Archives for category: Arts Education

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.

Jonathan Pelto tells the astonishing story of a calculated effort by Connecticut Governor Malloy and Bridgeport Mayor Finch to destroy public education in Bridgeport. First, starve the public schools of resources that they needed and to which they were entitled by state law; then declare the schools were failing and beyond help; finally, turn over the children to corporate charter chains that would get preferential treatment from the state, whoe commissioner of education founded one of the state’s charter chains.

The story is made credible not only by the facts of deliberate underfunding of the district, but by linking to an article by Bridgeport Board of Education member Howard Gardner, who was initially invited by the mayor to collaborate with the takedown of public education.

Gardner wrote in the Connecticut Post:

“Five years ago I was invited to join a newly formed education reform initiative comprised of Mayor Finch, then Superintendent John Ramos, then Board of Ed chair Barbara Bellinger, other community leaders, heads of local social service organizations, and business leaders. This organization was founded on the pretext of bolstering the performance of Bridgeport public schools, but operated under a hidden agenda shared only by a clandestine subgroup comprised of Meghan Lowney, Nate Snow and Robert Francis, and blessed by the Mayor. Suspecting that the purported agenda was not genuine, I resigned from Bridgeport Partner for Student Success, a.k.a., Excel Bridgeport.

“I walked away from BPSS over four years ago not having a complete grasp of the hidden agenda. However, subsequent chain of events have made its goals crystal clear — allow the Bridgeport Public School to be decimated, undermined; and then, point to the failure of the traditional public school system in Bridgeport. On that premise, they would build a case for alternative solutions — charter schools and corporation-based educational models. In hind sight one can deduce the various attempts to carry out this diabolical plot: the illegal takeover of an elected BBOE, the failed attempt at a charter change referendum and the hiring of Paul Vallas, public school destroyer extraordinaire.

“For his efforts in balancing the BBOE’s budget, Mr. Vallas might have left here as a hero to some; however, his results came with heavy damage to the district’s teaching/learning resources.

“This is the stark reality of Mr. Vallas’ legacy — the district has 72 less certified staff, including 27 in special education, than we had four years ago. Music, arts and other electives are non-existing at our high schools.”

There ought to be a law to punish those who harm public institutions and the children and communities that depend on them.

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?

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