Archives for category: Arts Education

David Gamberg, superintendent of two neighboring school districts in Long Island–Southold and Greenport–has taken the lead in trying to forge a vision for the renewal of public education. He is one of the brave superintendents who have organized meetings with his peers, with fellow citizens, with other educators, to think about how to improve the public schools. He, along with his fellow superintendents in Shelter Island and Shoreham-Wading River, brought together renowned experts to discuss ways to strengthen the education profession though collaboration and teamwork, rather than falling for the false promise of competition. Competition in the small towns and villages on the North Fork of Long Island would shatter communities, not strengthen them. I have met with David Gamberg; he is very proud of the music programs in his community schools as well as the garden where children raise their own vegetables. He is a kind person, who cares about children and those who teach them. Imagine that.

In this essay, Gamberg considers the choices before him and his colleagues:


Two Roads Diverged…

David Gamberg

…no this is not Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, but it is where we stand—at a crossroads in education. We have two competing views of how we as a nation should travel into the future. On one side exists a technocratic solution—the system has failed or is failing, and therefore a radical change is necessary. This is the disruptive innovation view. To those who subscribe to this view, the covenant that we have had with public education since the days of Horace Mann in the 1850s is no longer what drives this most fundamental democratic enterprise. They would carve up neighborhoods, sort and select human beings into winners and losers (children and adults alike), and treat learning like a business.


On the other side exists a powerful vision to promote the core values and practices established by the highest achieving educational systems on earth. Many exist here in America, while others are thriving in both large and small countries outside the U.S.


Don’t be fooled by the protagonists that stand at the fork in the road waving a false banner of bad business practices trying to lure the public. Their claims suggest the road ends with the pot of gold promising that we will regain the lead in a globally competitive market place. Cheered on by celebrities and the media elite who fail to see the potholes in the road that no banner of merit pay, standardized testing, vouchers, and charter schools will repair—this is a road to ruin. This crowd of cheerleaders claims to see great promise in racing, competing, and overcoming society’s challenges with “Taylor like” dystopian metrics used to beat others, where only the strong survive.


A road that celebrates childhood, and one that sees professional teachers and teaching as being indispensible to building the future of our nation is a stark contrast to our foray down the path of slick silver bullets that dominate the landscape of the current reform agenda. Don’t be misled. There are no easy “microwavable answers” to what we must do to promote the best for our children in America’s schools. Intractable issues like poverty, civic engagement, and the preservation of an enlightened citizenry will not be solved by tougher standards, market driven schemes, and a divided public education system.


At issue is a choice of how we can best serve our democracy. This is not a choice between the public and private sector, the left or right on the political spectrum. It is, however, a choice between a society that advances the principles of how individuals and organizations perform well, given the best evidence available, or how we might follow a narrow band of profit driven, unproven metrics that leads to potentially corrupt and short sighted returns.


Evidence abounds that the current reform agenda is reeling with mistrust, broken communities, and a simplistic attempt to leverage what works in some “ business sectors” and misapply it in others.


The alternative to the current agenda is not a pipe dream. This is not some nostalgic yearning for the good old days. Rather, hard won victories in strengthening the professional work of educators and forging lifelong habits of mind in our youth that will serve both themselves and the larger society well do exist. It is a wise path that sensible leaders and thoughtful adults espouse for themselves, their families, and their communities. In the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

Dear Friends,

Today this blog reached the unbelievable number of eleven million page views!

I had no idea this would happen when I wrote the first post on April 26, 2012.

Thank you for reading. More than that, thank you for participating.

Many of you contribute regularly to what must be the liveliest discussion about education on the Internet. I read your comments and pick out some that are the most interesting, the most thoughtful, the most informative, and the most provocative and post them. It may be the same day or weeks later. The important thing is that I have tried to make this blog a place where the voices of parents, students, teachers, principals, and superintendents are heard, unedited.

The rules of the blog are limited and simple. Be civil. Avoid certain four-letter words which I will not print. Do not insult your host. There are plenty of other forums for all of the above. Just not here.

As you know, the blog has a point of view, because I have a point of view. I care passionately about improving the education of all children. I care passionately about showing respect for the dedicated men and women who work hard every day to educate children and help them grow to be healthy, happy human beings with good character and a love of learning. I care passionately about restoring real education and rescuing it from those who have dumbed it down into preparation for the next standardized test. I care passionately about restoring to all children their right to engage in the arts, to play, to dream, to create, to have a childhood and a youth unburdened by fear of tests. I care passionately about protecting the public schools from those who seek to monetize them and use them as a source of profit and power.

I am in my end game. I will fight to the last to defend children, teachers, principals, and public education from the billionaires and politicians who have made a hobby of what is deceptively called “reform.” What is now called “reform,” as the readers of this blog know, is a calculated plan to turn public schools over to amateurs and entrepreneurs, while de imaging the teaching profession to cut costs.

The people who promote the privatization and standardization of public education are the StatusQuo. They include the U.S. Department of Education, the nation’s wealthiest hedge fund managers, and the nation’s largest foundations. They include ALEC, Democrats for Education Reform, Stand on Children, ConnCAN, and a bevy of other organizations eager to transfer public dollars to private organizations. Their stale and failed ideas are the Status Quo. Their ideas have been ascendant for a dozen years. They have failed and failed again, but their money and political power keep them insulated from news of the damage they do to Other People’s Children.

We will defeat them. We will outlast them. Who are we? We are the Resistance. We are parents and grandparents, teachers, and principals, school board members, and scholars. We will not go away. They can buy politicians, but they can’t buy us. They can buy “think tanks,” but they can’t buy us. Public schools are not for sale. Nor are our children. Nor are we.

Howard Katzoff doesn’t understand why the commentators at MSNBC are so ill-informed about education issues. With the exception of Ed Schultz and possibly Chris Hayes, the commentators at MSNBC have swallowed the snake oil of corporate reform. Although they are usually out front on social and political issues, they sound like Fox News on education. When Education Nation opens in September, all of NBC turns into a cheerleading squad for the non-educators who paint by numbers (test scores).

In this post, Mr. Katzoff reminds Chris Matthews what education should be: it should be about educating the whole child in the liberal arts and sciences. It should not be a race for higher test scores or a process dominated by fear of failure.

Mr. Katzoff remembers when he started teaching:

“Look at our educational system from the point of view of well-meaning adults who use their academic knowledge and interpersonal skills with kids every day— and you will see that the whole discussion about American Education is framed from what Society needs, rather than from who children are.

“That is what is wrong with American public education.

“When our generation came into teaching in the mid-1960′s, it was typical for a Superintendent of Schools to make a speech at the start of the school year to inspire idealism among the staff, especially among the first- year teachers. Educational leaders would inevitably quote Socrates and the classics, alluding to the higher purposes of our jobs.”

But consider how things have changed:

“When I attended my last early September motivational meeting before I retired, the new regional superintendent came to our school to tell us we were in danger of getting a failing grade from the New York City Department of Education. Then she proceeded with graphs and charts to show exactly how we could move last year’s test scores to her projected scores for that year.

The instructional culture within American public schools has radically shifted from the classical Liberal Arts and Sciences or Humanistic tradition which emphasizes all the Arts, Sciences, Literature, History, Physical Education, Hand Work, Civics and Community Service— the paradigm of EDUCATING THE WHOLE CHILD.”

Our leaders are obsessed with numbers and data, not children or learning. That’s backwards.

Chris, can you help us? Rachel Maddow, can you?

Dr. Yohuru Williams teaches history at Fairfield University in Connecticut.

In this post, he condenses the lessons of the best-seller All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, reducing sixteen lessons to only six. They are on point and hilarious.

These are six rules to live by and to learn by. School would be a far better place for learning if everyone took Dr. Williams’ good advice.

Here are two of his rules:


  • Play fair. (Of course, this is impossible when the ultimate measure of a student’s success is reduced to how well they perform on standardized tests). Recent cheating scandals, involving some of the luminaries of Corporate Education Reform, illustrate the danger of a hyper-competitive model of education that substitutes standardization for innovation instead of more organic and battle-tested measures of student achievement.


· Don’t hit people. Or yell at people (Chris Christie), or make up facts (Stefan Pryor), or denigrate parents (Arne Duncan), or brag about taping the mouths of children shut (Michelle Rhee), or lie about test scores. Take your pick. But seriously, the crass manner in which the apostles of corporate education reform have “engaged” parents and teachers from Connecticut to California demonstrates how little respect they have for the communities or “children” whom they claim to value. See also: Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

This post arrived as a comment.

It bears directly on one of the major issues in the Common Core: Will uniform national standards encourage or discourage creativity? Bill Gates wrote recently that teachers would be more creative because of the CC, but on second reading, it seems what he meant was that the publishers and innovators would develop new apps for teachers to use and deliver lessons. He wrote: “In fact, the standards will give teachers more choices. When every state had its own standards, innovators making new educational software or cutting-edge lesson plans had to make many versions to reach all students. Now, consistent standards will allow more competition and innovation to help teachers do their best work.”

David Sudmeier has a different take on what standards mean in the classroom. He writes:

Does Music Lie?

“Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.” Jimi Hendrix

But what is music? That might sound like a ridiculous question, but I wonder how our history might have been different if Standards Based Music Education had been the focus of schools in the 1940s or ‘50s.

I can only imagine what “standards” would have been imposed on little James Marshall Hendrix. Who would have been selected to write the standards? Certainly not the musicians that led the way in jazz, blues or bluegrass—Duke Ellington, McKinley Morganfield and Bill Monroe need not apply. The more likely candidate — Will Earhart, a music educator who you’ve probably never heard of. Earhart was convinced that the “beauty” of music should be appreciated by all students. Appreciate beauty? Great idea, isn’t it? But how would it be measured or described? Earhart’s standard for beauty clearly excluded the amplified instruments used in rock and roll or the loose approach to rhythm that characterizes blues music. Jimi would have failed according to such standards—his playing was frequently ahead of or behind the beat, his amplifier distorted, with feedback shrieking. Some music educators today might still side with Earhart.

Standards tend to be written by academics, and the standards they produce are essentially conservative—they preserve the status quo rather than encourage learners to challenge accepted practice or extend the boundaries of a discipline. A standards-oriented musical academic of that era might have told Jimi, “You’re right, music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, it better happen outside of music. And what you’re doing isn’t music.”

History has spoken on that subject. Jimi changed the face of popular music, and had to do so entirely outside of the academic scene. How many other “Jimis” have been made to feel inadequate, unwanted, or inept at school because their interpretation of content, concepts or skills lay beyond an accepted academic norm?

If you’re a parent of a student, consider the impact that a standards-based education may have on your child’s ability or desire to “think outside the box.” The more we reduce knowledge or skills to a list of arbitrary standards, the more likely that we pre-empt constructive and creative change because we lie to students—we lead them to believe they have “mastered” a subject if they can check off the various boxes on whatever list we proffer.

Does music lie? No. Neither does mathematics, history, or any other field of human endeavor. The truth is that no field of knowledge will ever be complete, nor can a list of “standards” encompass any of the disciplines. When we reduce knowledge to a set of “standards,” we not only encourage students to view education as a finite experience, but also encourage teachers to eliminate anything that didn’t make the cut. Education then ceases to be that open-ended journey that both students and teachers might contribute to.

Don’t lie to students. They deserve to explore the truths we have discovered thus far, and to add their discoveries to the ever-flowing river of learning.

© David Sudmeier, 2014

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The Los Angeles school district is making short-term and long-term decisions that are fiscally and educationally irresponsible. Having committed to spend $1 billion to give an iPad for Common Core testing to every student and staff member, the district is short changing or eliminating essential programs.

The money for the iPads is mostly from a bond issue intended for construction and facilities. Consequently, there is not enough money for necessary repairs.

As the previous post showed, the libraries in half the district’s elementary and middle schools are closed due to budget cuts.

A reader comments about the failure to plan ahead:

“The closure of libraries comes on the heels of the “Repairs not iPads” facebook page detailing the fiscal priorities of LAUSD.

“There are 55,000 outstanding repair orders at present, school libraries are shut down all over the city, and the district’s proposed arts plan suggests increasing “arts integration” as a cost savings measure instead of bringing back the hundreds of arts specialists let go over the last few years.

“All this while, Deasy still maintains that all students will receive their own device.

“While we now know that superintendents like Deasy believe in the “corporate-style” of education, the one gaping hole in this plan is that corporations want to stay solvent and make decisions that will ensure present and future financial viability. This is the one missing element in Deasy’s iPad project……no plan to pay for it beyond the first few years.

“When asked, district officials provide answers like “we just can’t not do this”(Bernadette Lucas), “this is the cost of doing business in the 21st century” (Board member Tamar Galatzan) and “I can’t speak to that”(project leader Ron Chandler).

“Any business considers what it will take to stay in business, but not LAUSD. The bond funds will be gone, so the only other source of income is the general fund.

“Is the State of California going to bail out LAUSD? They have already demonstrated that they can’t or won’t even provide the basic needed services, like nurses, counselors, libraries, working bathrooms and water fountains, siesmic safety, etc., etc.????

“The problem is that Deasy won’t be around to be held accountable.

“But, we, the citizens of Los Angeles will be left with a totally bankrupt school system and no way to put the pieces back together.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is known for his love of the arts. But not for children in Chicago Public Schools.


Wendy Katten, 773-704-0336

Raise Your Hand Survey Reveals Arts Instruction Sorely Lacking in CPS

65% of reporting schools do not offer two hours of weekly arts instruction, as stated by Mayor Emanuel

CHICAGO, February 20, 2014 — In a recent survey regarding arts instruction at Chicago Public Schools, education advocacy group, Raise Your Hand found the majority of schools are not able to offer two hours of arts instruction per week, contrary to publicly stated support for this by Mayor Emanuel.

The web-based survey, conducted in January and February 2014 includes responses from parents and teachers representing 170, or nearly one-third of CPS. The survey found other grave inequities in exposure to arts instruction across Chicago. Of 170 schools represented in the survey:
· 14% have no arts instruction
· 51% have less than two hours of arts instruction per week
· 26% have two hours of art instruction
· 9% have more than two hours of arts instruction
· 31% saw a decline in arts instruction this year.

“CPS has an arts plan that supports increased arts instruction but a per pupil funding allocation that barely covers the most basic fundamentals let alone robust arts programming,” said Wendy Katten, Director of Raise Your Hand. “If CPS truly wants all children in Chicago to be exposed to a rich arts curriculum as they state, they will need to increase the per pupil funding rate to allow for this.”

The CPS Arts plan states: “the case for the arts is clear. We know that arts education strongly correlates to substantially better student engagement, academic performance, test scores and college attendance, along with significantly decreased dropout rates and behavior problems. And we know that the correlations are strongest for low-income students…Even more, there is growing recognition that the arts contribute to essential 21st century skills like innovation, creativity, and critical thinking.”

Parent Sherise McDaniel of Manierre Elementary said, “My third grader doesn’t have one art or music class. We were thrilled when our school was taken off the closing list last year but our school has seen significant budget cuts and we lost our art teacher. I wish my son had two hours of art per week, or even one. We also lost our librarian due to budget cuts.”

According to survey responses, many parents are paying out of their own pockets for arts instruction at their children’s schools.

Parent Colleen Dillon from Burr Elementary said, “In order to stretch our budget this year, not only were we forced to have a split classroom for the first time, but we also lost our art teacher. Now, the only arts classes offered at Burr are parent-funded and the amount we can fund certainly does not equal two hours a week.”

In the comment section of the survey, many respondents shared frustration at current school budgets, which have been cut to the bone and do not allow for any kind of shift in priorities.

LSC member Jennifer Gierat of Byrne Elementary said, “At Byrne, we do not offer and have never offered two hours of art per week. And we will never be able to offer two hours of art per week under the current budget. The students receive 45-60 minutes of art per week depending on the grade level, and they receive no music instruction. We have one wonderful art teacher doing a fantastic job. The mayor’s claim that our school is providing more than that in this broken system is a distortion.”

About the survey:
Raise Your Hand conducted a non-scientific, web-based survey during the month of January and February. The survey data is based on responses from 444 people representing 170 CPS elementary schools across the city.

RYH asked its members to report the amount of arts instruction received at their school and members called or emailed other schools for information. Responses were aggregated based on information provided by 170 schools. Schools that did not reply are not included in the analysis. When confronted with contradictory reports on the amount of arts instruction at a single school the higher estimate was used in the data analysis. Therefore, any errors are likely to over-state the amount of arts education rather than under-state it.

About Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education: Raise Your Hand is a growing coalition of Chicago and Illinois public school parents, teachers and concerned citizens advocating for equitable and sustainable education funding, quality programs and instruction for all students and an increased parent voice in policy-making around education.

Amy Smolensky

Alexandra Miletta heard President Obama make an off-hand remark about art history, a putdown–what can you do with it? What will it pay? Having been a college major in art history, and having studied art history in Siena, she bristled at the condescension.

Here she explains how her study of art history prepared her to be a teacher educator and why she treasures what she learned as a lifelong resource.

I went to the same undergraduate college as Alexandra, and to this day, I regret that I didn’t study art history but spent most of my time in political science and history courses.

This comment came from Barbara Aran, a retired music teacher in Los Angeles:

She wrote:

This what I planned to say to the LAUSD Board on Tuesday December 17th, but couldn’t get in–this is what I would have said on that day:

My name is Barbara Aran. I am a retired LAUSD elementary teacher. Today I speak for the school communities of Wilshire Crest Elementary and Laurel Elementary schools.

Ladies and gentlemen:

Let’s describe an act of cowardice. An action taken as a clever sneak attack on the instrumental music program with no time to respond. The time line was as short as possible so that people would not know in advance.

Music instruments are being collected and removed from the students AT THIS VERY MOMENT AS I SPEAK TO YOU at these two schools with no prior notice to anyone in the school communities, or communication from the district or the arts branch. I found out about this situation on Friday because the two teachers at the schools are my friends and colleagues, and fellow chamber music performers, Ginny Atherton and Diane Lang.

Winter break starts next Monday, so it will be four weeks before anyone can respond to this outrage, a travesty against children, parents, teachers and the school communities. But particularly the injustice against children.

So I am asking for four actions from this board today:
An apology letter from the District to all stakeholders, including children, for how this has been handled—prior to the vacation.
Rescind this “very bad idea”
Expose WHO, WHY, WHEN, and HOW this decision was made (no one seems to know any of this—
Board resolution “no mid year changes for instrumental music, commitment for two semesters (full year) for instrumental music”. If only 3 semesters of arts per school, then schools should know that they can count on having it for the full year.

This devastating attack could not have been planned to be more emotionally devastating to the children and the school communities, to produce the maximum emotional distress.

Your actions or inactions today speak much louder than any meaningless words when you say that you support the arts and the music program.

These students are being deprived of an opportunity which they may not ever have again. They have done nothing wrong to deserve this treatment by adults. They will be devastated. Many are excited and buy into making music, an opportunity now lost, a broken contract with the parents, the students, the teachers and staff. Parents’ expectations for the education of their children are diminished. They expected the full education for their children, instrumental music not just vocal music. Note that the website for Wilshire Crest features a photograph of students playing music. Now this will be a lie.

This is an act of pure arrogance and shows a complete disrespect For the entire school communities of Wilshire Crest and Laurel elementary schools. It sets what kind of a model for the students? Educators are told to model behavior for the students. This is a shining example of how not to treat people. Furthermore, it erodes the ability of students, parents, teachers, and the rest of the school community to trust the authority of the district. Why should the students trust the adults if they are not trustworthy?

Lausd loans 54 instruments to each school and many parents rent or buy instruments in the expectation that their student will receive instruction at school. They make an investment in their children’s education. Parents who invested in this way expected that they would receive a full years instruction. Should they feel betrayed or just deceived? Established programs mean a lot to a school community. Additionally, schools buy instruments to supplement what the district provides, so the school also has an investment. At Wilshire Crest, this consists of percussion instruments and a complete set of Orff instruments, not a small investment. Who has control of the budget for each school? Isn’t the principal supposed to have authority over the budget? Why is this not transparent?

It is a pure act of cowardice to lack the common decency, at the very least, to send the parents, staff, principals and students notice and explanation for this action, leaving instead the blame to land on the shoulders of the music teacher who has done nothing wrong. Steve Zimmer is the board member for Laurel, and Marguerite LaMotte was for Wilshire Crest. Surely Ms. LaMotte, an advocate for the arts, would have been very upset for the students. In her memory, this should be corrected as much as possible before the winter break. (This situation is exactly why her seat on the board needs to be filled ASAP by appointment.)

On Monday December 9th, Diane Lang was informed of this action. Her assigned day at Laurel Street is Friday. On Friday (December 13) she went to the school but could not inform the principal who was in an all day meeting off campus. She did inform the students that they will need to bring instruments this coming Friday to be returned.

On Wednesday, December 11th Ginny was informed. Ginny’s assigned day is Tuesday; therefore the students and parents have been unaware of the situation until today, it was six days… The principal at Wilshire Crest, Ms. Taylor, was only informed of this via an email and a phone call on Monday December 9th, and she let Ginny know in an email that she had been blindsided by this. This morning, I received a phone call from Jocelyn Duarte, president of the Wilshire Crest Elementary PTA, she is also furious, and told me that I do indeed speak for the school community.

I also have an email forwarded from Eloise Porter (LACESMA) after Ginny and I spoke to her last night: I will read some parts of that:

“The elementary instrumental music program has never been an ‘introduction to instruments’ program, but rather a sequential learning experience building to elementary orchestra and on to middle and high school bands and orchestras. The School Board passed a resolution the establish the arts as a core subject. In addition, they asked Deasy to provide a budget to support restoration of the arts program to 2008-9 levels. This recent action is definitely NOT the way to do it. To destroy established instrumental programs in Title I schools in the middle of the school year seems especially egregious, unnecessary, and totally ineffective in delivering music education.”

So the school communities should know that they are playing roulette with the population count due to Norm Day, if that actually is the trigger—which is unknown due to complete lack of communication. Wouldn’t this be part of Title One? If this is part of a school’s budget, isn’t there a process which must be approved by school committees? and changes also?

There is no time to respond. The speed in this time line implies a sneak attack. Just prior to winter break, so cannot communicate directly to anyone in authority. Scrooge couldn’t have planned it better.

(Cockroaches run when the light shines)

Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, and Wynton Marsalis, master musician, wrote a joint article for USA Today about the importance of arts education.

They wrote:

“We hear widespread calls for “outcomes” we can measure and for education geared to specific employment needs, but many of today’s students will hold jobs that have not yet been invented, deploying skills not yet defined. We not only need to equip them with the ability to answer the questions relevant to the world we now inhabit; we must also enable them to ask the right questions to shape the world to come.

“We need education that nurtures judgment as well as mastery, ethics and values as well as analysis. We need learning that will enable students to interpret complexity, to adapt, and to make sense of lives they never anticipated. We need a way of teaching that encourages them to develop understanding of those different from themselves, enabling constructive collaborations across national and cultural origins and identities.

“In other words, we need learning that incorporates what the arts teach us.”

Their article beautifully expresses why the arts change our lives, in ways that cannot be measured by value-added assessment or any other metric that the data-driven technocrats devise.


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