Archives for category: Arts Education

Now that we have endured more than a dozen long years of No Child Left Behind and five fruitless, punitive years of Race to the Top, it is clear that they both failed. They relied on carrots and sticks and ignored intrinsic motivation. They crushed children’s curiosity instead of cultivating it.* They demoralized schools. They disrupted schools and communities without improving children’s education.

We did not leave no child behind. The same children who were left behind in 2001-02 are still left behind. Similarly, Race to the Top is a flop. The Common Core tests are failing most students, and we are nowhere near whatever the “Top” is. If a teacher gave a test, and 70% of the students failed, we would say she was not competent, tested what was not taught, didn’t know her students. The Race turns out to be NCLB with a mask. NCLB on steroids. NCLB 2.0.

Whatever you call it, RTTT has hurt children, demoralized teachers, closed community schools, fragmented communities, increased privatization, and doubled down on testing.

I have an idea for a new accountability system that relies on different metrics. We begin by dropping standardized test scores as measures of quality or effectiveness. We stop labeling, ranking, and rating children, teachers, snd schools. We use tests only when needed for diagnostic purposes, not for comparing children to their peers, not to find winners and losers. We rely on teachers to test their students, not corporations.

The new accountability system would be called No Child Left Out. The measures would be these:

How many children had the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument?

How many children had the chance to play in the school band or orchestra?

How many children participated in singing, either individually or in the chorus or a glee club or other group?

How many public performances did the school offer?

How many children participated in dramatics?

How many children produced documentaries or videos?

How many children engaged in science experiments? How many started a project in science and completed it?

How many children learned robotics?

How many children wrote stories of more than five pages, whether fiction or nonfiction?

How often did children have the chance to draw, paint, make videos, or sculpt?

How many children wrote poetry? Short stories? Novels? History research papers?

How many children performed service in their community to help others?

How many children were encouraged to design an invention or to redesign a common item?

How many students wrote research papers on historical topics?

Can you imagine an accountability system whose purpose is to encourage and recognize creativity, imagination, originality, and innovation? Isn’t this what we need more of?

Well, you can make up your own metrics, but you get the idea. Setting expectations in the arts, in literature, in science, in history, and in civics can change the nature of schooling. It would require far more work and self-discipline than test prep for a test that is soon forgotten.

My paradigm would dramatically change schools from Gradgrind academies to halls of joy and inspiration, where creativity, self-discipline, and inspiration are nurtured, honored, and valued.

This is only a start. Add your own ideas. The sky is the limit. Surely we can do better than this era of soul-crushing standardized testing.

*Kudos to Southold Elementary School in Long Island, where these ideas were hatched as I watched the children’s band playing a piece they had practiced.

Yesterday, in response to a reader in Ohio, I posted an “Ohio Alert,” warning that the State Board of Education in Ohio would soon consider eliminating teachers of  art, music, and physical education, librarians, social workers, and nurses in elementary schools.

 

Several commenters on the blog have disputed the claim and said it was not true..

 

This article seems to offer a definitive explanation.

 

It is NOT TRUE that the vote will be taken this week. The state board will vote on this question in December. Forgive my error!

 

What will the vote be about?

 

Patrick O’Donnell of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes:

 

The state board will vote in December, not this week as some have claimed, on whether to eliminate requirements that local districts have a certain number of elementary art, music or physical education teachers, school counselors, library media specialists, school nurses, social workers and “visiting teachers.”

 

Administrative code requires districts to have at least five of these eight positions per 1,000 students in what some call the “5 of 8″ rule. The state board is considering wiping out that rule and allowing districts to make staffing decisions on their own.

 

Tom Gunlock, the board’s vice chairman, said this morning that the proposed change isn’t to eliminate those positions, as some are charging, but to let districts make their own choices.

 

Should the state require districts to have these classes and services? Or is that a local decision? Tell us below.
“I’m sure they’ll do what’s right for their kids,” Gunlock said.

 

He added: “For years, people have been telling me about all these unfunded mandates and that we’re telling them what to do. They keep telling me they know more about what their kids need that we do, and I agree with them.”

 

Susan Yutzey, president of the Ohio Educational Library Media Association, is urging her members to oppose the change. In a presentation on the change posted online, Yutzey said she and other organizations are “concerned that local boards and administrators will see this as an opportunity to eliminate art, music, physical education, school counselors, library media specialists, school nurses and social workers.”

 

So, if we read Mr. Gunlock’s view correctly, the state will consider changing its requirement that elementary schools must fill five of these eight positions. Requiring that all elementary schools have teachers of the arts, nurses, librarians, physical education teachers, and social workers is “an unfunded mandate.” Schools facing budget cuts could get rid of the school nurse or the teachers of the arts or teachers of physical education or social workers or librarians. The choice would be theirs as the state code would no longer require that every school must fill at least five of these eight positions per 1,000 students.

 

If I were a parent of an elementary school age child in Ohio, I would be very alarmed that the state board is making these positions optional. For warning that the state board is even considering such a nonsensical “mandate relief,” I offer no apology.

Last year, the school board of Lansing, Michigan, voted to eliminate music, art, and physical education from its elementary schools. It was a budget-cutting measure. Where were the “reformers”? Silence. Do you remember the strong statement from Secretary Duncan? Neither do I.

 

After the teachers of the arts and physical education were laid off, the job of teaching those subjects was assigned to the regular classroom teachers. No specialists, no art teachers, no music teachers, no gym teachers.

 

Remember that old idea about equality of educational opportunity? This isn’t it.

 

 

 

 

On November 11, the Ohio State Board of Education will vote on a motion to eliminate crucial positions at elementary schools.

 

The Board will vote on whether to eliminate “specialist” positions, that include elementary schools arts teachers, elementary school music teachers, elementary school physical education teachers, school nurses, school library media specialists, school counselors, and school social workers.

 

Will they call it “reform”?

 

Here is Peter Greene, reporting on the same horrifying spectacle, with more detail.

 

He writes:

 

This morning comes word that the Ohio State Board of Education will vote this Tuesday on some revision to the school code. The most significant revision reportedly under consideration is one that would make end state requirements for elementary specialists.

 

Currently, school code states that for every thousand elementary students, schools must have in place five of the following eight specialists: art, music, counselor, school nurse, librarian/media specialist, visiting teacher, social worker, or phys ed.

 

The revision would eliminate the section that includes that language. What would be left is this definition of staff:

 

Educational service personnel are credentialed staff with the knowledge, skills and expertise to support the educational, instructional, health, mental health, and college/career readiness needs of students.

 

The appeal for districts is obvious. Let’s have one music teacher for 10,000 students. Let’s have no music teacher at all. Great. Let me mention that this article also came across my screen this morning: “Youngstown kids second poorest in nation” Do we really need to argue that the poorest, most vulnerable students are the ones who most need these sorts of services and enrichment? Is there somebody in Ohio prepared, seriously, to argue that nurses and music and art and phys ed are unnecessary luxuries, and kids should just pack up their grit and do without?

 

The Twitter hashtag for this abomination is #ohio5of8

 

 

On September 4, I posted two things about Marc Tucker’s latest accountability proposals. One was a brief summary of his ideas. I was especially impressed by the point he made that no other advanced nation tests as much as we do.

The second was a critique of Tucker’s accountability plan by Anthony Cody.

Cody wrote the following:

““We need to learn (and teach) the real lesson of NCLB – and now the Common Core. The problem with NCLB was not with the *number* of tests, nor with when the tests were given, nor with the subject matter on the tests, or the format of the tests, or the standards to which the tests were aligned.

“The problem with NCLB was that it was based on a false premise, that somehow tests can be used to pressure schools into delivering equitable outcomes for students. This approach did not work, and as we are seeing with Common Core, will not work, no matter how many ways you tinker with the tests.

“The idea that our education system holds the key to our economic future is a seductive one for educators. It makes us seem so important, and can be used to argue for investments in our schools. But this idea carries a price, because if we accept that our economic future depends on our schools, real action to address fundamental economic problems can be deferred. We can pretend that somehow we are securing the future of the middle class by sending everyone to preschool – meanwhile the actual middle class is in a shambles, and college students are graduating in debt and insecure.

“The entire exercise is a monumental distraction, and anyone who engages in this sort of tinkering has bought into a shell game, a manipulation of public attention away from real sources of inequity.

“We need some accountability for children’s lives, for their bellies being full, for safe homes and neighborhoods, and for their futures when they graduate. Once there is a healthy ecosystem for them to grow in, and graduate into, the inequities we see in education will shrink dramatically. But that requires much broader economic and social change — change that neither policymakers or central planners like Tucker are prepared to call for.”

For some reason, Tucker decided that Cody and I are one and the same person, apparently using different names when it suits our purpose. Cody wrote the second piece, and I quoted it.

I actually think that Tucker agrees with Cody, and I agree with them both, on the main issues at hand. We all agree that our schools would have higher test scores if there were less poverty. I think I can safely say that we believe that more testing and higher stakes won’t reduce poverty. I think I can say we agree that teachers should have better preparation for their work, more mentoring and support, and higher salaries. (Marc, correct me if I am wrong.)

Maybe where we diverge is on the value of high-stakes standardized tests. I don’t think they are necessary to improve teaching and learning. If they were, we would surely see them used at Sidwell Friends, Lakeside Academy, Groton, Dalton, Exeter, and Deerfield Academy. Instead, these institutions have small classes, respect their experienced teachers, have extensive programs in the arts, a well-stocked library, and assure that all students have a full and balanced curriculum. These schools do not judge their teachers by value-added metrics based on test scores. They are not faced annually with the threat of budget cuts and layoffs.

That’s what I want for all children. Marc, let me know where we disagree.

New York’s State Education Department never runs out of bad ideas. It announced the creation of an arts advisory panel to begin planning for assessments of the arts. Of course, these assessments would determine whether students are “college-and career-ready.” In the future, arts teachers will learn how to teach to the state test instead of teaching the discipline that unleashes creativity and imagination.

Calling Pearson..

“NYSED is convening a panel to examine creating assessments to measure student growth, performance and college and career readiness in the Arts programs.

“The Department recommends that the Board of Regents commission an operational study that would establish criteria to identify and evaluate arts assessments in each discipline that signify college and career readiness as well as those that are truly worthy of Regents recognition. Similar to the approach used in career and technical education pathways, the proposed process would begin with the establishment of an Arts Advisory Panel.”

http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2014/September2014/914p12d5.pdf

Laura H. Chapman, a reader who is an expert curriculum consultant in the arts, wrote the following in response to studies that say that “grit” is unrelated to creativity:

“This discussion about creativity should include mention of theoretical and empirical work from the 1950s and 1960s such a J.P. Guilford’s broad view of human intelligence, reworked by Howard Gardner; Getzels & Jackson, “Creativity and Intelligence:

Explorations with gifted students;” and the legacy of E. Paul Torrence who developed still-in-use tests of creativity translated into 36 languages and being studied for cultural bias. More at http://www.coe.uga.edu/events/major/ttct-figural

Here is a little-known back story on the fate of talk about “creativity” in the midst of the roll-out of the CCSS and the desire of Achieve and the Council of Chief State School Officers to bury this concept (along with other phrases popularized by tech-lobbyist Ken Kay under the banner of 21st Century Skills.)

In July, 2010, Newsweek featured a report called “The Creativity Crisis,” citing a steady decline in scores on the Torrance Tests of Creativity since 1990. The tests have been respected and widely used, in part, because data has been kept on multifaceted accomplishments of each cohort of test takers since the late 1950s. A secondary analysis of the longitudinal data indicated that lifetime creative accomplishment (patents, publications, awards and other indicators) is more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than for traditional childhood measures of intelligence.

In response to inquiries, the CCSSO issued a press release that dismissed the Torrance tests and referred its own work on creativity. This work included a program of individualized instruction via computers (a stretch); some activities in the Arts Education Partnership (not relevant); and EdSteps, the latter described as a project to help “advance creativity to the highest possible international standards, and measure creativity in a way that is situated in a context of actual activity.”

EdSteps is a web-based standard setting and assessment project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is operated by the CCSSO. Although the Common Core State Standards are separate from EdSteps, the CCSSO says the two initiatives complement one another. “EdSteps was created to find new ways to assess vital skills—those that contribute to college and career readiness—that are not currently assessed on a broad scale for reasons of difficulty and cost.”

“EdSteps defines creativity as the valued uses and outcomes of originality driven by imagination, invention, and curiosity.” In order to create a novice-to-expert scale for creativity, EdSteps started soliciting work for an online data bank. ….”from students in early childhood and elementary, middle, high school and from college and graduate students; from individuals in the workplace; from teachers of all subject areas; for any audience or purpose, both within the United States and globally; in any form, genre, or media. Creativity samples can include anything – writing, videos, images, charts, or other graphics – in any subject area.”

Anyone can submit work through EdSteps’ website. The submitter must agree to give up all rights to the work, and permit EdSteps to alter, edit, and otherwise modify the work for its purposes. That freedom of action may be a concern to persons in the arts who think that the integrity of a performance is in the whole work, not a snippet.

I was unable to determine how the proposed scale will address the fact that, in some arts, novice performances by children and untutored adults are sometimes judged more original and imaginative than expert performances by well-trained adults (e.g., a quote attributed to Picasso: ”It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child”). Nor was I able to determine whether EdSteps assumes that a single scale of creative achievement can be constructed from the heterogeneous samples of work.

The process of constructing the scale is fairly technical, but it relies on comparing two works and deciding which of the two is the most “effective,” The paired comparisons are carried out in multiple iterations, by multiple judges, with multiple samples. Submissions are coded to permit analyses based on factors such as age, gender, ability level, geographic region, type of work, and the like. In theory, a scale representing a progression of achievement from novice to expert can be constructed without the need for written criteria or explanations, “although these may be added.”

This all sounds like a crock to me, perhaps because I had more than one conversation with Torrence as a young scholar and, as a worker in arts education, have relied on his vocabulary—fluency, flexibility, elaboration, humor, elaboration, and the like—to teach others that some qualities of creative thinking are not entirely a mystery.

Gates paid for some high profile talent to consult on EdSteps, including Howard Gardner. I can’t imagine that they endorced what the website has become.

Judge for yourself. Samples of work and the rest are posted on the glitchy EdSteps website.”

Superintendent Mark Cross joins the honor roll for his willingness to stand up and be counted on the side of students.

Cross sent a letter home to parents in which he criticized high-stakes testing and Common Core. He spoke critically of federal and state initiatives whose purpose is to rank students rather than educate them. Many educators are fearful of saying what Mark Cross said because they are supposed to be docile and keep their professional ethics to themselves. A test score is like stepping on a bathroom scale, he said. It tells you something but not everything you need to know about your wellness. So, he told parents, we won’t be talking much about PARCC or Common Core. We will continue to focus on helping them become well-rounded people, with time to develop their creativity.

Read his letter. He makes clear that he and his staff take their responsibility to the children and the local community very seriously, and they will continue to do so.

If every school board, principal, and superintendent were equally willing to speak their convictions, there would be a genuine conversation about education, rather than the current top-down authoritarianism that typifies relationships between the federal government and everyone else.

The original letter can be seen here.

August 20th 2014

Dear Parents,

Today is the first day of the 2014-15 school year and I wanted to take the opportunity to share some personal thoughts regarding the current state of education at the national, state and, most importantly, local levels. I am very fortunate to serve as the superintendent of this great district and we are all very proud of the incredible progress we have made in recent years, building on previous years of excellence. At the end of the day, our kids and their safety and educational growth are all that matters to us. We work hard to keep anything from distracting us from these priorities.

Unfortunately, there are many federal and state education initiatives that can very much be a distraction from what matters most These initiatives are based on good intentions and are cloaked in the concept of accountability, but unfortunately most do little to actually improve teaching and teaming. Most are designed to assess, measure, rank and otherwise place some largely meaningless number on a child or a school or a teacher or a district. That is not to say that student growth data is not important, It is very critical, and it is exactly why we have our own local assessment system in place. It is what our principals and teachers use to help guide instruction and meet the needs of your kids on a daily basis. In other words, it is meaningful data to help us teach your child.

But no more than a number from a bathroom scale can give you a full assessment of your personal wetness, a test score cannot fully assess a student’s academic growth. Does stepping on the scale tell you something? Of course. But does it tell you everything? Absolutely not.

As one specific example, Peru Elementary District 124 puts great value on the fine arts. We believe that music and art enhances cognitive growth, creativity and problem solving. In fact we know this, and this is exactly why your children have access to an outstanding fine arts program with five music and art teachers from PreK through 8th grade. The state does not assess music or art or science or social studies for that matter. Only language arts and mathematics are assessed with the state’s new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment.

This is why I wanted to let you know that we will not be talking to you that much about the PARCC assessment or Common Core or other initiatives that have some importance, but they are not what matters most to us. YOUR CHILDREN are what matter most and we believe that kids should be well-rounded, with an emphasis on a solid foundation for learning across all subjects by the time they get to high school and later college. We believe that kids need to be creative and learn to solve problems. We believe that exposure to music and art science and social studies, physical education and technology and a wide variety of curricular and extracurricular activities will serve them very well as they grow into young adults.

We further believe that there is no replacement for high expectations, and we must expect our students to achieve to the best of their individual ability. We believe that all children can learn, but not all at the same pace or in the same way. We believe that reading and literacy are the foundations of learning. We believe that children are each unique and have a wide variety of talents and skills, very few of which can be measured on a state assessment

The state and federal government have failed epically in their misguided attempts at ‘reforming’ public education. Public education does not need reformed. It may need intervention in school districts that are not meeting the needs of students on a grand scale, but it needs to be accountable to and controlled by our citizens at the local level. And in Peru Schools, this will continue to be very much the case.

So, I wanted to let you know that we will not let these other things serve as a distraction from educating your children in Peru Schools. When appropriate, we will use these opportunities as a chance to improve but we will not let political nonsense distract us from our true mission, which is to keep your kids safe and to provide them with a world class education. One of my favorite quotes is,

*Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least’

And the ‘things- which matter most here are your kids and their education. Nothing you read or hear about will distract us from that effort.

Thank you for your support of our children and our schools and as always, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns at all as we start the new school year!

Sincerely,

Mark R. Cross Superintendent

Thanks to Jere Hochman, superintendent of the Bedford Central School District, for bringing this wonderful story to my attention.

Phenomenally successful musician-singer-producer Pharrell Williams tells his story to CBS News. He grew up in Virginia Beach, where his father was a handyman and his mother was a teacher. When he was 15, his grandmother encouraged him to get involved in music and learn to play the drums.

“He went to summer band camp and joined the school band: “And that’s where I met my first music teacher, Mrs. Warren. And my other band teacher, Mr. Warren. And then there was Mr. Edwards and then there was Mr. Sharps.”

“You remember ‘em all?”

“Yes, I do. And Ralph Copley had taught me how to play the drum set. My story is the average story, you know. It was filled with special people.”

“You’re giving everybody else credit.”

“Well, what am I without them? Just try that for a second. Take all of my band teachers out of this. Where am I? I’m back in Virginia, doing something completely different.”

“What would that have been do you think?” Mason asked.

“Struggling art teacher. Struggling because the rest of my grades were not so good. They were like Cs and D’s. And sometimes E’s!”

Imagine: This brilliant, talented young man had bad grades. He was not “college-and-career-ready.” Maybe he didn’t test well.

But some dedicated band teachers helped him develop his passion for music, and today he is a superstar.

Best of all, he remembers his teachers and is grateful for the gift they gave him.

A reader sent me this story with this comment: “Bizarro world.”

First Lady Michelle Obama promotes arts education because the arts raise test scores.

The administration said 35 schools would get federal turnaround funding for the arts because early evidence shows that the arts lead to higher math and reading scores.

Time to stop and think. The Bush-Obama high-stakes testing policies have diminished resources, staff, equipment and time for the arts.

The purpose of the arts is not to raise test scores but to express and develop our talents, to enhance our lives, to give us the joy of experience and skill in music and the other arts.

Arts are not a path to picking the right bubble on a standardized test. They are far more valuable than that. The self-discipline required in the arts, the joy of performance is sufficient unto itself.

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