Author Archive

Response to the Governor’s Actions on Education Bills

October 10, 2011

A message from Joe Landon, Executive Director of the California Alliance for Arts Education

Awakening to the news that AB 1330 had been signed and SB 547 vetoed makes me grateful for the spirit of resilience that arts education provides. Anyone who’s learned to play a musical instrument or rehearsed a dramatic scene or studied dance or painting technique knows that setbacks come with the territory, and the grit and determination required to pick oneself up after being knocked down or frustrated by disappointment. It’s all about holding onto that greater aspiration.

There’s no pretty way to put it. We got thumped on AB 1330 (Furutani), outgunned by labor and business interests committed to providing some semblance of  legitimacy for Career Technical Education in the curriculum, even if at the expense of arts education and foreign language.  As we’ve said all along, we regard career tech as essential in a complete education that prepares students for the future. We also strongly believe that students lose when one subject matter is pitted against another.  We fought long and hard against this bill, and in the end we came up short.

Our other disappointment came in the Governor’s veto of SB 547 (Steinberg). In his veto message, Governor Brown praised “student excitement and creativity”, even though, in his judgement “they can’t be placed in a data stream. ” The good news about SB 547 is that, for the first time,  ‘creativity and innovation’ was included in a system of accountability for our schools. Our position is that one begins to track something as elusive as creativity by identifying learning opportunities in which innovation and creativity may be cultivated. To that end we applaud Senator Steinberg for identifying ‘creativity’ as an essential component of education, and again recognize the vision of Senator Curren Price, who was there first with SB 789, legislation intended to develop an “Index of Creativity and Innovation” and who became a co-author of the Steinberg bill.

What the journey has taught us is that we have many more allies than we knew we had. In particular, Public Advocates, a statewide law firm fighting the root causes of poverty and discrimination, stood with the Alliance throughout three years of opposition to the Furutani bill.  With the Steinberg bill, we have cultivated constructive, informed relationships with Senate leadership and within the Department of Education, using the development of the creativity index to deepen understanding of the critical role of arts education. And we have enjoyed the passionate support of Arts for LA, California Arts Advocates, The California Arts Council, Members of our Policy Council and advocates throughout the state who fought tirelessly with us to promote our cause.

But wait! There’s good news in all those bill signings and vetoes. SB 612 (Steinberg) was signed into law by the Governor. The significance of this bill is that it formally designates the California Arts Project as one of the six topical subject matter projects of the University of California. That’s good news for arts education!

Joe Landon
Executive Director
California Alliance for Arts Education

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It’s back! AB 1330 is the same bill we fought last year with a new number.

April 11, 2011

Why Oppose AB 1330? Questions and Answers

What is AB 1330? This bill is an almost exact replica of last year’s AB 2446, which was vetoed due to cost concerns. The legislation will change California high school graduation requirements resulting in an “either / or” choice between Career Technical Education (CTE) and the Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA).

Why Oppose 1330? There is a better way to advance CTE. Last year we published a white paper that advocates a ‘Both / And’ approach to CTE and VAPA, in which these disciplines work together to create the best benefit for students. Pitting one subject area against another will accelerate the damage to arts education in recent years:

  • In 2000, more than one million students were enrolled in school music programs. By 2008, that number had dropped by 57% to to 470,000.
  • Inadequate funding is the main reason for these declines in arts education.
  • With the state’s budget crisis, these numbers have worsened. In 2009, 60% of districts surveyed by the Legislative Analysts Office had shifted Arts and Music Block Grant funds away from arts and music programs. 20% of those districts cut programs altogether.
  • According to a national study, African American and Latino students are impacted disproportionately by declines. There was a 49% drop among African Americans and 40% drop among Latinos.

In tough times, don’t certain programs need to be cut? Creativity and innovation are vital to student success and California’s economic recovery.

  • 1500 CEOs surveyed by IBM ranked creativity as the number one trait they look for in employees.
  • Arts education is linked to higher academic performance and standardized test scores, increased community service and lower dropout rates.
Update as of June 30, 2011: The bill has heard by the Senate Education Committee yesterday. The Alliance provided testimony against the bill, but after heated discussion, it was passes. AB 1330 next moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Stay tuned for an action alert when the bill next come to a vote.  

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.

Measuring Creativity and Innovation in California Schools

February 24, 2011

By Laurie Schell and Joe Landon, California Alliance for Arts Education

Last week Senator Curren Price introduced Senate Bill 789, sponsored by the California Alliance for Arts Education, which will establish an Advisory Council charged with crafting a creative and innovative education index for schools. The index would provide schools and districts throughout California with an opportunity to share evidence of how they are cultivating creativity and innovation as part of a comprehensive education.

What is a Creativity and Innovation Index?
A creativity and innovation index would provide a way for schools to rate their progress in teaching, encouraging and fostering creativity in students. Index scores would be voluntarily compiled by school and district staff from a survey of curricula and teacher reports. It would quantify the opportunities in each school as measured by the availability of classes and before and after-school programs offered by and through school districts that nurture creativity and innovation in students. Examples might include visual and performing arts education classes, debate clubs, science fairs, theatre and dance performances, music concerts, film-making, creative writing, and independent research.

The scores of individual schools and districts would be published, establishing incentives for schools to promote an overall environment that fosters creativity and innovation through visual and performing arts, science, humanities and other educational opportunities. Public evidence of a school’s active commitment to developing the full potential of its students would benefit schools in building partnerships with both parents and the broader community.

Why Do We Need One?
Standardized tests use assessments of student learning to provide one measure of school achievement. But, because the tests are the only public measure of school success and are attached to high stakes accountability measures, schools have an incentive to “teach to the test” and to ignore the broader spectrum of accountability measures that examine what it means to provide a complete education for the whole child. Those narrow test-related expectations fail to encompass the responsibility our public schools have to prepare students to meet the challenges and expectations of the workforce of the 21st century. As we have moved into an economy driven by ideas and innovation, our schools must respond by providing all our students with the opportunity to develop creative skills.

According to recent findings of a broad coalition of researchers, 81 percent of corporate leaders in America believe that “creativity is an essential skill for the 21st-century workforce.” In addition to creativity, these business leaders look for such skills as “collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, and oral communication.” (Corporate Voices for Working Families, Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the Society for Human Resource Management.)

Further, researchers at the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University have identified the conditions that are needed for creative work. They include collaboration, cross-cultural exchange, interdisciplinary exchange, time and resources, and tolerating failure.  It would indeed be exciting to bring together educators and business leaders across sectors to develop a set of indicators to determine the presence of creativity and innovation in our schools.

This analysis aligns with recent statements by Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who commented that: “The arts are a critical component of a complete education, providing an opportunity to see and think in new ways and to innovate.”  Last year, Massachusetts passed legislation to establish a creativity index and related legislative efforts are under consideration in other states across the country.

Conclusion
As we seek to build a future where both the entertainment and technology industries continue to thrive in California, an essential component of that mission is our investment in the human capacity for imagination, creativity and innovation that drives those industries. To that end, an “Index of Creative and Innovative Education” will demonstrate California’s commitment to lead and to raise the bar in preparing its students to meet the needs of the industries that are so vital to the success of California’s creative economy.

Want to support SB 789 and other efforts to provide California students with quality arts education? Join our Action Alert List.

Update: Right now SB 789 is on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s suspense calendar. If your Senator sits on this committee, you can send a message urging them to creativity in our schools and move the bill to the Senate floor.

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.

There’s a new Superintendent of Public Instruction in town…

January 11, 2011

by Joe Landon, Policy Director

Just three days after Tom Torlakson was installed as California’s new Superintendent of Public Instruction, his chief deputy, Richard Zeiger, met with the Policy Council of the California Alliance in Sacramento, to discuss the state of education in California, with a particular focus on arts education.

The previous day Torlakson had described California’s school finances as being at the level of ‘emergency’. Zeiger explained that before anything can be done to improve the education outlook, Governor Brown will first deal with the current budget crisis facing the state. He anticipated that education spending for the current year would remain the same as the past year, provided that California’s voters approve revenues in a special election later this year. He noted that we, as the public who cares about quality education for California students, will need to take an active role in assuring the approval of revenues in the special election.

Zeiger was upbeat in his assessment that for the first time in many years, the Superintendent, the State Board of Education, the Governor and the Legislature are in alignment about the need to advance education.

He explained that approximately 70% of the Department of Education’s operating budget comes from the federal government. The other 30% comes from state funding, and both funding streams require strict policing, leaving a very small slice of funding for new initiatives

In discussing how arts education can best navigate the current storm, Zeiger stressed that California remains the creative capital of the world, and that advocates should use this to highlight the importance of arts education in advancing the state’s economy by preparing students to enter the workforce of the twenty-first century, with skills that include creativity, innovation, and collaboration.

Zeiger reported that statewide categorical funding for the arts, as well as other subjects, is unlikely to buck the trend towards local control, which is central to Governor Brown’s vision for remedying the budget crisis. ‘Flexibility’ for local districts to spend these designated funds based on local need will likely accompany the funding.

In a lively back and forth with the twenty Policy Council members who represent various arts, education, parent and business groups, Zeiger was pressed on what will happen if the current ‘flexibility’ allows districts to divert categorical funding from its intended purpose of arts education. Zeiger suggested that focusing on ‘outcome measurements’, with districts reporting on how they are providing arts education, might be another way to help ensure that districts are providing students with access to arts education. He expressed the desire to create a new index of what a comprehensive curriculum looks like and the “need for a system that counts other things” besides math scores.

He encouraged the Alliance to consider “putting on a show”, to highlight the importance of arts education and the good work that continues to be done in classrooms despite the current economic situation.

With candor, humor, and humility, Zeiger expressed the Superintendent’s deep appreciation for the role the arts play in a complete education, and his commitment to work with advocates to ensure that arts education is at the table as important decisions are made about our state’s education system.

Results of Arts Ed Survey Go Beyond the Election

December 14, 2010

This fall, the California Alliance undertook its first ever arts education survey of candidates for the November 2010 election. Members of our Local Advocacy Network secured the participation of school board candidates in over forty school districts. Candidates answered questions about policy as well as their personal experiences with the arts. The results were posted in early October, but the positive impact of this work is ongoing. Members of our Local Advocacy Network share some of the continuing benefits of the survey.

Increased Visibility Make the Arts Matter

Pat Wayne, Director of Programs and Education for Arts Orange County and the Orange County Organizer for the Local Advocacy Network: In the twenty-nine districts we surveyed in Orange County, we saw a clear advantage for districts that participated in the Local Advocacy Network. These had a better rate of participation among candidates (70%, as opposed to 59%) and even more striking, in these Local Advocacy Network districts, 88% of candidates who were elected had participated in the survey, as opposed to 53%, in districts that were not a part of the Local Advocacy Network. This shows us that the advocacy work we’ve done has momentum, and going forward, the impact of the arts education candidate survey will continue to grow.

Cathy Hamilton, Local organizer for the Escondido Alliance for Arts Education: Because we surveyed candidates early in the election season, we had several opportunities to continue the discussion. In the midst of a “hot” and highly debated election for school board, there were debates with open discussions afterwards, local activities with school board members present, and of course school board meetings themselves.

I was able to attend one of these heated debates and took the opportunity to let some of the candidates know that I had not received their survey and had hoped to include it with all of the other candidate’s surveys, as the results would be shared with our local arts and education community; and I would hate to have them excluded. One candidate went home and had the survey returned to me within an hour of our discussion! Not only did he return the survey, but also offered to forgo his stipend as school board member to pay for an art teacher for the district! He thanked me for giving him the opportunity to share his feelings and thoughts on the arts in education and for taking the time to talk with him.

Building Relationships

Pat Wayne: When we put together the questions for the survey, we thought it was important to invite the candidates to reflect on how the arts had personally impacted their lives as children or parents. Not only did this give candidates a chance to reflect on the value of the arts, it also provides advocates with a way to understand how personal experience may have shaped their policy ideas. Knowing that a candidate played percussion in a school marching band, or enjoys attending the Pacific Symphony could provide some common ground, or a way to win their support. The answers we received give us a place to start a relationship with them.

Cathy Hamilton: We have one school board member who has joined our local coalition and is attending all of our follow up meetings. She has become much more vocal at our school board meetings regarding the arts and budget cuts to the arts at our local schools and in our district. We now have an open door to continue the discussion with these new school board members.

Best Practices We Can Share

Alliance: When we published the results, we invited arts education supporters to write us if they’d like to get involved in the next election. A few days before the election, a blog from Santa Clara County Arts Initiative announced: “Next election – count us in!” We are now working with advocates there to support arts education advocacy in their community. Let us know if your community wants to get involved. Make arts education matter in the next election cycle.

Working with Elected Officials Parts 1 & 2

November 9, 2010

By Victoria Plettner-Saunders

Part 1 – What I Did on My Summer Vacation, or the Practical Application of Arts Education Advocacy

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.

Editor’s Note: The San Diego Alliance for Arts Education participated in the California Alliance’s district election survey project, which surveyed local school board candidates about their views on arts education. The survey project is another way that advocates in San Diego are bringing the importance of arts education to decision-makers attention.

Part 2 – Serendipity, Advocacy and Your Local Farmer’s Market

Arts education advocacy doesn’t take a holiday just because the students do. On a warm summer afternoon in July, I received an email from Joe Landon, Policy Director for the California Alliance for Arts Education about State Assembly Bill 2446. In a nutshell, if enacted, AB 2446 would have undermined access to arts education courses by allowing students to substitute Career Technical Education courses for current requirements in visual and performing arts or foreign language.

The Alliance had worked diligently to help policymakers understand that although trying to boost graduation rates by making it easier for students to meet the requirements with CTEC credits makes sense, using it as a replacement for arts education is not the answer. Despite a ground swell of opposition from arts education advocates, it was moving from the Education Committee to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Joe’s email asked if we can get the San Diego folks together to share our concerns with Senator Christine Kehoe (who by the way has been very supportive of the local arts community since her days as a City Councilmember). She represents San Diego and she is also chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Moreover, we know that face to face contact with a constituent is one of the most powerful advocacy tools around. I email him back and say that I’ll look into it.

Strangely, the next thing I do is open another email from my weekly local farmers market. At the end of their newsletter telling me all the great local growers who will be there that afternoon, it says that Senator Christine Kehoe will be at the market at 4PM to talk to constituents about issues that are important to them.

AHA! How easy could this be?! I was planning to go to the market anyway. So I worked on my handout and brushed up on my understanding of the issues (did a little dress rehearsal) and headed up to the market with my handouts and my green market bag. I find the Senator at her booth and listen to someone else share his concerns and then it’s my turn. I tell her who I am, who I’m with and about AB 2446. She says that I’m the first constituent to talk to her directly about the bill and that while she doesn’t know anything about yet; she will take my concerns and my handouts to her staff meeting on Sunday and see what she can do.

By 4:30, I’m headed home with my tomatoes, handmade tamales, a bouquet of flowers, and a big dose of arts education advocacy in the bag. It was easier than I thought it would be, and it really felt quite good – as though I had taken this totally serendipitous moment and capitalized on the opportunity. I had no idea whether it would make a difference, but I knew I had an open window here and it would be foolish to close it. My advocacy advice here is: Look for seemly serendipitous opportunities to let your voice be heard and don’t ever give up. Not even during summer break.

Editor’s Note: On September 30, 2010, after months of advocacy work by the California Alliance and a statewide network of arts education advocates, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed AB2446 (Furutani), citing cost as a primary reason for the veto. Arts education advocates achieved a legendary “David and Goliath” victory in the defeat of this bill, which would have diminished access to the arts and foreign language courses for high school students.