Archives for category: Arts Education

Robin Lithgow was in charge of arts education for the Los Angeles Unified School District. She learned to deal with bureaucracy, frustration, and budget cuts, but she never lost her joy and passion for the arts and their power to change students’ lives.

Now in retirement, she has become a student of the history of the arts.she believes that the justification for the arts cannot be demonstrated with data. She is convinced that explorations into their history will awaken minds and draw them into sympathetic appreciation for the power of the arts.

Read this entry on “Good Behavior and Audacity” to understand where she is heading.

I am retired from the position of Director of the Arts Education Branch in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where for fourteen years I and dozens of amazing colleagues labored to bring the arts to the core of the academic day for every student at every grade level. Research supported our efforts; teachers and most administrators embraced the program enthusiastically; and the evidence poured in that students thrive in arts-rich schools….And yet, we were constantly amazed that we had to advocate, advocate, advocate, to fight each year for our modest funding and for our seat at the table with the decision makers at the head of the district.

Could it be that this was, at least in part, because of our lack of history? Education leaders keep asking us for our “data,” and the obsession for data certainly drives the political power battles in education across the country. We HAVE data, and tons of it, but it is “soft” data and cannot always be directly linked to the results being sought. Perhaps history could be more powerful than data.

So I launched my own research, and once I retired I was literally able to bask in it. Over the past six years I have written a book focusing on one brief period in history, that of the humanist education designed primarily by Desiderius Erasmus and enjoyed by the young William Shakespeare and tens of thousands of his peers in Elizabethan England.

The title of my book is Good Behavior and Audacity: Humanist Education, Playacting, and a Generation of Genius.


Domingo Morel is a scholar of state takeovers. He wrote a book called Takeover:  Race, Education, and American Democracy. He was also a member of the team from Johns Hopkins that studied the problems of the Providence schools. And, what’s more, he is a graduate of the Providence public schools.

In other words, he has solid credentials to speak about the future of the Providence public schools. The schools are already under mayoral control, so discount that magic bullet that reformers usually prefer.

He knows from his study of state takeovers that they do not address root causes of school dysfunction.

Consider this:

As a scholar of state takeovers of school districts, I have seen how communities desperate to improve their schools placed their hopes in state takeovers, only to be disappointed. While the long-term effects of takeovers on student achievement often fail to meet expectations, the effects on community engagement are devastating. In most takeovers, states remove local entities — school boards, administrators, teachers, parents and community organizations — from decision-making about their schools.

Those who have read the Johns Hopkins report are aware that the absence of community engagement is a major issue in the Providence Schools. Demographic differences are a major reason. Students of color represent more than 85% of the student population and English Language Learners represent nearly 30%, while more than 80% of the teachers are white. These differences are not trivial…

To help cultivate community engagement, the state could partner with a collective of community organizations, including Parents Leading for Educational Equity, ProvParents, the Equity Institute, the Latino Policy Institute, CYCLE and the Providence Student Union, which have come together over concerns with the Providence schools.

Finally, state officials should examine their role in contributing to the current conditions in Providence. State funding, particularly to support English Language Learners and facilities, has been inadequate. In addition, the absence of a pipeline for teachers of color is a state failure.

What a surprising set of recommendations: increase the pipeline of teachers of color. Build community engagement. Work with community organizations. Increase state funding.

He might also have added: Reduce class sizes. Provide wraparound services for students and adults. Open health clinics for families in the schools or communities. Improve and increase early childhood education. Beef up arts education and performance spaces in every school.

It takes a village, not a flock of hedge fund managers or a passel of fly-by billionaires hawking charter schools.


Dr. Ryan Shaw, assistant professor of music education at Michigan State University, wrote this post urging the legislature not to scrap the 1-credit arts education requirement for high school graduation. There is a move underway to drop that requirement and replace it with a potpourri of “21st century skills.”

As Dr. Shaw points out, this is sheer nonsense. There is no more important 21st century skill than the ability to understand, participate in, and communicate in the arts. Music and art unite us, regardless of geography, gender, race, culture. They are vital human skills appropriate for every century.

Sometimes teachers complain that their schools have too many regulations, too many routines.

This music teacher, a professional violinist who signed up to teach in a charter school in Arkansas dedicated to the arts and dear to the heart of Alice Walton, learned about the perils of teaching in a school where everything was deregulated and there were no routines.

Someone thought that a school where decisions are made on the fly and teachers are always on their own was a good ideal maybe this was someone’s idea of innovation.

No, it was not innovative. It was chaotic. It was abusive in the eyes of this teacher. It was disorderly and unpredictable.

Don’t the arts require practice and discipline? Can teachers flourish when there is no respect for them?

Who thought that an atmosphere of chaos and disrespect was a good idea?

The article begins:

“When I started teaching orchestra at Arkansas Arts Academy High School last fall, I didn’t know much about the state of public education in Arkansas. My entire career — 15 years — had been spent as a performing violinist: concertmaster of the Fort Smith Symphony, concertmaster and principal viola with the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra, composer/director of Storybook Strings, and a freelancer with touring groups like “Book of Mormon” and Harry Connick, Jr. I also had a long history of teaching private lessons, with a background in the Suzuki method.

“What I did NOT have was an Arkansas teacher’s license, or any previous training to become a public school teacher.

“That’s okay!” the principal assured me. “We’re a charter school. We have waivers from teacher licensure requirements, as long as you have a bachelor’s degree and relevant professional experience!”

“Cool,” I thought. “I know music. I teach music. I can learn everything else on the job.” So I signed up to teach, half-time, trusting in the experience and good faith of my administration and fellow teachers to help me learn the ropes.

“The school didn’t give me a contract until 41 days after I was hired. It was my fourth day of teacher in-service before I found out what my salary would be ($21,187.50) or what employment terms I had signed up for. And those employment terms? They were incredibly vague.

“My contract said “190 half-days,” and “at-will employment.” It also mentioned “a waiver granted by the Arkansas Department of Education” that made Arkansas Arts Academy “exempt from certain laws relating to schools, including specifically many of those relating to employees.” But I trusted the school’s good reputation — I had a friend who taught there, and knew families who sent their kids. Plus, what musician wouldn’t root for the success of an arts academy?

“I should have been more careful. If I had gone to the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) website, I would have learned that the “waiver” in my contract was actually a LOT of waivers, and the ADE grants new ones all the time. Currently, Arkansas Arts Academy High School has 51 waivers in effect, including teachers’ rights to planning periods, duty-free lunches, limitations on before- and after-school duties, and the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act. Arkansas Arts Academy is also exempt from having to provide written personnel policies*** to its employees, which means that there is no handbook telling us how to access our classroom funds, what to bring for fire drills, how to interact with the parent organization, or who to talk to if we need help.

“In the absence of state oversight, and without written personnel policies, things quickly became chaotic.”

I have to give up saying, “This is unbelievable,” because during the Trump era, incompetence and incoherence is the new normal.

Trump just appointed a new leader for the National Endowment for the Arts. In the past, this position has been held by arts administrators, even artists. No more. The new leader of the agency is a Florida political operative who worked for Governor Rick Scott and on Trump’s inaugural committee. She specializes in opposition research.

Why was she chosen? Her daughter attends a school for the arts, so that makes Mary Anne Carter qualified to lead the federal agency that funds the arts.

Ironically, I learned about this appointment on the same day that the New York Times published a scathing opinion piece about the total absence of any culture in the Trump White House, written by novelist Dave Eggers.

He wrote:

“This White House has been, and is likely to remain, home to the first presidency in American history that is almost completely devoid of culture. In the 17 months that Donald Trump has been in office, he has hosted only a few artists of any kind. One was the gun fetishist Ted Nugent. Another was Kid Rock. They went together (and with Sarah Palin). Neither performed.”

Be grateful for that.

“Since his inauguration in January 2017, there have been no official concerts at the White House (the Reagans had one every few weeks). No poetry readings (the Obamas regularly celebrated young poets). The Carters began a televised series, “In Performance at the White House,” which last aired in 2016, where artists as varied as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Patricia McBride performed in the East Room. The Clintons continued the series with Aretha Franklin and B. B. King, Alison Krauss and Linda Ronstadt.

“But aside from occasional performances by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, the White House is now virtually free of music. Never have we had a president not just indifferent to the arts, but actively oppositional to artists. Mr. Trump disparaged the play “Hamilton” and a few weeks later attacked Meryl Streep. He has said he does not have time to read books (“I read passages, I read areas, I read chapters”). Outside of recommending books by his acolytes, Mr. Trump has tweeted about only one work of literature since the beginning of his presidency: Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury.” It was not an endorsement.

“Every great civilization has fostered great art, while authoritarian regimes customarily see artists as either nuisances, enemies of the state or tools for the creation of propaganda. The Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev asserted that “the highest duty of the Soviet writer, artist and composer, of every creative worker” is to “fight for the triumph of the ideas of Marxism-Leninism.”

“When John Kennedy took office, his policies reacted against both the Soviet Union’s approach to the arts and that of Joseph McCarthy, who had worked hard to create in the United States an atmosphere where artists were required to be allegiant and where dissent was called treason. Pivoting hard, Kennedy’s White House made support of the avant-garde a priority. The artists Franz Kline and Mark Rothko came to the inauguration, and at a state dinner for France’s minister of cultural affairs, André Malraux, the guests included Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Robert Lowell, Geraldine Page and George Balanchine. Kennedy gave the Spanish cellist Pablo Casals, who had exiled himself to France and then Puerto Rico to protest Franco’s fascism, a forum in the East Room. Casals had performed in the White House once before, at the young age of 27. Now 84, and a man without a country, he played a mournful version of “The Song of the Birds.”

George W. Bush, he writes, was

“..was open-minded and active. He met Bono in the Oval Office. He hosted a wide range of musicians, from Itzhak Perlman to Destiny’s Child. He was an avid reader — he maintained a long-running contest with Karl Rove to see who could read more books in a year. Laura Bush has long been a crucial figure in the book world, having co-founded the Texas Book Festival and the National Book Festival in Washington, now one of the country’s largest literary gatherings.

“But perhaps no Republican could match the presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose guest list was a relentless celebration of the diversity of American culture. He and Nancy Reagan hosted Lionel Hampton. Then the Statler Brothers. Then Ella Fitzgerald. Then Benny Goodman. Then a night with Beverly Sills, Rudolf Serkin and Ida Levin. That was all in the fall of 1981. The Reagans did much to highlight uniquely American forms, especially jazz. One night in 1982, the White House hosted Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea and Stan Getz. When Reagan visited Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow in 1988, he brought along the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

But that kind of thing is inconceivable now. Admittedly, at a time when Mr. Trump’s policies have forcibly separated children from their asylum-seeking parents — taking the most vulnerable children from the most vulnerable adults — the White House’s attitude toward the arts seems relatively unimportant. But with art comes empathy. It allows us to look through someone else’s eyes and know their strivings and struggles. It expands the moral imagination and makes it impossible to accept the dehumanization of others. When we are without art, we are a diminished people — myopic, unlearned and cruel.”

Face it, friends, the barbarians are inside the gates of the White House. Trump is unquestionably the most ignorant, unlettered, incurious, closed-minded person to ascend to the presidency at least in recent memory. Perhaps some one can reach back and find a president who was less educated, less aware of history and culture. I can’t. Perhaps the watchword of this administration will be “Ignorance and Indifference Are Bliss.”

The Southold Elementary School celebrated the unveiling of a giant Mother Goose shoe, which children can play on.

The shoe symbolizes the district’s commitment to restore play to childhood.

Children were tour guides, showing visitors the sights.

Southold is led by visionary Superintendent David Gamberg, who leads both Southold and neighboring Greenport schools.

“Gamberg said Rousseau, more than 235 years ago, said, “You will never accomplish your design of forming sensible adults unless you begin by making playful children.” He added, “These words are as true today and will likely be true for all time. It is in the spirit of wanting to provide healthy and happy children that we gather here today.”

“The celebration of play and outdoor learning highlighted the school’s commitment to learning outdoors, including the award winning school garden that produces hundreds of lbs. of fresh produce every year; the outdoor easels that allow children to create works of art in the natural environment; the beautiful stone amphitheater and sandboxes that provide opportunities for creative play, and a life sized chess and a traditional swing set, as well as climbing equipment, Gamberg said.”

What a wonderful community for children.

Southold has a high opt-out rate. It also has a superb arts, music, and theatre program.

Eight years ago, I wrote a book about corporate reform and pointed out that the deliberate killing of large high schools had eliminated specialized and very successful programs for students, including advanced classes in math and science, and programs in the arts.

Today, the New York Times observed (too late to matter, too late to save Jamaica High Schoool in Queens or Christpher Columbus in the Bronx) that the Bloomberg-Klein decision to close large high schools and replace them with small schools has effectively destroyed successful music programs. The compensation is supposed to be that the graduation rate is higher in the small schools. But as I reported in my book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education,” the small schools enroll different students from the large schools they replaced. The neediest students are shuffled off elsewhere.

The Times reports today, in a long article,

“When Carmen Laboy taught music at Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx, beginning in 1985, there were three concert bands. The pep band blasted “Malagueña” and Sousa marches on the sidelines at basketball games, and floated down Morris Park Avenue during the Columbus Day parade. The jazz band entertained crowds at the Ninth Avenue Food Festival, and even warmed the room at a Citizens Budget Commission awards dinner at the Waldorf Astoria.

“Today, Columbus no longer exists. In its former building, which now houses five small high schools, a music teacher struggles to fill a single fledgling concert band. Working out of Ms. Laboy’s old band room in the basement, Steven Oquendo recruits students for a sole period of band class from his school, Pelham Preparatory Academy, and the others on campus, with their different bell schedules and conflicting academic priorities.

“It does make it much more difficult to teach,” he said. “But we always find a way of making it happen.”

“Between 2002 and 2013, New York City closed 69 high schools, most of them large schools with thousands of students, and in their place opened new, smaller schools. Academically, these new schools inarguably serve students better. In 2009, the year before the city began closing Columbus, the school had a graduation rate of 37 percent. In 2017, the five small schools that occupy its former campus had a cumulative graduation rate of 81 percent.

“But one downside of the new, small schools is that it is much harder for them to offer specialized programs, whether advanced classes, sports teams, or art or music classes, than it was for the large schools that they replaced. In the case of music, a robust program requires a large student body, and the money that comes with it, to offer a sequence of classes that allows students to progress from level to level, ultimately playing in a large ensemble where they will learn a challenging repertoire and get a taste of what it would be like to play in college or professionally.

“In a large concert band, “you’re not the only trumpet player sitting there — there’s seven of you,” said Maria Schwab, a teacher at Public School 84 in Astoria, Queens, who is also a judge at festivals organized by the New York State School Music Association. “And you’re not the only clarinetist, but there’s a contingent of 10. In that large group, there’s a lot of repertoire open to you that would not be open to smaller bands.”

“The new schools chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, himself a mariachi musician, has said that he plans to focus on the arts, which can especially benefit low-income or socioeconomically disadvantaged students, according to the National Endowment of the Arts. A 2012 analysis of longitudinal studies found that eighth graders who had been involved in the arts had higher test scores in science and writing than their counterparts, while high school students who earned arts credits had higher overall G.P.A.s and were far more likely to graduate and attend college.

“The Bronx offers an illustration of how far Mr. Carranza has to go. There, 23 high schools were closed during the Bloomberg era, second only to Brooklyn. Of 59 small schools on 12 campuses that formerly housed large, comprehensive high schools, today only 18 have a full-time music teacher. In many of those, the only classes offered were music survey courses known as general music, or instruction in piano or guitar, or computer classes where students learn music production software. Only eight schools had concert bands, and of those, only five had both beginner and intermediate levels.”

The students with cognitive disabilities are not in the new small schools. The English language learners, the newcomers who speak no English, are gone.

Schools that once enrolled 4,000 students now house five schools, each with an enrollment of 500 or less. Do the math. When you disappear 1500 of 4,000 students, it does wonders for your graduation rate!

You can deduce this from the article, but it is never spelled out plainly. The small schools are not enrolling the same students as the so-called “failing high schools” of 4,000. The subhead of the article reads: “Downside of Replacing City’s Big Failing Schools.” I suggest that the big high schools were not “failing.” They were enrolling every student who arrived at their door, without regard to language or disability.

This is not success. This is a deliberate culling of students that involves collateral damage, not only the shuffling off of the neediest students, but the deliberate killing of the arts, advanced classes, sports, and the very concept of comprehensive high school, all to be able to boast about higher graduation rates for those who survived. A PR trick.

Laura Chapman wrote the following comment. Her last line reminded me of studies conducted over a century ago by bean counters who were efficiency experts in education. They decided they could decipher the exact cost of each study and its return on investment. By their measure, Latin was a complete waste of time because it cost too much and returned nothing they could measure. If you want to learn more, read my book Left Back: A Century of Failed Education Reforms.


Laura Chapman writes:


Is formal education in music needed? Does anyone who is not deeply connected to any one of the many varieties of the arts care?

I look at this conversation as an occasion to offer a brief report on arts education in this nation’s schools.

National data on arts education in public schools is scant and often contradictory, especially at the high school level where graduation credits may seem to be required, but are nested with eight or ten other options. Here is the latest on state policies.
17 States specify arts education as a requirement for schools to be accredited-
19 States require state-, district- or school-level assessment of student learning in the arts
20 States provide funding for an arts education grant program or a state-funded school for the arts
26 States include arts courses as an option to fulfill graduation requirements
29 States define the arts in statute or code as a core or academic subject-
44 States require course credits in the arts for high school graduation
45 States require districts or schools to offer arts instruction at the elementary school level
45 States require districts or schools to offer arts instruction at the middle school level
45 States require districts or schools to offer arts instruction at the high school level
49 States have adopted early childhood or prekindergarten arts education standards
50 States have adopted elementary and/or secondary arts education standards

There is a national test in the arts, sort of, now and then. Curious? Some 8th grade questions from the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress in the Arts are available online. These assessments have been administered about once a decade since the 1970s, but not in a manner that offers information about trends.

The most recent NAEP tests have been limited to grade 8 where many students are not enrolled in art. The tests are also limited to visual arts and music. Theater and dance are infrequently offered and also have been judged too expensive to assess. Of all the data gathered by the NAEP testing, the most interesting comes from the background questions included in the booklets. You can see these questions here

If you are interested in the most recent results from “the Nation’s Art Report Card” see (As usual SES has a bearing on access to arts education).

In prior NAEP assessments, I found that a majority of the nation’s students had no arts education in schools beyond the 7th grade, usually a half-year or less with a certified art teacher. In addition, the less opportunity for arts education in schools the more likely that community arts organizations try to offer grants-based programs for school-age groups. These programs are usually short-term gigs with artists visiting schools, or programs offered after school, weekends, and during the summer (e.g., art camps).

Although some of these community grants come from local foundations, a mainstay since 1965 has been a flow of funds from the National Endowment for the Arts to state arts agencies where underemployed artists may list themselves as available for a program in schools. It is a mistake to think that such programs are free to schools. The arts council usually picks up the fees charged by artists who enter schools in some capacity as “educators.” Almost always, schools must provide all program-related materials and supplies (e.g., if a mosaic or mural artist works in the school, the materials and support needed must be funded by the school). In Ohio, an “artists residency” can be for 36 weeks. This means a residency can be used as an alternative to hiring a certified arts teacher.

The bean counters are a work on figuring out the per-student cost of teaching every subject at every grade level, and some of the “extracurricular activities” in many schools. If you can stand it, one example of that reasoning is here. The reasoning leads to the conclusion that money can be saved by doubling up on class sizes, offer courses online, and just outsourcing education–with music one example.

If we really wanted to improve our global economic stature, we would invest in more music teachers.

That’s our competitive advantage in global commerce.

I recently returned from a trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Shanghai.

At the Park Hyatt Hotel in Saigon, a beautiful Japanese singer entertained each night in the c0mmodious hotel lounge and she sang the great American songbook. She was wonderful! When I requested it, she sang Leonard Cohen’s great “Hallelujah.”

On the cruise on the Mekong River, we had a last night party. The staff, about 36 young Cambodians, dressed in their most gorgeous Cambodian finery and they danced traditional Cambodian dances. Then the music changed to: “The Twist.” Suddenly all the passengers and all the crew–the cooks, the laundresses, the room cleaners, the sailors, the waiters and waitresses–danced together. All status and position disappeared in the joy of dancing to an American oldie. Then the record changed to Bill Haley, and “Rock Around the Clock,” and again Cambodians and Americans shared the fun of the music and the dancing.

In Shanghai, at the elegant Peninsula Hotel, there is a chanteuse with a gorgeous husky voice, and she specialized in American songs. She sang Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Billy Joel, Karen Carpenter. All of the Chinese in the room were reading their cell phones–it is a concerning obsessive behavior. We saw a family at breakfast where the mother, the father, and a child about five each had their own cell phones. But back to the singer. She even sang “All That Jazz” from “Chicago.” We applauded enthusiastically, but that doesn’t seem to be the local custom.

American music has a  universal audience. Every child who wishes to should have the chance to learn an instrument, sing, dance, enjoy the music that the world loves.

The loss of white students to charter schools in Durham contributes to the resegregation of the District.

“New Superintendent Pascal Mubenga warned Tuesday night that Durham Public Schools will resegregate itself if it continues to lose students to charter schools.”

Durham parents want assurance that the public schools will continue to offer the arts, IB, and other specials. But the drain on resources puts these courses at risk.

It is expensive to maintain a dual school system.