Archive for April, 2010

Well-Rounded Curriculum in the Spotlight as ESEA Re-Write Gains Momentum

April 28, 2010

By Heather Noonan, Vice President for Advocacy for the League of American Orchestras and Co-Chair of the ad-hoc National Arts Education Policy Working Group.

How will the next version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) support access to the arts as part of a well-rounded education for every child? This month the Administration, Congress, and arts education advocates have advanced the conversation. Now is a critical time for arts advocates to engage in the real heart of the debate.

Speaking before the national Arts Education Partnership forum on April 9, US. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered his view, declaring that the arts “can no longer be treated as a frill,” and reported that, during his national listening tour, “almost everywhere I went, I heard people express concern that the curriculum has narrowed, especially in schools that serve disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged students.”

The March 13 Obama Administration blueprint for re-writing ESEA lays out the Department’s view on federal education policy. Three areas of the blueprint emerged in Duncan’s remarks:

  • Proposals would allow states to incorporate assessments of subjects beyond English, language arts and math in their accountability systems.
  • The current Arts in Education funding program would be merged with other funding areas so that districts, states, and non-profits would apply for competitive grants to support the arts among other eligible non-tested core academic subjects of learning.
  • New resources for afterschool and extended day learning could open the door for support for arts education.

These proposals present opportunities, but also concerns, for arts advocates. All three are based on the assumption that state and local leaders would be incentivized to choose the arts when crafting applications to U.S. Department of Education and forming assessment plans. Arts proponents — already hard-pressed to gain support for the arts among state and local policymakers in the wake of NCLB’s math and reading focus ,and anxious about the added emphasis on Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the Obama funding and ESEA proposals – are asking: How will the arts gain traction, without stronger federal leadership?

If you look through the 45-page blueprint, you gain a deeper a sense of the major themes that will play out in the upcoming federal debate:

  • College and Career-Ready Students
  • School Turn-Around Strategies
  • Improved Professional Development
  • Evidence-Based Instructional Models

To be players in this rapidly-developing policy discussion, the arts education community will need to communicate how the arts advance these broad education goals. While advocates must continue to argue for the arts’ rightful place among core academic subjects accessed by all students, it will not be enough to complain about being pushed to the margins. In other words, asking to put the “STEAM in STEM” – while a memorable catch-phrase – does little to inject the arts into other areas of the broader policy debate.

The good news is that we have the goods to make a convincing case about the impact of the arts on improving education. On the heels of Secretary Duncan’s speech, more than 500 arts advocates took to Capitol Hill for national Arts Advocacy Day, calling for dedicated funding for arts education, improved national research, and annual state reports on the status and condition of all core academic subjects, including the arts.

The chair of the Senate committee charged with drafting the next ESEA says he plans to have a draft bill ready by June and recently hosted a hearing on “Meeting the Needs of the Whole Student.” While completing the new law before the end of the year is unlikely, given the host of other policy priorities in this mid-term election year, early talks on the Hill will lay the foundation for the final bill to come. By weighing in now, and marshaling our best arguments, arts education advocates can and should claim a seat at the policy table.

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The California PTA Makes the Case for the Parcel Tax Initiative

April 20, 2010

By Debbie Look, Legislative Director of the California State PTA

Alliance: As school districts all over California struggle to make tough budget decisions, the California PTA has undertaken a ballot initiative to make it easier for local communities to create local funding streams. The Parcel Tax initiative would lower the passage rate for parcel taxes from two-thirds to 55 percent, making it easier for local communities to augment state funding for education programs.

Although the Alliance has not taken a position on this initiative, we note the trend in several school districts, notably Los Angeles and Pasadena Unified, who are using it as an alternative funding stream for arts education programs, which are often the first to be eliminated when there are state budget cuts. We have worked with the PTA since our inception over thirty years ago – and as ever, applaud their commitment to the providing a quality education to all students.

California PTA: The fiscal crisis in California impacts us all, especially the children in our schools right now, who have seen funding for their education slashed by more than $17 billion. It’s easy to point fingers and lay blame, but there are better, bolder options. We need practical solutions that help our local communities help their children.

That is why the California State PTA strongly supports qualifying the Local Control of Local Classrooms Funding Act for the statewide ballot in November. Delegates representing our nearly 1 million PTA members throughout the state approved a resolution at our 2008 convention calling for such a reform. PTA has a long history of finding real-world solutions to challenges, and today we need that same can-do spirit. There is something that can be done, and the California State PTA is working to see that it is done, by helping to qualify this initiative. If we are successful, it will be remarkable as a true grass-roots achievement, accomplished by true volunteers rather than the usual paid signature gatherers.

PTA supports this initiative as it will allow our local communities to support their children, by making it easier for school districts to raise money with local parcel taxes by lowering the passage rate from the currently required two-thirds to 55 percent.  The initiative seeks to strengthen local control of California schools and improve education quality by helping public schools generate stable, local funds that cannot be taken by the state.  If qualified, all of the money raised from local parcel taxes would have to be spent in the classroom on educational materials and programs. The act also calls for strict accountability, including annual audits to ensure funds are used properly and the appointment of an independent citizen’s oversight committee to report to the local community on how the funds are spent.

The act limits the total dollar value of proposals using the act’s provisions put before voters in any given election, to $250 per parcel, adjusted over time for inflation. This will limit how fast parcel taxes can be increased. The Local Control of Local Classrooms Funding Act will not solve the state’s economic crisis on its own. It will not restore the billions of dollars of state funding already cut from our schools.  But it will make it easier for each community to help its own children. To learn more about the Act or to sign the petition, go to: www.improvedschoolfunding.com.

The choices we make in times of crisis are critical. There are more than 9 million children in California.  That means there are more than 9 million good reasons to give local communities the tools they need to help all children reach their full potential.  We ask that everyone who is seeking positive action, join our effort to gather the 1 million signatures we need by May 1 to qualify this crucial measure. The children of California need our help now.

AB 2446 Limits Access to Arts Education

April 7, 2010

Testimony given by Joe Landon, Alliance Policy Director, before the Education Committee hearing on AB 2446

I speak today on behalf of the California Alliance for Arts Education, a statewide coalition of parents, teachers, business and community leaders, arts organizations and concerned citizens, committed to ensuring that arts education is a core component of a quality education that every student in our state should receive.

In my experience as Policy Director, I have learned that arts education has no enemies. Everyone you talk to willingly expresses their support for the arts, tells stories of how it has impacted their lives or the lives of their children or friends. Clearly, the intent of this bill and its author is not to do harm to arts learning, but to provide greater access to career technical education.

No one questions that arts education cultivates creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking—all touted as hallmark skills for success in the 21st-century workforce, or that the arts promote better questioning skills, more-focused periods of intense concentration, and greater understanding of problems that have multiple answers – all skills which promote success across all subject areas.

No one doubts that the arts reach out to the very students who might be most likely to drop out because they feel no connection to their education.

And no one wants students to go through their entire high school education without having to take one course in the arts or foreign language. But that’s what this bill would do.

We oppose this bill because it pits one subject area against another, because it creates access for career tech by undermining access for arts education as part of the core education that every student should be exposed to. At a time when arts education programs are being cut in districts throughout the state, it sends the message that though we care about the arts, we are willing to push arts education a little more to the side, a little harder for students to get to, a little less part of a well rounded education.

We reject the notion of the relation between arts education and career tech as either/or, and that’s what this bill does. We support and work closely with Career Technical Education’s Arts, Media and Entertainment pathway, providing a blueprint for preparation for students wishing to pursue arts related careers.

We support the Committee’s analysis of the bill, suggesting that the committee consider a more comprehensive review and revision of the high school graduation requirements, to ensure that graduates are embarking on the next stage of their lives with the skills they need to qualify for either postsecondary school education or family-wage career paths.

Last year, when Assemblyman Furutani introduced a similar bill, we made these same arguments. Back then, it all seemed to make sense and he amended the bill so that it would do no harm to arts education. Clearly, these are difficult times, and people can change their minds and while it’s clear that he has, what won’t change is the impact of this bill.

For the sake of our state, our future work force, and our students’ futures, we cannot afford to take short cuts that will ultimately lead our state into even bigger deficits in terms of financial as well as human capital and resources.

We urge a ‘no’ vote on AB 2446.