Recently by Richard Kessler

Eric and Jane's desire to continue this conversation is something I share. At the same time, I recognize that this conversation is taking place, right now,  on a regional basis, on a discipline-basis, individual organization basis, and in many, many individual schools. I could go on, but you get the point.

It's a very good idea that this forum be extended into an American Assembly or Aspen Institute-like container (Go Hewlett!). The last arts-oriented American Assembly was convened by Sandra Gibson, it might be a good idea to bring her into the conversation on next steps. Alberta Arthurs also has great experience in such convenings.

I have had the feeling that this blog has failed to recognize the ever changing nature of the larger education landscape. One might interpret, based on the posts, as if our tiny little part of this landscape, for which we fight to expand, is static. It's anything but static.

The fundamental architectures of K-12 schooling are undergoing radical change and experimentation. These changes/experiments involve almost every aspect of education, including governance, funding, teacher and administrator education and development, tenure, assessment, etc., etc. Students are being paid to take tests; people are rethinking the teaching profession as being about short-term peace corps like service; the old vo-tech model is being reinvented; bonuses are given to principals and teachers for high tests scores in reading and math; business leaders are urging schools to function like corporations; teachers are blamed by everyone in politics; anyone with get up and go can create a charter school; whole school systems are being privatized. For the past eight years, it's been small schools, small schools, small schools. And now that has come to a close after $2 billion from one foundation. (next big thing: the comprehensive high school!)

As always, it's both a challenge and an opportunity.

And, more than ever, we're seeing an education industrial complex based upon reading and math. It's not unlike the military industrial complex, and you can thank NCLB for that.

I know I've tried this before, but here's another shot: imagine you're trying to jump on a merry-go-round, but it's going very, very fast, and what you want to jump onto, the animals, keep changing shape, and the speed of the merry-go-round changes at random, the change coming at intervals that might be a matter of months, moments, or years. That's what it feels like to me! One might get a good grip at the moment, but the next moment that merry go round is different.

The school system of today, particularly the urban system, will look very, very different tomorrow.

I think that everyone should give a good read to Dennie Wolf's comments on who we should be talking with. For the more we interact with the larger arena, the better chance we have of understanding the larger context in which we exist. With all the changes going on in education, changes that are happening faster and more profoundly than ever, I spend more of my time and effort talking with those outside of arts education. It's why I joined the board of Common Core. It's why I am a working with the teachers and administrators unions. It's why the organization I work for is building coalitions and bridges with parents, child advocacy organizations, fiscal equity organizations, immigration organizations, and more. We're taking the concept of arts integrated across the curriculum, and expanding into arts integrated across a city-wide fabric, including elected officials, media, and voters. And, while quiet diplomacy has its place, after many years of it, I think some tougher, more politically savvy work needs to be done in the advocacy arena.

It's why we have shifted to a call for each child to receive a well-rounded education, including the arts.

I want to offer another frame to the blog as a whole; I hope it will be helpful. I have always believed that you have to base your organziational work on two distinct poles: that of one child and that of many children. You have to be both on the ground and in the air.

If you cannot speak credibly from the position of the life of one child, whatever work you may undertake in advocacy/policy loses context, meaning, and credibility. Another way of looking at this is that programmatic work in teaching and learning should exist in a virtuous cycle together with advocacy. The programmatic work and the advocacy talk to, reinforce, and inform one another, and the work becomes whole.

December 5, 2008 7:32 AM | | Comments (1) |

I was struck by Eric's desire to see real change happen in his/our lifetime. If there's a lesson to learn about our K-12 work, I think the lesson is that the work is long-term. There's no magic bullet. The education field is littered with school reform interventions, large and small, smart and dumb, often disconnected from where the real work takes place, with teachers and students, as Jane pointed out earlier. If you want to read more about that, I would suggest picking up Left Back, A Century of Battles over School Reform, by my friend, Diane Ravitch.

In the early to mid-90s, Rob Horowitz, Mitchell Korn, and I authored a plan to create The Center for Arts Education in New York City, securing what would initially become a five-year grant of $36 million in funding from The Annenberg Foundation, government, and private funders to revitalize arts education in the New York City public schools. It was part of the Annenberg Challenge and was created by a large scale, community-based planning project that believe it or not included over 100 people providing feedback to 10 drafts. The research for this project covered virtually every aspect of arts and education imaginable in New York City and beyond. The project was then led by Hollis Headrick, Laurie Tisch, and Greg McCaslin.

There have been considerable successes, including the creation of categorical, per-capita funding averaging $65 per student, restricted to spending on arts education (this fund reached a level of $75 million per year, at a time when the entire NEA budget was $99 million); the hiring of well over 600 certified arts specialists; major media attention (NY Times front page, editorial page, and more); the creation of a senior arts education position and office at the Board of Education, that eventually grew to over eight full-time staff members; a public private/partnership that included city government, the Board of Education, and the local teachers union, supported by civic and business leadership throughout the city; the building of over 130 innovative whole school arts education partnerships with hundreds of cultural and community-based organizations, and post secondary institutions, bringing arts education to every students in those partnership schools; and a public refocusing on arts education in New York City as never seen before or since. 

While arts education in New York City has certainly advanced, the work of CAE never went to the scale intended: providing access and quality arts for all children. There are now almost 1500 schools in the system! Among the many successes, there were misses, particularly in the areas of sustained advocacy, and in moving arts education into the educational mainstream. In addition, it appears, according the NYCDOE studies that we are losing ground in a number of key areas, and as a local community may not be well prepared to deal with the economic downturn. And, the categorical funding, which had leveled off at a mere $67 million per year, has been eliminated (to support empowering principals).

As we passed the mid-way point in this online discussion, I want to express my belief that our work is evergreen. The success of CAE in the 90s, resembles in many ways the success of Big Thought today. The arts curricula of today, some of which appears so innovative and important, are only an iteration of the many arts frameworks and curricula of the past 40 years. The much talked about report by RAND, only echoes the early reports like Coming to Our Senses. The teaching artists of today were pioneered by the Ford Foundation sending composers into schools for three-year residencies in school systems as early as 1962. The national commitment of The Wallace Foundation is echoed by the commitment of The Annenberg Foundation, which is echoed by an earlier arts education effort by the very same The Wallace Foundation, which is echoed by the truly groundbreaking philanthropy of The JDR 3rd Fund beginning in 1967.

We are building, or attempting to build a new house, brick-by-brick, as the shape of the bricks change, as the design of the blueprints change, as earlier bricks erode, all in ways that we can not necessarily predict, making sustainability difficult at best, illusory at worst.

The work is evergreen.

December 4, 2008 4:56 AM | | Comments (4) |
This post is a quote on the meaning of arts education, from Rudy Crew, former school superintendent in New York City, Tacoma, and Miami Dade: create an environment in which they find themselves as beings artists in a bigger world. Where their own personality, their own capacity, their own learning ability is like a brush, and they can paint a new democracy if they really apply themselves to it."
December 3, 2008 6:36 AM | | Comments (1) |
Here's a companion post to Jane's early post this morning, and it's from the late Albert Shanker, considered by many to have been the most influential person in public education during the second half of the 20th century.

Why do I continue when so much of what I've worked for seems threatened? To a large extent, because I believe that public education is the glue that has held this country together. Critics now say that the common school never really existed, that it's time to abandon this ideal in favor of schools that are designed to appeal to groups based on ethnicity, race, religion, class, or common interests of various kinds. But schools like these would foster divisions in our society; they would be like setting a time bomb.

A Martian who happened to be visiting Earth soon after the United States was founded would not have given this country much chance of surviving. He would have predicted that this new nation, whose inhabitants were of different races, who spoke different languages, and who followed different religions, wouldn't remain one nation for long. They would end up fighting and killing each other. Then, what was left of each group would set up its own country, just as has happened many other times and in many other places. But that didn't happen. Instead, we became a wealthy and powerful nation--the freest the world has ever known. Millions of people from around the world have risked their lives to come here, and they continue to do so today.

Public schools played a big role in holding our nation together. They brought together children of different races, languages, religions and cultures and gave them a common language and a sense of common purpose. We have not outgrown our need for this; far from it. Today, Americans come from more different countries and speak more different languages than ever before. Whenever the problems connected with school reform seem especially tough, I think about this. I think about what public education gave me--a kid who couldn't even speak English when I entered first grade. I think about what it has given me and can give to countless numbers of other kids like me. And I know that keeping public education together is worth whatever effort it takes.

December 3, 2008 6:33 AM | | Comments (0) |
Eric asks: So what do we do? Richard grounds my dream of our field ever coming to any kind of consensus about a deeper truth that contains our organic polarities that we can all get behind. The public has a limited definition that balkanizes and limits the range and value of arts and arts education? Michael and Edward and others point out that the action ground is local, and the remarkable example of Dallas and Big Thought provides a sense that movement is possible under their circumstance anyway. So what do we do?

What do we do? How do we harness the kaleidoscope of arts and arts education allowing key elements to come forth, universals that are ultimately understood by everyone because everyone has a connection to some part of this larger canvass we call arts and arts education.

I think that sometimes in an effort to organize the work into a prototypical education framework, such as standards and curricula, we lose the meaning and opportunities for everyone to see themselves in the art. People paint, people write sentences; people decorate their homes; people cook; people go looking for the most outrageous holiday decorations. The everyday arts, they are there among the more rarified, more technical, professional-based brand.

I think that part of the answer lies in helping to create a fertile ground in schools and community for local context to be created, rather than having it come from up high. What goals, partners, structures, disciplines, does the school want to pursue, rather than having some meta structure or approach handed down.

The most interesting work I have seen among the over 130 whole school arts partnership CAE had created came from the local context of educators, students, parents, and partners forging their own vision. It takes work, to empower and develop the capacity, but the authenticity of the work often has legs that sustain it and positively change the culture within a school or community setting.

December 2, 2008 9:28 AM | | Comments (1) |
Laura Zakaras: It will take a powerful coalition of cultural leaders--including directors of arts organizations and the business leaders that sit on their Boards, the arts policy community, artists, and the professional organizations that represent thousands of arts educators--to change state education policy. Only by working together can they persuade the general education community (and the American public) that the arts should be part of the basic curriculum of the public schools.

No doubt. That beings said, there are more and more studies pointing towards school reform and policy change coming about through grass roots movements. If I were to show the list above to someone at the AFT or NEA (not arts endowment), they would point out that we are missing the larger cohort of teachers and parents, the center of what would make such a coalition potent. Policy is ultimately politics, and elected officials respond to voters. Thus, you're going to have to have parents and an army of teachers to make change on the local level. What is more, there are capacities in "community organizing" (see Rudy Guiliani), research, policy analysis, and more, that remain relatively nascent across the field.

For my entire career in arts education, I have seen arts education as an outlier in the field of education. While programs can make change, most likely temporal, in a school or group of schools, scale, will require the building of coalitions that embrace people beyond what  might be called the "special interest groups."
December 2, 2008 4:57 AM | | Comments (2) |
Leaving aside the debate as to whether or not our culture will suffer if we don't do more to teach the arts, as Eric and Jane have already raised some important points about how we define our culture, I think it's important to note that the debate about arts education on the access level really points towards questions of equity. I think it's important to be blunt about the "arts education gap."

Okay, it's an old saw, but, you will be hard pressed to find a private school that doesn't provide an arts education to its students, both in what it offers and participation rates. Suburban schools do a much better job than urban schools, and as we know well, in urban districts, those schools with greater access to external resources, often resources raised by parents, do a better job than those without.

So, in the New York region, the debate is whether or not there is time to teach the arts in light of the achievement gap. There are those within the education and politics (they go together nicely) who will argue that there is simply not time for the arts in the school day, particularly for those students trapped on the wrong side of the achievement gap. Not long ago, a senior education official said to me that students in low performing schools should not have to have the arts.

It's really a debate as to which children get the arts and which do not, and unfortunately, it often tracks to socio-economic circumstances.

In 2001, ruling in favor of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which backed a lawsuit seeking to change the state formula for funding public schools, New York State Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse stated that "demography is not destiny." When it comes to arts education, demography may be just that.

That's the real debate.

December 1, 2008 9:06 AM | | Comments (3) |
Naturally, those working in the arts field would speak in terms of "engaging experiences with works of art." Or "future demand for arts." 

These concepts don't have much traction in schools. The future demand issue, well, your average parent isn't all that keen about a child being viewed as a future (or present) commodity. And, well, I think most educators might wonder what an" engaging experience with a work of art really means."

More and more, I've been thinking about how we can tie arts education to the fundamental well being of our children and their development as human beings. What about arts education as a children's health issue, leapfrogging over the lexicon of the arts industry, that serves as a common language for the industry, but fails to resonate with those in the center of education?

December 1, 2008 4:13 AM | | Comments (1) |


This Conversation For decades, as teaching of the arts has been cut back in our public schools, alarms have been raised about the dire consequences for American culture. Artists and arts organizations stepped in to try to... more

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