Archives for category: Arts Education

The World Economic Forum is based in Davos, Switzerland. Ten years ago, I had the pleasure of attending. The forum was filled with heads of state and potentates, politicians, business magnates, even Brad and Angelina and Bono. WEF ranks states according to progress on whatever measures it chooses. It just decided that the schools of Finland are the best in the world.

This just-released World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017 names Finland’s primary schools, health and national institutions as #1 globally (p. 46):

What’s their education secret? According to Fulbright Scholar and part-time Finland resident, university lecturer and public school dad William Doyle, it’s not just Finland’s culture, or its size and demographics, which are similar to some two thirds of American states. Says Doyle, “Finland has the most professionalized, the most evidence-based, and the most child-centered primary school system in the world.” Those three foundations, says Doyle, can inspire and be adapted by any school system in the world. He adds, “Until the United States decides to respect and train its teachers like Finland does (a highly selective masters degree program specializing in research and classroom practice, with two years of in-class training and maximum autonomy once they graduate), we have little hope of improving our schools.”

Please note that Finland has no charters, no vouchers, no Teach for Finland, and very low levels of child poverty. Grades K-9 are free of standardized testing. Children have recess after every class. Academic studies do not begin until age 7. Before then, play is the curriculum.

Finnish scholar Pasi Sahlberg often says that Finland got its best ideas by borrowing from the United States.

Pasi Sahlberg will speak at Wellesley College on October 13 at 7 pm in Alumnae Hall. His topic: “The Inconvenient Truth about American Education.” Pasi taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education as a guest scholar for the past two years. He is the author of the award-winning “Finnish Lessons.” The lecture is second in a series I endowed called the Diane Silvers Ravitch 1960 Lecture. Pasi will be introduced by Howard Gardner. Come one, come all.

If you are not in the area, the event will be videotaped and later made available.

Is it possible to measure creativity? Is it possible to measure artistic talent? Is it possible to assign a grade to students in the arts based on a measure or on multiple measures?

Those are the questions posed in this article, which describes the efforts by states to develop metrics for the arts.

I am assuming that the title of the article is a mistake. It is not about a “standardized test” for the arts but rather a replacement for standardized tests.

I instinctively recoil at the idea of measuring creativity or artistic talent. There is something inherently subjective about any such judgments. These days, who can say what is art and what is not.

Please, teachers of the arts, help me here. I can see grading students for participation, persistence, and engagement. But how can you grade them for talent and creativity?

I don’t usually get involved in contests, but this is a special one. It is an essay contest, open to public elementary school teachers. The big prize is an all-expense paid trip to NYC for you and a friend.

The sponsor is the LilySarahGrace Foundation. The foundation was created by their father Matthew Badger. Lily, Sarah, and Grace were sisters who were tragically killed in a Christmas day fire in 2011. Their father wanted to honor their memory by encouraging the arts in schools, because his daughters were inspired to learn through their love of the arts.

At the time of the fire, I was horrified by the terrible event. Having lost a child, I grieve when any parent suffers this pain. But three children! Unbearable.

This past spring, I met Matthew and saw how he was turning this tragedy into passion to help children across the country, and I wanted to help.

To see the details, click here


I wrote before that I would support the nominee of the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton won a decisive victory in California last night, and she will be the nominee, opposing the execrable Donald Trump.

I will vote for her.

Readers will say that she is too close to the people who are promoting charters, high-stakes testing, and the destructive policies of the Bush-Obama administrations. That is true. I have fought with all my strength against these terrible policies. I will continue to do so, with redoubled effort. I will do my best to get a one-on-one meeting with Hillary Clinton and to convey what we are fighting for: the improvement of public schools, not their privatization or monetization. The strengthening of the teaching profession, not its elimination. We want for all children what we want for our own.

Which is another way of saying what John Dewey said: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”

Hillary Clinton wants the best for her grandchildren: a well-equipped school in a beautiful building; experienced and caring teachers and principals (not amateurs who took a course in leadership); arts classes; daily physical education; the possibility of a life where there is food security, health security, home security, and physical security. That is what we want for our children. That is what we want for everyone’s children. I think she will understand that. Not schools run by for-profit corporations; not schools where children are not allowed to laugh or play; not schools where testing steals time from instruction; not inexperienced teachers who are padding their resumes. That is what I want to tell her. I think she will understand. If she does, she will change the current federal education policies, which are mean-spirited, demoralizing to teachers, and contemptuous of the needs of children.

Now we must turn our energies to fighting together to make clear that we are united, we are strong, and we are not going away. We will stand together, raise our voices, and fight for public education, for our educators, and for the millions of children that they serve. And we will never, never, never give up.

I am grateful to Bernie Sanders for pushing the Clinton campaign to endorse the issues of income inequality and economic fairness. I am glad that he made the privilege of the 1% a national issue. I am glad that he will continue the struggle to really make this country just and fair for all. Bernie has made a historic contribution. He has organized millions of people, enabling them to express their hopes and fears for our nation and our future.

We must work together to harness that energy to save our schools. We must remind the Clinton campaign that every one of the policies promoted by the privatization movement, ALEC, and the whole panoply of right-wingers and misguided Democrats have been a massive failure. They have destroyed communities, especially black and Hispanic communities. They have hurt children, especially children of color. They are destroying public education itself, which is a bedrock of our democracy. We can’t let this happen.

Our task is clear. We must organize as never before. We must push back as never before.

Start by joining the SOS March on July 8 at the Lincoln Memorial.

I will be on a <a href="http://“>webinar tonight at 8 pm to discuss the SOS March and the issues we now face. The timing is perfect to plan for the future.

Please join us at 8 pm EST. We need you. We need your energy and your voice.;

Michael Elliot is a film-maker who gives generously of his time to help parents organize against high-stakes testing. He has made numerous superb videos that express the views of parents about public schools, teachers, children, and testing.


In this video (and article), Elliott explains why he is so passionate about teachers. His life was changed for the better by two high school teachers of theater arts. He describes himself as a lost teenager, with low test scores and little ambition. He happened into the school theater, and one of the teachers invited him to pitch in. She said, “Pick up a broom and start sweeping.” The arts and his teachers literally saved him.


Here are some of the videos that Michael has made for parent groups. See here and here and here.



Dear Readers, 
I know you live in every state. You are parents, grandparents, educators, and concerned citizens. Can you respond to this request that I received? Please respond here and I will forward your suggestions to Mr. Casteel.
“Dr. Ravitch,




“I work for the Danville Regional Foundation (DRF), a place-based, hospital conversion foundation located in Southern Virginia. We focus on the transformation of a region that has a population of about 125,000 in a geographic area on the Virginia/North Carolina border about the size of Rhode Island. Generations ago this region made their economic bets on textile manufacturing and tobacco, and for a few generations that worked out really well. Now the median household income in Danville Virginia is about half that of the state average. And many realize we’re not simply coming out of a recession where things will get back to normal, but we’re struggling to find a new normal in a transformed economy. Our foundation is one of the partners trying to help the region find new competitive advantages. We focus most of our efforts on education, workforce development, economic development, and health and wellness. 


“Every other year DRF takes our board of directors on a trip to places which are farther along the developmental curve in certain areas than this region. In the past we’ve been to Greenville SC (downtown revitalization), Lewiston-Auburn Maine (regionalism), and Dubuque Iowa (economic development platforms). We do this not to find silver bullets, or buy models off the shelf and try to plug them in here, but to try and understand the issues more deeply and to “see the possible” of what’s out there and working in other places.


“We want to go to places that look like this region as much as possible, rather than significantly larger and wealthier cities with lots of resources. This year, the board is interested in a trip that would highlight a place that is doing innovative work in education.


“We’ve made some significant investments (for us) in education, including over $9 Million in the region for the creation of a local program focused on early childhood education. With those efforts we realize measuring impact is a long-term prospect. We’re looking for a place being thoughtful about various innovations that are focused not on “failed fads and foolish ideas” and not models built only to improve the test scores, which I fear is what many think success looks like. Ideally, perhaps, would be a school district where the community and the schools have a shared vision about what success looks like for them and agreed upon strategy to get there. 


“I very much appreciate your work and ideas in the field and I write today to see if you have any suggestions of places we should consider, or other guidance you can offer.




“Clark Casteel”




We know that test scores are more important than anything else in education these days, certainly more important than music or the arts. Right? In Florida, an orchestra director named Kevin Strang gave up his fully tenured position in one district so he could build the music program in another. Although he was rated “highly effective,” Mr. Strang was told on the last day of Teacher Appreciation week that his contract would not be renewed. This, only days before the school’s orchestra was giving a concert.


This parent is outraged. Her daughter plays the violin and admires Mr. Strang.


Not long ago, Kevin Strang won a bonus for his exemplary teaching. He donated it to the Network for Public Education to fight the dominance of high-stakes testing. Kevin Strang brings joy and self-discipline into the lives of students. Parents should rise up to protest his non-renewal and should remember in November to vote for a candidate who will support their public schools.

Opponents of corporate reform has high hopes when Bill de Blasio was elected, but their hopes are rapidly dimming. The de Blasio administration tried to slow down (not stop) the growth of Success Academy, and ran into a billionaire buzz saw. The hedge funders spent millions on a scurrilous TV campaign, falsely claiming that de Blasio administration was snuffing out the dreams of poor children of color (who had not yet been selected to enroll in the charters that might not open). The reality was that Eva Moskowitz’s chain was pushing a program for children with profound disabilities out of their dedicated space to make way for a new charter. Andrew Cuomo received big donations from the charter industry, and Eva won everything she wanted in the legislature, including free rent and the right to expand as much as she wanted. Since then, de Blasio has capitulated abjectly to the charter crowd.


Here is Leonie Haimson’s report on the latest meeting of the city’s board of education, now called the Panel on Education Policy, which is controlled by the Mayor.


Please be sure to watch the video at the end, made by the students of Meyer Levin School of the Performing Arts. The students are protesting the co-location of a charter in their school. The charter will take away the third floor of their building, which is their performance rooms.

Irving Hamer, who has had a long and storied career in urban school districts, has started a blog to describe what he has learned over the course of his years in the schools.


One thing he learned is that education is impossible without the arts.


Schools must be filled with the artwork of great artists and student artists. Music must ring out and fill the students’ and teachers’ ears. Dancing would curb the obesity crisis. Schooling without the arts is not education; it may be basic skills, it may be testing, but it is not 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?