children in studio settings devoted to self-expression in art, there is much evidence to conclude the mind is a biologically unique organ. Howard Gardner’s theory of mind, which states human beings are biologically endowed with unique intellectual and creative capacities, is perfectly illustrated in our art program. Children are not homogeneously constructed.


Children thrive in fine arts settings because art, music, theatre and dance are the first language of humans. It is not by accident that educational experience is optimal when integrated through multi-sensory learning experience. There is a biological basis for memory formation and it has everything to do with multi-sensory experience. Research in physiology by 2000 Nobel Laureate, Eric Kandel reveals neural networks are strengthened and expanded when learners engage in sensory-based learning experience. From this educator’s perspective, Kandel’s research means fine arts experiences are critical, foundational experiences in the development of mind.

Michelle Gunderson teaches first grade in Chicago. She teaches poetry to her students. They love it. They read poems and they write poems.


We read tons of poems, made lists of what we noticed, tried different techniques, and learned the mechanics of poetry. But at the end of the unit we read Whitman, Hughes, Dickinson, and Rosetti. We decided to add to our list of poetry features that poems can be about something important.


Writing a poem when you are six, and experiencing yourself as a poet is extraordinary.


Poetry is the natural language of childhood – we hear it in nursery rhymes, playground games, and jump rope songs. Yet, writing poetry is not part of the Common Core standards in the early grades. There are several reasons to be troubled by this. First of all, when we eliminate a genre of literature that is natural to children, we also restrict the love of language necessary to draw young readers into the process. I have contended in other writings and presentations that the Common Core standards do not take into consideration child development and natural inclinations of young children. This is yet another example.


It becomes more troubling when we recognize that poetry and song are the elements of resistance and movements. These are the ways that people fully express who they are and speak out against oppression. And finally, poetry is an art, and it is part of being fully human.

Anthony Cody has been running a series of articles about the importance of art in school on his blog “Living in Dialogue.”


I will post each of the series.


This is number one. 


It contains a beautiful statement by Susan Dufresne, kindergarten teacher and artist:


Art is healing and meditative for children and teachers. It is inspiring and allows a different kind of space for free and creative expression. Art builds self-confidence in a way that children need. It develops listening skills and an ability to work from part-to-whole. It develops trust in one’s teacher.


Art develops executive functioning skills, impulse control, delayed gratification skills, planning and organizing skills, fine motor skills, and visual spatial skills. Art develops meta-cognition skills, problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Art increases experiences of joy in all children and during the process of a shared joyful Art experience, our immune systems get the same kind of boost as a hug provides. Shared Art experience creates a strong sense of community. Art creates a sense of peace and satisfaction. Art creates children who think outside the box and can help students stand up for themselves and others. Art develops empathy. Art helps us learn about our world sometimes in a way nothing else could replace. Art can be full-on play! Art can create wonder and Art can answer wonderings. Art can be fiction or non-fiction. Art can come from within or from a power outside of oneself. #Art can incite emotion. Art can be visual music with rhythm and a melody of pattern. Art can engage all of our senses. Art can be science. Art is math. Art is visual poetry. Art can be social studies. Art can incite social justice! Art can be dangerous to the elite! Art can disrupt and disturb oppression. Art can heal depression and trauma. Art is worth doing for the sake of Art alone, but Art does all these things!


Can you VAM an art teacher? No! Can a multiple-choice test grade children’s imagination and creativity? No! Why do we measure and care about the wrong things?






The Los Angeles Times reports that arts education has been shortchanged in the Los Angeles Unified School District in recent years, even as the district leadership was pouring millions of dollars into testing, test-prep, and technology. Former superintendent John Deasy was willing to allocate $1.3 Billion to buy iPads for Common Core testing, but at the same time, many schools across the district had no arts teachers.

Under the philosophy that test scores are the only measure that matters, that low scores lead to school closures, the district neglected the arts.

Normandie Avenue Elementary Principal Gustavo Ortiz worries that he can’t provide arts classes for most of the 900 students at his South Los Angeles school.

Not a single art or music class was offered until this year at Curtiss Middle School in Carson.

At Carlos Santana Arts Academy in North Hills, a campus abuzz with visual and performing arts, the principal has gone outside the school district for help. A former professional dancer, she has tapped industry connections and persuaded friends to teach ballroom dancing and other classes without pay until she could reimburse them.

Budget cuts and a narrow focus on subjects that are measured on standardized tests have contributed to a vast reduction of public school arts programs across the country. The deterioration has been particularly jarring in Los Angeles, the epicenter of the entertainment industry.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is discovering the extent of those cuts as it seeks to regain the vibrancy that once made it a leader in arts education. For the first time, L.A. Unified in September completed a detailed accounting of arts programs at its campuses that shows stark disparities in class offerings, the number of teachers and help provided by outside groups.

Arts programs at a vast majority of schools are inadequate, according to district data. Classrooms lack basic supplies. Some orchestra classes don’t have enough instruments. And thousands of elementary and middle school children are not getting any arts instruction.

A Los Angeles Times analysis that used L.A. Unified’s data to assign letter grades to arts programs shows that only 35 out of more than 700 schools would get an “A.” Those high-performing schools offered additional instruction through community donations, had more teachers and a greater variety of arts programs than most of the district’s campuses.

State policy is strong in support of arts education, but LAUSD doesn’t have the money to support the arts. Instead, the money has been spent on testing and implementing the Common Core.

Eight out of every 10 elementary schools does not meet state standards in the arts. The students least likely to engage in the arts are in the high-needs, low-income schools. In schools where there are parents with resources and contacts, they are able to supplement what the school does not provide.

Only four elementary schools — West Vernon, Magnolia, Bonita Street and 49th Street Elementary — had an arts teacher five days a week, according to district data.

“I feel real guilty because my kids go to schools where an art teacher and a music teacher are there five days a week,” said Ortiz, who pointed to Normandie’s limited budget. “I come here and I can’t give the kids what my own kids get. It just tears me up. It’s such an inequity.”

Arts education was not meant to be a luxury in California.

State law requires that schools provide music, art, theater and dance at every grade level. But few districts across the state live up to the requirement.

According to a story in the Wall Street Journal today, the state has allocated $4.8 Billion to the implementation of the Common Core standards and testing. This is a matter of priorities: What matters most: The joy of learning or standardized test scores?

It is ironic that billionaire Eli Broad, who just opened a new museum to house his own collection, wants to spend $490 million to open 260 new charter schools, but can’t find it in his heart to subsidize the arts in the schools of his adopted city.

Which will matter more to these children? The joy of performance, the discipline of practice, the love of engagement promoted by the arts or taking the Common Core tests that most will fail again and again?

You decide.

Billionaire Eli Broad has proposed a plan to privatize the schooling of 50% of the students in Los Angeles. He plans to pool $490 million from fellow billionaires to achieve his goal. If he succeeds, the remaining 50% of the children in LAUSD will have fewer resources, fewer teachers, larger classes. This is a short-sighted approach, to say the least. Surely, Eli doesn’t want his legacy to be: HE DESTROYED PUBLIC EDUCATION IN AMERICA.

Here is a genuine crisis that he could easily address. LAUSD cannot afford arts education in every school. It currently spends $25 million a year on arts education. It needs $75 million a year to supply the teachers of the arts to every school. Eli Broad just opened a fine new arts museum, which cost him $200 million. The children in LAUSD will not be able to visit the Broad Museum because there is no money for field trips.

Some schools have arts resources but no arts teachers. Some have neither arts resources nor arts teachers.

Instead of funding a parallel privatized system to compete with the public schools, further impoverishing public schools, Eli Broad could build a model public education system, where every child has a full education in the arts.

Mr. Broad, what do you say? If you care about children, if you care about the arts, will you supply the $50 million needed to enable every child to act, paint, sing and participate in all the arts?

The New York Times has a lovely article about where to find the art that portrays working people. I tend to think (wrongly) that the art of and about working people is from the 1930s, Socialist Realism. But much of the art described here is centuries old. People have always worked, but the great painters tended to paint royalty or mythical scenes or portraiture or still life, but not so much the people building and sowing and making.

One thing that occurs as you view the art of labor is how much of this kind of work–in factories and fields–has disappeared, either because it has been mechanized or outsourced. A factory that once employed 1,000 workers has either been transformed into a sleek production line run by robots and overseen by a handful of people. Or shipped to China or Mexico, where labor is cheaper.

Another thought is that unions arose to combat terrible working conditions and give working people a voice, so they were not treated as disposable by the bosses.

In the 1930s, the owners of capital hated unions. They have always hated unions. They don’t want to share power. They hate them still and do not lose an opportunity to reduce them and wherever possible, eliminate them.


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