Recently by Edward Pauly
I'm grateful to all of the other bloggers for spelling out the wide range of issues that make it so important - and so tough - for the whole ecology of kids' arts learning to make progress.
And it is an ecology. Kids encounter the arts at home and in their own neighborhoods; they either experience the arts in school or work around the lack of good arts experiences in school; many kids take music or dance lessons after school; many more sign up for after-school programs that emphasize the arts and are taught by artists; and then there are the incredibly diverse summer arts programs. And wait - they can't succeed without vibrant college faculty to train them, state arts agencies to support and connect them, and at the top of the list, arts organizations to feed them by offering both excitement and learning.
Depending on the luck of the draw, kids either have a rich menu of arts learning opportunities; a few scattered and fragmentary chances in a school play, a band or a church choir; or an arts drought that dries up their chances to experience the arts for years. The quality of their lives as young artists depends on luck, too - luck in finding teachers who had opportunities to be challenged to improve their practices, luck in encountering an arts curriculum that connects with and excites them, and luck in simply finding out where the exciting arts experiences can be found in their neighborhood.
"Luck," in this story, is another word for inequity. Most of the kids with luck live in affluent communities, and most of the kids without luck live in low and moderate income communities. So we need more of the arts learning audits that have provided the kick in the pants that has gotten some leading cities to tackle the inequities.
No one of us can, by ourselves, create the arts learning ecology our kids need. But together we can get there. Pluralism is our greatest ally. Need proof? Go to Dallas and look at the work of Big Thought.
The changes our kids need and deserve will take the energies of parents, artists, principals and teachers, college faculty, mayors and business leaders. In this unfolding conversation, artists have a special responsibility: to argue for their ideals while educating the rest of us.
As the sage Wayne Grezky observed, "A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be." Where is the puck going to be in arts learning?
The biggest growth area for kids' arts learning is after-school programs. Working parents demand them and sometimes pay for them; employers and mayors demand them; society is building them every day. And lots of them use arts learning as a core focus, a recruiting tool, a collection of ways to help kids learn and grow, and a source of joy. That's where the puck is going.
Can artists and arts organizations skate to where the puck is going to be? The after-school world is full of part-time job opportunities. It's increasingly where the kids are. And while some of the scarce after-school minutes are booked for reading and math, there are lots of minutes available for the most creative offers to fill them. The location of this puck isn't hard to predict. It's right in your community, a short trip from your arts organization.
Low-income parents and kids want after-school programs that emphasize school success - for part of the time, they loudly say in survey after survey. For the rest of the time, the arts are at the top of their most-wanted list. The demand is there. Are the arts there?
Is it possible that the quality of arts learning experiences for kids will actually be improved, given the constraints others have pointedly noted? Well, in another important piece of news from the new Rand study Revitializing Arts Education Through Community-Wide Coordination, it's not only possible, it's happening - and in ways we can all learn from.
The cities in the Rand study, from Dallas, New York and Boston to Alameda County, Los Angeles and Chicago, are finding their own ways to build quality arts experiences for kids. What they have in common is their effort to make quality an explicit focus of arts learning - and that's crucial, because it opens up the discussion of what quality looks like and the different ways to get there.
- All six cities are using portfolio assessments and exhibitions to build quality and discuss what it looks like. For example, the Boston Public Schools partnered with the Mass Cultural Council to develop and initiate grade-level assessment experiences.
- Since many cities rely on arts organizations to enrich their arts offerings, cities are building quality by figuring out how to identify high-quality arts learning providers - so Los Angeles County's Arts for All has started asking applying arts organizations to submit streaming video of their work in schools, for review by other schools. In Boston, after-school programs that provide arts experiences are carefully vetted before they receive contracts.
- Peer review and modeling have stimulated and stretched arts organizations' approaches to serving kids - and they've deepened the local conversation about how to achieve high quality. Dallas's Arts Partners has used peer review for years, and the Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership in Alameda County hosts summer institutes for arts organizations and teachers to share and critique each others' ideas.
- The creation of new kinds of curriculum supports is building quality in many places. New York City's well-known Blueprints cover four arts disciplines and are full of ideas. Arts for All in Los Angeles uses an interactive website with host of practitioner input to share quality-building approaches (along with model budgets, job descriptions, surveys, and strategic planning tools!) - and provides a forum for asking questions to the whole arts learning community.
Building quality arts learning is a big challenge that lots of us shy away from - but the news is that across the country, it's a priority that local leaders are embracing and energetically pursuing. Please take a look at Rand's Revitalizing to see if there are any ideas you can run with!
I'd like to point to some important new evidence pointing to effective ways we can support arts learning opportunities for our kids. The new Rand study, "Revitializing Arts Education Through Community-Wide Coordination" commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, identifies lots of great ideas AND the evidence that shows their recent track record. One of the most powerful approaches to building educators' and community members' support for arts learning is an audit that shows who's getting what, and who's not.
Rand's research team looked at six cities and found that most "used audits to gather information on how many students were served by arts learning programs by school, neighborhood, or region ... highlighting inequities in provision in order to galvanize funders and policymakers, and establishing plans to fill gaps in provision. Audits often served as the first step in igniting coordinated efforts to improve access."
And these audits worked. They revealed "similar patterns: Access to arts education in these regions was inequitable ... students' access to these programs depended on the school they attended and was, at best, idiosyncratic ... [Leaders] reported using audit reports to galvanize supoport for more equitable provision of arts education and to launch coordinated efforts to overcome inequities."
When we connect with other educators, parents, and community leaders around the facts - who has opportunities for rich arts learning and who doesn't - we can start a conversation about our values, our kids' needs, and the challenges facing our schools and our after-school programs. And with the facts on the table, cities across the country have built on that conversation to construct their own approaches to making quality arts learning available to all kids.
Facts are friendly. We need more of them.
The interesting thing about the debate on arts education is its conspicuous absence from the decade-long debate on American education.
The education debate has been about enabling every child to learn; about reading and math test scores; about qualified teachers; about charter schools; about after-school programs - all very important things.
Yet the education debate has been silent on the topic of arts education.
Why? There are many reasons.
A generation of educators missed out on their own arts learning experiences when budget cuts in the 1970s and 1980s stretched into an arts education drought.
Thoughtful efforts to place a high priority on reading and math morphed into the mistaken view that other priorities are dispensable.
And the arts have been tagged as another special interest group instead of a part of everyday life.
But when we all step back from the education debate and its budget battles, there is actually widespread agreement on two big reasons arts education should be part of our education debate:
Arts learning - both in and out of school - opens the door to a lifetime of experiences that most young people will miss if they don't step through that door during their school years.
And their passage through that doorway opens up learning experiences that are deeply valued by nearly everyone - including learning about captivating and engaging creative experiences (from Scott Joplin's The Entertainer to Alvin Ailey's Revelations);
sharing meaning with and from the many communities to which Americans belong (from
the jazz greats to Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial); and empathy with people we have not met (as in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman).
Ample reasons for putting arts education back into our national debate about education.
Sam Hope, executive director, The National Office for Arts Accreditation (NOAA);
Jack Lew, Global University Relations Manager for Art Talent at EA;
Laura Zakaras, RAND;
James Cuno, Director, Art Institute of Chicago;
Richard Kessler, Executive Director, Center for Arts Education;
Eric Booth, Actor;
Bau Graves, Executive director, Old Town School of Folk Music;
Kiff Gallagher, Founder & CEO of the Music National Service Initiative and MusicianCorps
Bennett Reimer, Founder of the Center for the Study of Education and the Musical Experience, author of A Philosophy of Music Education;
Edward Pauly, the director of research and evaluation at The Wallace Foundation;
Moy Eng, Program Director of the Performing Arts Program at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation;
John Rockwell, critic;
Susan Sclafani, Managing Director, Chartwell Education Group;
Jane Remer, Author, Educator, Researcher
Michael Hinojosa, General Superintendent, Dallas Independent School District
Peter Sellars, director
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