Posts Tagged ‘K-12’

Science Teachers Love Art

April 7, 2011

John M. Eger, Author and Lecturer on Creativity and Innovation, Education and Economic Development

 

By John M. Eger. Re-printed with permission from John M. Eger.

There is a growing debate in America about art and science.

Explaining the Universe: Why Arts Education and Science Education Need Each Other author, scientist, and educator, Alan Friedman, says, “I am a science educator who finds this story (of the Universe) deeply fascinating and profound.” But most children do not know this story. ‘The solution is not just finding more good science teachers and developing good science curricula, but also encouraging more and better arts education.”

Recently, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), issued a paper called “Reaching Students Through STEM and the Arts.”

The paper states, “Teachers of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are discovering that by adding an “A” — the arts — to STEM, learning will pick up STEAM.”

They are of course talking about former president George W. Bush’s initiative called the America Competes Act, also known as the STEM initiative for Science Technology Engineering and Math.

That bill authorized $151 million to help students earn a bachelor’s degree, math and science teachers to get teaching credentials, and provide additional money to help align kindergarten through grade 12 math and science curricula to better prepare students for college.

Now, three years later, more and more people are asking why just math and science? Why not the arts, too?

For too long, we have been living with a false divide in our understanding of the brain, a misunderstanding of human nature and of the curriculum. The belief that art and science were two separate disciplines demanded different teaching methodology.

Fifty years ago, physicist-turned-novelist C.P. Snow talked about the “two cultures” of physicists and writers and the “hostility and dislike” that divided the world’s scientists from its literary intellectuals and artists. “That divide,” Natalie Angier of The New York Times wrote last summer, “continues to this day.”

Scientists and artists can change that false perception and perhaps are starting to do just that.

Many artists and scientists know that the divide is a myth. In fact, Leonard Shlain, author of Art and Physics: Parallel Dimensions in Time and Space, once observed that great art reflects what is happening in our physical world and often predicts our scientific future. For example, he writes that while Picasso probably didn’t know Einstein, his Cubism was developed about the same time that Einstein first published his theory of relativity.

Robert Root Bernstein, a MacArthur Prize Fellow studying at UCSD 20 years ago, took it upon himself to look at the biographies of the top 100 scientists who lived over the last 200 years. What he found was startling because he found that every great scientist was not only accomplished in his field but in fine arts as well. Not surprisingly, Bernstein says, “(there) shouldn’t be two cultures as currently exists, one favoring artists and the other scientists.”

In a corporate ad campaign of Exxon Mobil Stephen Greenlee, President of Upstream Research, says, “We actually have a lot of scientists who play music. The Creativity, the Innovation — there’s definitely a tie there.”

What is a surprise, really, is that there is any debate at all.

 

Read the article as it appeared in the Huffington Post

John M. Eger, author and lecturer on the subjects of creativity and innovation, education and economic development, is the Van Deerlin Endowed Chair of Communications and Public Policy and Director of the Creative Economy Initiative. He teaches in the School of Journalism and Media Studies, and the Honors Program at San Diego State University.

A former Advisor to two Presidents and Director of the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy he helped spearhead the restructuring of America’s telecom Industry and was Senior Vice President of CBS responsible for worldwide enterprises, which opened China to commercial television.

More recently he served as Chair of California Governor’s first Commission on Information Technology; Chair of the Governors Committee on Education and Technology; and Chair of San Diego Mayor’s “City of the Future” Commission.

Celebrate Arts Education Month (Here’s how)

March 10, 2011

Assembly Concurrent Resolution 25 (Campos) declares “March 2011 to be Arts Education Month and encourage[s] all elected officials to participate with their educational communities in celebrating the arts.”

There’s no better way to share the power of arts education with elected officials than by inviting them to experience firsthand the creativity, innovation and joy that happen in arts classrooms. The Alliance’s Arts Learning in Action Toolkit provides a step-by-step online guide for planning a visit for a local school board member, mayor, city council, county board of education or county supervisors.

Finding the Words for Duke Ellington

We spoke to award-winning teacher Genein Letford and she shared a lesson that brings to life the tenets of ACR 25 with ”a visual and performing arts curriculum [that] addresses and develops ways of thinking, questioning, expression.”

Once a third grade general education teacher, Letford is in charge of the music program at NEW Academy Canoga Park. “My goal has been to develop a program that teaches music standards, theory and instrumentation while successfully connecting to other disciplines for whole child learning.”

Her lesson on Duke Ellington brings jazz, improvisation and African American history to life. It charts Duke’s rise from piano player in pool halls to leader of an orchestra headlining at Carnegie Hall, where he introduced Black, Brown and Beige, a suite that celebrated the “the triumphs of black people, from the days of slavery to the years of the civil rights struggle.”

Letford’s lesson is also an exploration of language. “I use Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra for its wonderful similes to convey the color tones of the instruments and the mood of the music. Along with developing listening skills (students identify instruments and instrument families), the students pay attention to how the authors use language to describe the music. Then the students practice writing similes of their own to describe the music.”

Art isn’t Just for Art Classes Anymore

You don’t have to be an art teacher to celebrate the power of arts learning this month. Assemblywoman Campos’ resolution affirms that a “visual and performing arts curriculum addresses and develops ways of thinking, questioning, expression, and learning that complement learning in other core subjects.” There is a growing interest in cross-curricular learning. The Kennedy Center defines arts integration as:

“An approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area meeting objectives in both.”

Last week, we witnessed an exciting example at the Armory for the Arts in Pasadena, when they shared findings from their new curriculum, which integrates visual art and math. The curriculum develops the connections between math and art focusing on math standards, providing visual art lessons and standards-based instruction to complement and enhance the math learning. Assessments after one semester show a sharp rise in post-test skills, as well as improved scores on standardized tests. Stay tuned for more information about this exciting initiative.

Let the Celebrations Begin

Help us spread the word about Arts Education Month, share our new video, Start a Conversation About the Arts. It links to our Arts Learning in Action toolkit and makes a persuasive case (complete with music from Ozomatli) for advocates to reach out to elected officials.

Genein Letford is an elementary music teacher from Canoga Park and believes that every child, despite socioeconomic status, deserves a quality education that includes the arts. Mrs. Letford began her teaching career as a third grade teacher of low-income English language learners. It was there she discovered the power of using music to help teach vocabulary and academic concepts to her students.

Mrs. Letford is now the music director at the same elementary school and has created a dynamic award winning music curriculum that not only teaches music standards but also incorporates corresponding math, science, language arts and social studies concepts. In 2009, Letford began the Music For All: Instrument Scholarship Fund, which awarded low-income students with instruments for their ongoing music education. Early last year, Letford was a finalist for the Bravo Arts Educator Award and was just named the 2010 Great American Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Letford received her bachelor degree from UCLA and recently completed her master thesis, Integration With Integrity: The Importance of Keeping Music in the Elementary Classroom at California State University, Northridge. She has done numerous professional presentations on this topic and remains focused on bringing arts education to underserved communities.

One Superintendent’s Vision

February 10, 2011

Opening Remarks  at the Launch of the Alliance for Arts Education in Humboldt County, on January 27, 2011


By Garry T. Eagles, Ph.D., Superintendent, Humboldt County Office of Education

Editor’s note: The California Alliance for Arts Education in Humboldt County is one of the 25 Local Advocacy Network coalitions sponsored by the Alliance in our efforts to build advocacy capacity at the local level. Read more about our Local Advocacy Network.

“Welcome to the Breakfast Gathering of the California Alliance for Arts Education/Humboldt County.

I want to thank all of you for your willingness to spend some of your valuable time today hearing about the various ways in which the community as a whole can help insure that a rich, meaningful, education is provided for all children by keeping the arts alive and flourishing in our schools.

The Humboldt County Office of Education is pleased to support and participate in this Alliance.  Our commitment to the arts extends over three decades, beginning with our sponsorship of one of California’s first model arts education curriculums: Project MADD: Music, Art, Drama and Dance.

We are continuing our commitment to promote the arts today through our participation in the California County Superintendents Education Services Association (CCSESA) Arts Education Initiative funded in part by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.  The CCSESA Arts Initiative is partnering with other education and non-profit organizations throughout the state to embed arts education firmly into every school’s core curriculum.

We firmly believe the arts should not be viewed as “add-on” or “supplemental” programs that can be eliminated when the budget is tight and we need to cut the “extras.”  The arts are not extras; quite the contrary, the arts are integral elements of a quality education.

One of the seminal works on education, John Holt’s How Children Fail, was a great influence on me as I began to develop my perspectives as a young educator.  In that book, Holt observed that children are born with an extraordinary capacity for learning and intellectual growth.  Undoubtedly, Holt would have concurred that the arts, approached correctly, are a particularly strong vehicle whereupon we can embolden young people by stimulating their natural curiosity and wonder about the world around them; helping them to have a greater appreciation for their own culture and the contributions made through the diversity of others; encouraging their risk taking and, in the process, uncovering hidden talents, tapping new areas of interest, and exploring new paths of engagement.

The arts help evolve one’s identity and individuality as each of us learns to express ourselves.  And just as important, as we evolve, we learn to love learning even more.

It was Holt’s premise that since we cannot judge what knowledge will be needed in forty, twenty or even ten years from the present, we in education should focus our efforts on trying to turn out young adults who love learning so much—and learn so well—that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned over their lifetimes.  We therefore need to provide the kind of education that helps each student know how to seek and find meaning, truth and enjoyment in everything he/she will do.  After all, these are critical components of lifelong learning.

As a child, my best friends were Bobby Eilmas, Melanie Murphy, and Crayola Crayons.  Oh, how I loved coloring books.  I remember to this day how excited I was at receiving one of the new 64-crayon coloring boxes—with sharpener I might add—when I was just seven.  I looked forward to the times in class we could color.  I was very proud of learning when it’s good to stay within the lines and when it’s alright—maybe even better than alright at times—to go beyond them.My elementary teachers found many ways to reinforce my interest in the arts.  In addition to drawing and coloring and mosaic making, they were also there to introduce me to music and singing and dancing—although the dancing was, obviously with my handicap, always a bit more challenging.

In fourth grade, I was blessed to have been offered the opportunity to try and learn a musical instrument.  I excitedly chose a violin.  However, I will be quick to admit that after just a few nights, I gladly traded my violin in for a saxophone—after discovering my fingers were much better at pushing down keys than plucking strings and that I was much better drawing a tree than drawing a bow.  I remember how important each of these experiences was to me and my development as a human being.  Collectively, these experiences no doubt serve as the basis for why I advocate so vociferously for maintaining the arts for all students, everywhere.

The philosopher Israel Sheffler defined education in this way:  “The formation of habits of judgment and the development of character, the elevation of standards, the facilitation of understanding, the development of taste and discrimination, the stimulation of curiosity and wondering, the fostering of style and a sense of beauty, the growth of a thirst for new ideas and visions of the yet unknown.”

I find that this definition of education frames very clearly the argument as to why the arts must be a significant component of the curriculum we provide our students.  There can be no diminishing of this role despite our schools’ declining fiscal condition.  We must all be committed to finding ways to ensure the arts have their rightful presence.

Garry T. Eagles, Ph.D.Superintendent, Humboldt County Office of Education

To read Dr. Eagles’ bio and about the office of county superintendent

Warning for schools ahead

January 27, 2011

This week, as staff from the California Alliance met with forty new legislators in Sacramento, the halls of the Capitol had an ominous air.

When Governor Jerry Brown was sworn into office on January 3rd, California was already in a declared state of fiscal emergency. Within weeks of taking office, Brown declared a new state of fiscal emergency and released a 2011-2012 state budget calling for $12.5 billion in cuts. Few could be surprised by these grim realities. As Brown, said at the press conference releasing this budget,

“For 10 years, we’ve had budget gimmicks and tricks that pushed us deep into debt. We must now return California to fiscal responsibility and get our state on the road to economic recovery and job growth.”

K-12 grade education was the one area spared from cuts. Brown’s budget proposes keeping education at current, admittedly low funding levels. But even this is not a sure thing.

Continued funding for education depends on an extension of current personal income and sales taxes, as well as the Vehicle License Fee rate, for five years that must be approved by voters in an election this June. Without this revenue, officials say there will be 31% funding cuts across the board, including education.

Already, officials are painting a grim picture of the inevitable cuts in store for education, if voters do not pass the ballot measure. In a recent speech, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer said,

“Unless voters agree to the extension of temporary car, income and sales taxes, the state would be so short of money that it might have to whack more than six weeks off the K-12 school year.”

That’s just one scenario. Increasing class size, cutting custodial staff and cutting or eliminating arts education programs altogether are other likely options if Brown’s ballot measure does not pass.

Despite the serious work ahead, the Alliance staff was encouraged by their meetings with new legislators. An impressive number of representatives were well informed about the cognitive, social and potential workforce benefits of arts education. All are committed to providing California children with a quality education. And most would agree (and we’ll keep working on the others!) that the arts must be a core component to a quality education.

A “Both/And” Approach to CTE and VAPA

October 21, 2010

By Mark Slavin, Vice President of Education
Music Center: Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County and
Board Chair, California Alliance for Arts Education

The California Alliance for Arts Education was very pleased to see the Governor veto AB 2446 (Furutani). This measure would have watered-down California’s already weak high school graduation requirements by allowing students to take a career technical education course, in lieu of a course in the arts or foreign language. The battle over this legislation is part of an ongoing debate about the role and purpose of public high schools. Specifically, what is the proper balance between preparing students for college and providing tangible employment skills to help students gain jobs right out of high school? Or is this a false choice? Can we imagine high schools in which every course engages kids in project-based learning, real world applications, and the development of tangible skills for the workplace?

It was unfortunate that the battle over AB 2446 placed advocates for arts education and advocates for career and technical education in opposing camps. In fact, many of us want the same thing – high schools that offer diverse options for students to find their passion and explore specific career paths. Arts advocates often cite testimonials from young people stating their arts course was the only reason they came to school every day. Why not expand our vision to imagine high schools that offer BOTH foundational courses in the arts AND opportunities to deepen career and technical skills?

Advocates for arts education have worked hard to place the arts as part of the core academic courses required for admission California’s public colleges and universities. The approved courses offer students much more than art-making and performance skills. Consistent with the Visual and Performing Arts Framework, courses are expected to help students analyze and make critical judgments about works of art. Students are also expected to study historical and cultural context and to make connections to other subject areas and career opportunities.

Having achieved this status in the core curriculum, many advocates for arts education are protective of these hard-fought gains. Accordingly, we want to ensure the arts retain academic rigor and are taught by highly-qualified teachers. If these values are lost, we fear arts education could be further marginalized and become more vulnerable to cuts. But in defending our vision of “quality” arts education, are we closing the door to exciting new partnerships with career and technical education? In the rush to point out the limitations of a course taught by an industry professional lacking a teaching credential, are we denying students powerful learning opportunities?

Advocates for arts education often assert the arts are essential to prepare students for California’s creative economy. We cite data about the scope of the economic impact from the entertainment industry, the performing arts, museums, video game design, architecture, and fashion design, to name a few of the important job sectors. In our passion to defend “standards-based arts education,” let us not close the door to other arts learning opportunities with a direct link to careers. When a student becomes inspired by an introductory theatre course, we should applaud their desire to take a course in set design taught by a working professional. When a student finds their passion in a visual art course, who would be against taking another course from a working graphic designer?

Before we rush in to another “us against them” battle in Sacramento, I am hoping we can explore new alliances and common cause with advocates for career technical education. Together let us try to expand, not narrow, the range of options open to students in our high schools.

Editor’s Note: The California Alliance has recently published a white paper that explores the overlapping goals and requirements of CTE and VAPA studies, and advocates for a “Both/And” approach. Click here to read the paper.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, or Arts Education Advocacy in Reality

September 9, 2010

By Victoria Plettner Saunders

My name is Victoria Plettner-Saunders and I am one of the founders of the San Diego Alliance for Arts Education, a local advocacy network initiated by the California Alliance for Arts Education. While our formal alliance launch was in May of 2010, we actually began to gain recognition for arts education advocacy with the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) in June 2009 when we successfully convinced the SDUSD School Board to remove the Visual and Performing Arts Department (VAPA) from a list of things to eliminate to save money. At that time, we were a consistent presence at school board meetings and our message was clear: a) we want to be in partnership with the district on arts education issues and b) “We aren’t going away.” Here’s what that meant in reality.

In May we officially launched the San Diego Alliance for Arts Education and invited the school board president Richard Barrera to talk to our invited guests about the status of arts education in the District. By July, I’m in his speed dial and he was calling for my help. The school board is voting on Tuesday to put forth a ballot measure for a parcel tax to create local revenues for the District’s budget, he says. He wants to know if we can help by coming down to speak in support of it. He explained what is now referred to as Prop. J. The funds will be distributed to each school on a per student basis and decisions about using the funds will be up to each school. However, they are to be used for student instruction only and not for administration or overhead. Wearing my advocacy hat, I asked him if there is specific language to ensure that visual and performing arts instruction can be a recipient of the funds. I am concerned about specific language for arts education because without it, principals could think that the funds can only be used for science, technology, English and mathematics instruction. He says he’ll make sure that arts education is included. I tell him that I will be there and I send out an email asking for others to come down in support as well.

At the meeting, I get up and make a presentation during which I remind them that “we aren’t going away.” This time I indicate that their prioritization of arts education is important to us and that we will support them in finding a way to continue funding it via the parcel tax. The presentation detailing what will happen if Prop. J doesn’t pass described the loss of athletics, increased class sizes; loss of GATE, and half day kindergarten, but nowhere is there any indication that arts education could be affected.

Afterwards, I asked Mr. Barrera why the presentation didn’t indicate that the arts will be victims of the budget ax. We both know that if the District doesn’t find new revenues, hard decisions will have to be made and we can’t expect to be “saved” while other equally as important budget items are lost. To which he replied, “To be honest with you Victoria, I think they’re scared to. Arts education advocates made so much noise last year when they put it on the elimination list.” I’d like to believe that’s true, but I’ve learned that their campaign managers have a different perspective on what polls well for these things and “arts programs” weren’t part of it. I don’t necessarily agree with them and it hasn’t stopped us from putting the word out there ourselves.

In August (so much for my summer work slow down) a group of us met with the Prop J. campaign manager to talk about how the arts community can help. You see, while they calculated that the loss of arts programs didn’t poll well as a campaign strategy, we know that arts supporters and parents do care and need to know the potential repercussions. In the end they recognized the importance of our work on behalf of Prop J and are giving us a page on the Prop J website that explains what will happen to arts education if it doesn’t pass.

And so for the rest of our summer “vacation” we strove to become the best team players we can be. We want to show the school board that the arts community cares about arts education and that we are willing to work for the greater good to help ensure its survival. Advocacy can often come down to relationships and leverage. Our strong show of support helps us to continue building a positive and productive relationship with the school board, which makes it harder for them to eliminate arts education in the coming budget decisions without communicating with us first. It is now September 7, summer is essentially over and my husband and I and other arts education advocates are gearing up to educate the arts community about Prop J and will start our first phone banking tonight. Election Day can’t come soon enough.

Editorial Note: The San Diego Alliance for Arts Education is also a participant in the California Alliance’s district election survey project. School board candidates will fill out a survey, which will published on the Alliance website starting in October, giving voters a way to learn more about the candidates’ views on arts education. The survey project is one more way that advocates in San Diego are bringing the importance of arts education to decision makers attention.

If Not Now, When?

December 16, 2009


By Laurie T. Schell, Executive Director, California Alliance for Arts Education

This year, it’s hard to find a news story about the holidays that is not also an account of shrinking resources and making do with less. Despite signs of improvement in the U.S. economy, the landscape is still littered with pink slips, foreclosures and bankruptcies. Against that backdrop, it is easy to understand why people tend to focus on their own interests. A sense of generosity and community-mindedness can seem like things that we cannot ‘afford.’

In the months ahead, we cannot afford not to stand together. With a state budget shortfall, hard-won arts education programs now face major cuts. Narrow agendas and self-interests will have to be set aside to build a broad base of support.  Los Angeles Unified, the second largest school district in the country and the largest in this state, has issued a preliminary budget proposal to cut 50% percent of its elementary arts teachers, 173 of 345 teachers, in 2010-11 and the remaining 50% in the following year. This program has been built over ten years with the full support of the school board and administration. I don’t believe the superintendent wants to make these cuts, but times are dire indeed. That’s why the community must make some noise, show they care, to demonstrate they know that a quality education include the arts. Other school districts are watching, other states are watching, the media is watching to see if the public is willing to fight for quality education.

Arts for LA is spearheading an advocacy campaign to protest the cuts by engaging parents, teachers, artists, and community members to stand and be heard. The California Alliance and other regional and local organizations are lending support to the effort. With the support of the Alliance, similar coalitions are forming in 20 communities across the state. Together, we are working to protect arts education from budget cuts like the ones proposed by LAUSD. Get in touch with us and get involved in your community.

History is replete with examples of generosity and courage during desperate times. The accomplishments of the California Alliance and similar grassroots organizations have been due largely to these types of coalition-building cross-sector approaches and a personal commitment to action. Every success is built on a series of small steps. And oftentimes against all odds, the outcomes are surprising and uplifting. We invite you to take part in the action. Now is the time.

For more information on the Los Angeles Unified campaign, go to www.artsforla.org/groups/lausd

It’s Time for a Shared Delivery Model for the Arts

October 20, 2009

California’s visual and performing arts content standards are very ambitious and suggest the need for more instruction in the arts than any one teacher could provide.  In light of the scope and depth of these standards and the very strained resources in our schools, it seems time to embrace a vision for a “shared delivery model” in which classroom teachers, arts specialists, and community arts resources collaborate and coordinate their efforts so that kids gain access to a truly comprehensive program.  If we all work together in a coordinated fashion, the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts.  In a fragmented or competitive scenario, students lose.

Wearing my hat as someone who provides arts programs to schools in a non-profit arts organization, I want to suggest the arts community needs to let go of some past paradigms if the vision of a true shared delivery model is to be realized.  Specifically, we have two pieces of worn baggage we need to toss in the dumpster: the “arts as charity” model and the “arts organization as lone ranger” model.

The “arts as charity” model has dominated the world view of many arts organizations at least since 1978, when Proposition 13 resulted in major cuts to school arts programs.  In this model, each fundraising appeal letter begins with this statement – “we all know there are no arts programs in our public schools.  But thanks to your gift, at least X children will have exposure to the arts.”  While big-hearted, this approach is counter-productive, If not harmful , to the cause of systemic arts education for all kids.  It is harmful because it reinforces the bias of many educators that arts programs do not have a legitimate claim on school budgets.  It is also harmful in that it may reinforce the view among donors and education leaders that we can never expect a reinvestment from schools and districts that would place the arts in the core curriculum for all students, not just the lucky few in a grant-funded charitable program.

The second piece of luggage we need to discard is the “lone ranger” model, where each arts organizations presents its’ work in isolation, and suggests or implies it has the magical ability to transform a school all by itself.  The fact is that very few, if any, arts organizations have the capacity to achieve a year-long, sequential instructional program for an entire school in music, dance, theatre, and visual arts.  In most cases, an arts organization has a specialty and expertise that can address one or a few pieces of a very large arts education puzzle. One group might provide matinee performances for school field trips. Another may send a teaching artist to lead a 14 week dance residency in four classrooms.  A third may provide an introductory workshop for teachers tied to the collection in a museum.  Yet for fundraising purposes, or perhaps our own ego, we communicate our work in isolation.  We imply we are the only resource available to a school and promise to achieve transformative results all by ourselves.  Sadly, this very isolation and fragmentation means that our individual efforts are not achieving a critical mass or impact.  Imagine what could be possible, if several arts organizations worked in concert to collaborate with a single school to leverage all their resources for a much larger result.

While we know budgets are tight and finances can become very competitive, the fact is that California schools need more assistance and support than could ever be provided by the combined efforts of every existing non-profit arts agency in the state.  So the good news is that there is more than enough “need” to go around.  So rather than fight for isolated crumbs and programmatic fragments, imagine the difference we could make if we worked together in a collaborative partnership that linked arts resources, arts specialist teachers, and classroom teachers.  Imagine the arts learning that could be provided if we worked in a true shared delivery model.

The Current State of Arts Education in California

September 22, 2009

By Laurie T. Schell, Executive Director

Welcome to our new blog!  In the coming months, we look forward to bringing you posts from a wide variety of thinkers engaged with the future of arts education in California.

Recently, the Alliance undertook an informal survey of the 30 largest school districts in California to get a temperature read on how things are going. Here are two observations that stand out in reviewing the research:

If you don’t use it, you lose it. The most common story we heard from across California has to do with the demise of the unused one-time and ongoing Arts and Music Block Grant funds (resulting from the historic grant made in 2006). The irony is that many districts were trying to do the right thing— holding the money in order to think and plan strategically for greater impact over several years. And guess what? The unspent funds are largely gone now – swept into the general fund as soon as a change in state policy allowed.

We heard harrowing stories of districts making painful decisions about how to rob Peter to pay Paul, and we understand the desperate straits that many districts find themselves in. But what can we learn from the fate of that historic grant?

It’s a commonplace of budgeting that if you don’t use designated funds, you’re likely to lose them. That means having a strategic plan in place before the money arrives and strong momentum in the delivery of quality arts instruction already underway.  Having a plan is not a panacea, but it has proven a successful tactic for districts who make a commitment both to the plan and its implementation. Some day we’ll emerge from these dark days of the economic crisis. And when we do, districts that have done their planning work ahead of the curve will stand to benefit the most. So whether we’re talking about future federal funding, or just the return of better days and the rise in tide that lifts all boats, it’s important to continue planning for improved capacity in arts education.

Our message has made a difference. The second finding from the survey reveals a silver lining. In many cases, several of the districts we spoke with reported their administrators and school board officials valued the arts and took positions to protect arts programs. They also reported arts education advocates from the community were present and vocal at school board meetings. This hasn’t always been the case. These anecdotes suggest that advocates have been very effective in raising the level of awareness about the value of arts education for every child.

There is no doubt that we’ve made progress—historic funding in 2006, pockets of community activists making the case, better understanding of what quality arts programs look like, and greater awareness among school board and administrators. The problem, however, is that the restoration of the arts in each of the 1,000 California districts is tenuous and can only be sustained if each of us takes responsibility to act.  Without letting up on the message about why the arts matter (the emotional message), we must also hammer away at the need to fund and prioritize the arts in the same way as other core subject areas (the political message), and position the arts as an essential component of a complete education for every child (the BIG message).

We need to get busy as advocates, making sure that our state and local policymakers and education decisionmakers do three things, with regard to the visual and performing arts.

Prioritize the arts – dance, music, theatre, visual arts – as a core subject area.

Fund arts education – teachers, curriculum, instructional materials, professional development – in an ongoing, sustainable way.

Position the arts as essential to a complete education, thereby protecting them from funding raids in lean years.

Those three principles should guide every action we take as advocates.

And that leads me back to this blog. In the coming months, we’ll investigate many different points of view related to the political work ahead of us. We’ll ask knowledgeable experts to write about ways that we can prioritize, fund and position the arts in California schools. I hope you’ll be part of that conversation. It promises to be dynamic, diverse and pertinent.

If you don’t already, please subscribe to our twice-monthly newsletter, ArtsEdMail. Each issue will pose a question, and link to this blog, where we hope to engender and open conversation in response.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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